Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nine Inch Nails - The IZOD Center

I was going to preface this review with a story about buying bootlegs of Nine Inch Nails concerts on tape in the late 90s, but that kind of fluff isn't necessary: there's so much to talk about as it is that the bootleg story can wait until another time.

This concert was one of the best three concerts I've seen in my life (the other two: Tool at the Verizon Wireless Arena in 2002 and Metallica at Gillette Stadium in 2003), drawing on a common theme of a complete audio/visual experience. As it turns out, play a rockin' show is good...blowing my mind with a great light show is even better. Let me explain what I mean:

First there were the rows and rows of lights arranged in a grid behind the band. Some were strobes; most were stage lights set on swivels. For the first half hour, the stage lights operated in sequence with the music, creating Matrix-style patterns during "March of the Pigs," flaring green and blue and moving in coordinated waves during "Reptile" while the strobes, well...strobed. Strobbingly. The effect probably varied depending on your location, but from twenty feet in front of the stage it was wonderfully dazzling. I remember coming up from headbanging during "Wish" and stopping, stunned for a moment as the wash of blue and red lights hit me in the face like a sledgehammer. You can see a little bit of what I mean from this photo.

Then there were the screens: three scrims, made out of a mesh of steel bars, that dropped vertically from the top of the lighting rig to fall in front, behind, and above the band. When they were off, it was a bit like watching the band through a chainlink fence...but they weren't off very often. Instead, they broadcast all kinds of fun things:
  • A rain-like pattern (I think during "Closer") that surrounded the stage, making it look like the band was playing in the middle of a tsunami.
  • Black and white static, which when combined a partially transparent front screen and the musicians' black clothing made the band look like they were made out of static. At the end of the song, Trent retreated to the back of the stage, looking like he was disappearing into the static.
  • Before "5 Ghosts 1," the front scrim went completely opaque and the band came out front with stands for keyboards and Robin Finck's slide guitar. While they played "5 Ghosts 1" and "17 Ghosts II", the screen displayed three enormous color-changing circles that echoed the tour's "lights in the sky" theme.
  • An enormous desert scene with clouds flying out into the audience during "19 Ghosts III."
  • Five enormous blue ovals, each bisected by a different pattern of current, which floated in the air behind the band (now back inside the confines of the scrim circle) during "Piggy." At the end of the song, the ovals turned into a blue wash that covered the whole set of scrims. A roadie came out at the end of the song and - using either some well-timed choreography or motion-sensing elements in the screen, "wiped" the whole front clean using his flashlight. The rest of the blue wash then exploded into glass shards that flew out towards the audience.
  • During "Survivalism: A replication of the security monitors from the song's video, with feeds of Trent, fans at the front of the house and fans at the back of the house taking up three of the screens.
  • During "Only," first black and white and then RGB static filled the front screen. When Trent sang, a hole opened up in the static; when he moved, it followed him around. As the song built to the climax, the static changed into washes of different opacities, which Reznor was then able to pick up and throw off the screen like balls.
  • The blow my mind moment of the night: At the start of "Echoplex," the rear screen displayed a series of white horizontal blocks with a red line running through them (consistent with the artwork from The Slip). Drummer Josh Freese came out and touched the blocks to light them up, building the drum pattern of the song in the process, as if he was controlling an enormous sequencer. He repeated the process at the end of the song to deconstruct the beat.
That was just the light show; the music kicked ass, too. Openers Does It Offend You, Yeah were the opposite of offensive, contributing a little bit of a mind trip of their own by making a sonic transition from Nitzer Ebb to Mudhoney to The Cars (if The Cars were English) in three songs. "Head Like a Hole," "Terrible Lie," and the cuts from Broken were the brutal, moshpit-inspiring buzzsaws that had fueled my adolescent rage. The selections from The Downward Spiral matched that album's desperation to a T. Year Zero's black cynicism (there's nothing quite like a darkly-grinning Trent Reznor leading a chorus of "I'm a part of this great nation" howled by a room full of maniacs), The Slip's punk-edged industrialism, Ghosts' beautiful, brilliant ambience; they were all there, crisply delivered (the sound put the engineers of any other band I've seen in that arena to shame) with only minimal mixing issues. The heavy electric songs, the noise rock, the acoustic set in the middle of the show; it was a perfect balance of the different elements of the catalog, with the right breaks, the right ups, the right downs.

Favorite musical moment of the night: "Piggy" at the end of the acoustic Ghosts set. Surrounded by blue light, rocking a heavy lounge jazz feel, "Piggy" was simultaneously cool and laid back and very, very menacing. You couldn't help but feel, as you listened to Reznor growl out the words, that the person he was singing to had really screwed him over and was going to pay for it in the very near future in a very bad way.

Set List (via Brooklyn Vegan)
  1. 999,999
  2. 1,000,000
  3. letting you
  4. discipline
  5. march of the pigs
  6. head down
  7. the frail
  8. reptile
  9. closer
  10. gave up
  11. the warning
  12. vessel
  13. 5 ghosts I
  14. 17 ghosts II
  15. 19 ghosts III
  16. piggy [ghost]
  17. the greater good
  18. pinion
  19. wish
  20. terrible lie
  21. survivalism
  22. the big come down
  23. 31 ghosts IV
  24. only
  25. the hand that feeds
  26. head like a hole

  27. echoplex
  28. god given
  29. the good soldier
  30. hurt
  31. in this twilight

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