Nine Inch Nails Final Tour When They're at Their Peak?: A Concert Review

Last month was a month that was far too busy, stressful and hectic here at the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll. Luckily it closed out appropriately enough, with me attending a great concert by a band I've been wanting to see live since... well since I was old enough to know what their music was all about: Nine Inch Nails.

The collected works of Trent Reznor and company have long been in heavy listening rotation for me. I remember hearing "The Perfect Drug" debut on the radio and immediately being struck... "what was this high speed, metal infused, industrial construct wrapped around such powerful visceral emotion!?" Actually my response at the time was probably something closer to "Wha?! AWESOME!!"... but I'm sure in it's simplicity it conveyed all the amazement I was feeling. And from that moment forward I was a Nine Inch Nails fan... and definitely better for it.

Of course NIN released "The Perfect Drug" for a soundtrack in something like '97, but they'd been cranking out Reznor's industrial vision going all the way back to 1989 with their seminal album Pretty Hate Machine. It was way back then when they first toured opening for Jane's Addiction as well... 20 years ago.

So this year Trent announced a tour with Jane's Addiction, to mimic that first tour, and serve as something of a final "Wave Goodbye" tour for NIN (Trent has stated that it was time for NIN to go away for a while, but only time will tell if its permanent or not... I hope it isn't). I heard and I was excited... very excited. Along with being a big Nine Inch Nails fan, I'm also a big Jane's Addiction fan, so this tour seemed like a great one for me to go to. Then Street Sweeper Social Club, the new band led by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (did I mention I'm a Rage fan too?) was added to open as well... it seemed like this would be a must see for me.

And I was not disappointed... Ok I was a little disappointed because the date here in Chicago was one of the few without Jane's Addiction, but the fact that this show was awesome tempered my disappointment. I guess I'll have to catch JA another time.

Here's the set list of what turned out to be an almost non-stop 2 hour industrial onslaught:

1. Somewhat Damaged
2. Terrible Lie
3. Heresy
4. March of the Pigs
5. Piggy
6. Metal (Numan Cover)
7. The Becoming
8. I'm Afraid of Americans (Bowie Cover)
9. Burn
10. Gave Up
11. The Frail
12. La Mer
13. The Fragile
14. Gone, Still
15. The Way Out is Through
16. Wish
17. Survivalism
18. Mr. Self Destruct
19. Suck
20. The Day the World Went Away
21. Hurt
22. The Hand That Feeds
23. Head Like a Hole

So first things first, lets discuss the opener... this Street Sweeper Social Club.

Like I said, this is Tom Morello's new band, partnered with Boots Riley, and the results are very Rage-esque to say the least. Their sound is definitely in the with Morello sound, ala Rage against the Machine and Audioslave, but Riley's addition definitely takes things closer to the Rage end of the spectrum. That said, I think they channel a bit more of the punk energy of bands like the MC5 and in general seem more...upbeat (is that the right way to describe it?) than Rage Against the Machine. Think of Rage drifting more towards... well rage... and SSSC leaning more towards passion without as much of that raw anger... the anger is still there, but not as in as intense a way. I'm not sure if that's the best way to describe it, but that's the vibe I was getting. I'll have to check out more of their music to see if I can solidify some thoughts.

Of course they're still very much geared towards activism, politics, social problems and changing the world, and I'd expect or want nothing less... we need bands like that now as much as ever. From a purely musical standpoint though, I thought they sounded pretty sweet... sweet enough that I'll check out their album when it comes out. The crowd seemed to dig them too, so maybe give them a listen when you get the chance.

Then Nine Inch Nails took the stage... all cloaked in fog with relatively simple lights creating patterns around them... and it was awesome!

What is it like seeing NIN live? Well I don't know about in the past, but this was an assault... a physical assault, like getting hit in the chest... an outpouring and eruption of emotion...in the most visceral way.

