JEORDIE WHITE | BASE TENDENCIES
It’s always an event when Nine Inch Nails comes to town, especially since band leader Trent Reznor comes out of hibernation roughly twice a decade.
With stunning new album “With Teeth” to showcase, Nails was well-equipped for the comeback trail this year. And while fans might wish Reznor and company would drop in a bit more often, Friday night’s headlining set at KeyArena in Seattle was worth the wait.
Along with Reznor, the band – guitarist Aaron North, bassist Jeordie White, keyboard player Alessandro Cortini and drummer Jerome Dillon – delivered a tightly paced 100-minute set chock full of the angsty industrial hits fans have come to know and love since Nails broke through with “Pretty Hate Machine” back in 1989. And with the music complemented by an arresting light show and innovatkive use of video footage, it ranked among the most artfully executed rock productions this critic has seen.
Billowing clouds of faux fog and menacing canned music – basically a beefed-up version of “Pinion” from 1992’s “Broken” EP – heralded Nails’ entrance. A semitransparent curtain remained down, leaving the band members in silhouette through much of opening number “Love Is Not Enough,” though fans could make out some detail as lights intermittently flashed behind them.
The curtain ascended as Nails revved the crowd up with “Wish.” The staging was simple, dominated by two rows of bar-graph sculptures that jutted from the stage and hung above the band like a jagged set of teeth. These would turn pale blue or blood red, or be covered in static to enhance the mood. At times they would go dark as the band was bathed in indigo or as a shimmery, violet mist wafted above the stage.
But edgier was the way Nails incorporated video into the show. The curtain again fell midway through the set as “Eraser” began, and remained down for ballads “Right Where It Belongs” and “Beside You in Time.” Reznor was barely visible as images of single-celled organisms, swarming fire ants, rampaging baboons and other scenes of Darwinian conflict were projected onto the curtain.
Nature gave way to man-made mayhem as explosions rocked faraway battlefields and grisly corpses piled up in the streets, with shots of oil fields; stacks of money; smiling, zombie suburbanites; and President Bush obliviously dancing with wife Laura contrasting the most horrifying shots.
Reznor generated quite a bit of excitement as he casually announced, “Here’s a new one.”
The new song was a catchy midtempo number about being chewed up by fame, with Reznor singing lines like “a great big superstar/is what you think you are/we love you anyhow” and “soon you will be gone/and we will all move on.”
While hearing the new stuff was nice, the show’s most transcendent moments occurred during old favorites. “Terrible Lie” and “March of the Pigs” were standouts early on, and later fans held their Zippos aloft for the melancholy dirge “Hurt,” which Reznor initially performed solo on a small keyboard. Fans sang along to the mournful chorus: “You can have it aaalllll, my empire of dirt.”
It was the most affecting moment in the show, and the bouncy “The Hand That Feeds” was an anticlimactic follow-up, to say the least. But the band regained its footing with an aggro anthem (the title of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper) before finishing strongly with “Head Like a Hole,” the acerbic single that started it all back in ’89. North punctuated the number by bashing a nearby amp several times with his guitar.
There was no encore necessary. Nails had left it all out there on the stage. And after Friday’s show, let’s hope Reznor doesn’t decide to pull an Axl Rose and disappear for another five years.