Nine Inch Nails Eden Session review: Rockers pulverize Cornwall in two epic Eden Sessions gigs

Nine Inch Nails played such intense gigs in Cornwall over the weekend that they seemed to be creating their own climate change. Goths melted into puddles of black as industrial rockers Trent Reznor performed in brilliant sunshine and heat on Friday, while the following night was all pouring rain and darkness, kicked up by a rainbow in an eerie pink sky – much more appropriate for the ‘sturm und musical de NIN drang’.

“Summer in Cornwall…the ****?!” He had only been there two days, but Reznor understood. When these first UK shows for four years were announced there was general disbelief – bands this huge and legendary don’t play in Cornwall. But you can count on the Eden Sessions, now in their 20th year, to bring everyone from Elton John to Queens of the Stone Age to shake up the biomes.

After support from fellow industrialist Nitzer Ebb, Friday’s show was likely for the casual observer as well as the NIN fan, with the band playing some of their best-known songs, including six from the nihilistic masterpiece that is 1994’s The Downward Spiral, including Mr. Self Destruct, Piggy and one of the closest things to a pop song Reznor wrote – Closer – if pop songs include the lyrics “I want to fuck you like an animal” .

Read more: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Eden session review

Reznor is a different beast from the drug-addicted king of misery he was then. Now a 57-year-old Oscar-winning multimillionaire, who lifts weights and has a happy family life with his wife and kids, one wonders how he still summons the demon every night, but who cares when it’s so Well ?

David Bowie pulled him aside when they toured together in 1995 and told him to calm down on the bad stuff, cut his hair and release his De Niro look (which was clearly apparent when he was caught in the spotlight at Eden). It’s no surprise that he played two of his mentor’s songs on the first night – Fashion and I’m Afraid of Americans; circle of life stuff because the latter has always been indebted to NIN.

Nine Inch Nails summons a rainbow at the Eden Project

A fan who went to both nights suggested Friday’s sublime spectacle was a warm-up for Saturday’s hypnotic, ultra-heavy pounder. Incredibly, the two gigs only shared five of the same songs out of the 45 that were played.

The band may be most famous for their early releases like the Pretty Hate Machine album and the EP Broken, a record as perfect as ever, but Reznor built a die-hard fan base on subsequent releases, many of which were self-published. And songs of all skill levels were played on Saturday, with a few deep dives including the addictive hellish Happiness in Slavery (performed in Britain for the first time since 1994), Burn from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack and the slow burn of And All That Could Have Been.

From the pounding drums and chest-shaking bass of the opening The Beginning of the End, the sound was incredible – loud but crystal clear (some being able to make out the songs playing a few miles away in St Austell); it penetrated every part of you like a shamanic drug. The Perfect Drug, actually, which was played on Friday.

Nine Inch Nails played two of the most memorable shows in the Eden Sessions' 20-year history
Nine Inch Nails played two of the most memorable shows in the Eden Sessions’ 20-year history

The whole concert was relentless – Reznor doesn’t do ballads, well, not traditional ones anyway. Highlights included the aural beat of Wish and March of the Pigs, the stomp of Reptile, the instrumental La Mer (which is making its touring debut) that starts out nice and ends lousy, the electro groove of Less Than, the crowd that sings Every Day Is Exactly The Same and the electronic punk of survivalism. It was really a highlight.

Reznor told the crowd that the show was unique for two reasons – the rainbow that appeared in an uneasy sky and the fact that it hit a wrong note: “A premiere – you can tell your children.” Kudos to the rest of the band, it’s certainly not just perfectionist Reznor – Atticus Ross on keyboards, guitarist Robin Finck, bassist and synthesizer Alessandro Cortini and drummer, guitarist and cellist Ilan Rubin all add to the theater of sound.

Trent Reznor at the Eden Sessions Premiere of Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor at the Eden Sessions Premiere of Nine Inch Nails

The main set ended with the one NIN song everyone knows even if they think it doesn’t – Head Like A Hole and that was possibly the best four minutes I’ve ever heard of. I’ve ever seen in Eden – stunning lights and the crowd singing as one, while the encore ended with a haunting Hurt, salvaged from Johnny Cash and everyone who covered for him. The stage vibrated with white light and noise, leaving the crowd expecting more, which never came. We were soaked but it was worth it.

The perverse joy of the Eden Sessions is that Diana Ross follows Nine Inch Nails on Tuesday. Let’s see if she also summons rainbows.

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