One of the reasons I was excited about this tour was that Reznor had made some comments about how they were going for something a little more stripped down from their elaborate stage setups and light shows of the past... something more spontaneous and alive. I like spontaneous stripped down tours, so this sounded cool to me. That's exactly how they sounded too: far more organic and dynamic with songs like "Hersey" and "Mr. Self Destruct" even taking on a slightly more "metal" feel than "industrial"... but only slightly. They laced songs with blasts of spontaneous synthesizer and screaming guitar feedback giving them a very raw feel. They sounded looser and more alive than on album, but at the same time tight and locked in and kept downtime to a minimum if any. It's interesting really and something I really like... the songs are so mechanical and industrial, yet at the same time really seem alive and organic. That feeling of being alive really comes through on stage.

Some personal highlights for me include "Terrible Lie," "March of the Pigs," "Mr. Self Destruct" and "The Fragile"... all of which just happen to be some of my favorite NIN songs of all time, but were also so much more intense in this live setting. "The Fragile" was especially intense as they took an already "anthemic" song and turned everything up to 11... we're talking blow out the speakers, fight to the death intensity... good stuff. I also thought it was pretty sweet to see some songs you could call rarities... definitely ones I didn't expect in the set list... like "I'm Afraid of Americans", "Wish" and "Burn. Unexpected, appreciated and delivered with power... very cool.

In fact I thought it was a pretty sweet set list overall... a good selection of songs that worked well together for maximum impact.

Interesting enough, the crowd, although obviously enjoying the show didn't seem nearly as into it as I expected. I was in the seats, but I really expected the people in the pit to be going nuts on the harder hitting songs... and they were, but not quite as much as I expected... who knows maybe it was my imagination.

By the time the band reached a stunning version of "Hurt", though, everyone was singing along and with "The Hand That Feeds" I don't think there was a single person not moving to the beat in some way. Of course they closed what I've already described as an almost constant two hour assault, with what may have been the hardest hitting version of "Head Like a Hole" possible... awesome, and like I said... intense!

I definitely left feeling satisfied, in spite of the lack of an encore. I do think that a three song encore of "Closer" "Discipline" and "We're in this Together Now," would have been an incredible way to close, but part of that is just because I like those songs, especially "We're in this Together Now" which I think is my favorite NIN song of all time. Still, I felt satisfied... and exhausted. Great concerts have a way of doing that to you... they leave you at first on an adrenaline rush, and then with an exhausting post concert crash.

Anyways, I don't know what Trent Reznor has planned for the future of Nine Inch Nails, but I'm definitely glad I went to see them this tour. The band sounded awesome, powerful and like they ever having fun... even Trent, who joked with the crowd about getting the words wrong and diving into the crowd at one point. As a whole, they seemed like they were on the top of their game, so I'm excited to see the the future holds.

In the mean time though, if you're at all a Nine Inch Nails fan, I'd highly recommend you get out and try to catch them on this tour if you haven't already. There's a number of dates with tickets available, so go to it... and if you get to see them with Jane's Addiction... well... you're luckier than me. I've heard that JA has been tearing it up on this tour as well. They always were an awesome live band so I'd expect nothing less. Most of the dates also have Street Sweeper Social Club on the bill too... another bonus.

Of course the my main reason to go was to see NIN... and they're worth seeing for sure. This was an awesome concert. Here's hoping it isn't too long before they decide to tour again as I'd love to go again.

So if you want more information about NIN and this tour, check out their website here: http://nin.com/

If you want more information on Jane's Addiction... go here: http://www.janesaddiction.com/

And for Street Sweeper Social Club... here: http://streetsweepersocialclub.com/
Or here to their myspace, where you can hear a track or two: http://www.myspace.com/streetsweepersocialclub

And last but not least... if you're interested in this tour, went to a show, are going to a show, or didn't get to go at all... Trent is offering something cool as a little memento. It's a 6 Song EP that contains tracks from all three bands (2 from each I believe, (they did something similar to support the "Lights in the Sky" tour if I recall). This isn't just a 6 song EP though, but a 6 song EP of new music... available for free! All you need is an email and you can download it. I've listened through the tracks and they sound pretty sweet... good stuff from all three bands, and you can't beat the price.

Go here for more information about the EP and to download: http://www.ninja2009.com/

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