Nine Inch Nails in Manchester scream catharsis
The last time Nine Inch Nails played a show in Europe, Trent Reznor said, “This is our last show in Europe since…I don’t know, maybe never.” It was a hot night on July 14, 2018, in Madrid, and I cautiously called his bluff on the spot. This wasn’t the first time Reznor said goodbye to Nine Inch Nails; in 2014 he disbanded the famed band, only to return stronger and angrier than ever in 2016/17 with a trio of thematically and narratively brilliant EPs, followed by a massive world tour with over 50 dates . When he reluctantly bade farewell to us that night in Spain, I wrote that he would probably return soon enough, perhaps after another round of side adventures and rewards.
Luckily, that’s exactly how things turned out. Since 2018, Oscar-winning Reznor has twice become an Oscar winner – this time for a 2020s jazz soundtrack Soul, a Pixar film directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. In addition to this victory, he and Atticus Ross received rave reviews for Damon Lindelof watchmen limited series soundtrack, and had another Academy Award nomination for Original Score by David Fincher man (2020). He also produced pop singer Halsey’s widely acclaimed 2021 album, If I can’t have love, I want power. Indeed, as one of the most prolific and diverse producers in the industry, Reznor has come a long way since Designated Grumbler in the United States.
Nevertheless, the worry and anger are still there and there is arguably no angrier band in the mainstream than Nine Inch Nails. After Brexit, the chaos of the Trump administration, several gruesome war escalations threatening to collapse the global economy, and the pandemic, it was clear as day that Reznor would not let go of his kingpin – or his rage. absolutely justifiable -. With no new material to promote, this summer his band returned live for a handful of gigs in the UK and France, followed by ten dates in the US in the fall; and boy, are we glad they are.
By any reasonable assessment, Nine Inch Nails shows resonate the most in large venues, but it’s no secret that Reznor likes to blur the lines and be close to the audience. that of Manchester O2 Apollo, with a capacity of 3,500 seats, proves to be an almost intimate space, allowing a raw, even carnal spectacle. Although Nine Inch Nails haven’t played in the city for eight years and the venue for 15 years, this seemingly odd choice for an industrial metal performance is a boon for insiders – we know things are on point. to become nasty.
The evening begins with a captivating performance of the supporting role Yves Tumor, whose darkly complex arrangements and vocals can’t really take off inside a theater. As claustrophobic as the space can be, its acoustics are weak, something only a band like Nine Inch Nails can circumvent with the force of sound. Around 9:00 p.m., the space is full and the smell of beer and sweat clogs our nostrils. The audience is mostly middle-aged, dressed in 50 shades of gray and ready to go crazy, except for several hundred who hastily crowd for a cold pint.
At nine o’clock, a cloud of thick smoke obscures the entire (small) stage and Reznor emerges, launching straight into singing “Somewhat Damaged” without the guitar and drums intro. People throw down their glasses screaming and push towards the rail, ready to go wild to the deafening rhythm of the guitar that will follow exactly 50 seconds later. Nine Inch Nails fans are pros, and the atmosphere of angst and ecstasy will last all night.
At 57, Reznor is a monstrously experienced and efficient performer, commanding crowds from start to finish with nothing but his delivery. Dressed, as always, in a simple black shirt-pants combo and a leather vest, he sneers, shouts and slips through the smoke as Atticus Ross, Ilan Rubin, Robin Finck and Alessandro Cortini produce a stockade of noise. The show these veterans bring is an established affair where we know what to expect, which is easily one of the best live bands in the world. If there’s one defining quality of a Nine Inch Nails live show, it’s the assault: an assault on the feel produced by the backdrop, music, effects, vocals, or lyrics. , but above all a combination of everything. People come to a Nine Inch Nails concert to clench their fists, scream and release energy, and Reznor & co. always delivers.
The main surprise of the evening is the setlist. Never one to settle for monotony, Reznor is known for changing the setlist night after night, with only a small number of hits played over the years. Tonight we are treated to an assortment of the most vicious songs The Fragile, his dark 1999 masterpiece, written at the height of Reznor’s years of alienation and personal woes. “Somewhat Damaged” is immediately followed by “The Day the World Went Away”, a proper apocalyptic piece used to promote McG’s 2009 film, Hi Terminatorand Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s fourth season Westworld. No one, however, is very concerned about which songs will play, and for two good reasons: first, all of Reznor’s songs are intense, and second, all of them are good or great.
Over the course of an hour and 50 minutes, a total of 22 songs from ten releases are played, and a pattern emerges. Although Nine Inch Nails’ music is deeply anxiety-provoking, tonight the vast majority of songs are socially concerned, dealing with topics such as systemic societal failure, corrupt regimes and a general sense of disappointment in one’s life and the world. that they inhabit. . ‘Wish’, a 30-year-old fan favorite, is followed by ‘1,000,000’, an exquisite introduction to 2008 Sliding, detailing the thoughts of a man who “feels nothing at all”. Big chants ensue with “Sin”, “Something I Can Never Have” and “Reptile”, but “Discipline” brings the tone down to pure outrage. “Ahead of Ourselves” and “God Break Down the Door,” from 2018’s latest Nine Inch Nails EP Bad Witch, are great reminders of Reznor’s growing anger and the edge he never lost.
On the contrary, his most recent works are also (apart from those of 1992 Broken) its more aggressive, preying on the thoughts of an aging person who cannot accept a society that is collapsing left, right and center. It’s rare to see someone who’s been in the business for 33 years improve with age, but the secret lies in the undisputed fact that Reznor loves what he does. His love for his work is evident at every step, whether it’s keeping his band alive despite numerous acclaimed projects, or choosing small venues despite huge popularity to create an intimate atmosphere.
Reznor’s love for Nine Inch Nails is, of course, directly proportional to his resentment of the state of affairs in America today and around the world (as I write these words, Roe vs. Wade was struck down by the Supreme Court, a disastrous setback for civilization). For that reason, we keep getting more of his spectacular and honest performances, so we can all come together to shout to the skies. The UK is not doing much better than the US at the moment; there are no mass shootings or dystopian lack of health care like in the United States, but there are the devastating consequences of Brexit and the pandemic, and the inflation rate at its highest in 40 years. I live in Germany and all it’s not great there, That is. Bilaterally speaking, we are all screwed, not to mention incomprehensibly helpless.
That’s where Reznor comes in, and we’re grateful for that. Near the end of “God Break Down the Door,” he takes a saxophone for a frenetic outro. “It was a shitty song!” exclaims a blonde woman in the front row. I suppose not everybody is as thrilled as I am with every piece.
A very short anger management break comes with the charming piano “La Mer”, but as soon as “The Frail”, another, and much more ominous, instrumental begins, we know “The Wretched” is coming. The crushing nihilistic song, which Reznor says he wrote at a low point in his life, elicits a cringing chant, “It didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, it didn’t quite turn out that way you wanted it!”, and a lot of pent-up anger is released. Make no mistake, this catharsis is harmless and ultimately very healthy.
With the seductive “Me, I’m Not”, I instantly remember a completely different aspect of Reznor’s performance and the sexiness found in so many of his works. But there’s no room here for those remarks as the rage returns in full force in “Survivalism,” one of Nine Inch Nail’s best songs about a country gone mad. “I have my propaganda, I have revisionism, I have my violence in high definition ultra-realism… All part of this great nation, I have my fist, I have my plan, J I have survivalism! we all scream and pump our fists.
The highlight of the show is “Every Day Is Exactly The Same”, a twisting ballad from 2005 with teeth. As Reznor clenches, “I can’t remember how it started, but I can tell you exactly how it’s going to end,” through gritted teeth, a huge singalong launches during the chorus. He stops singing, even the music stops, and the singing continues until the very end. “Wow. That was beautiful. Thank you,” Reznor said, bowing to the crowd. “Burn,” “Gave Up,” and “Head Like a Hole,” form a fiery trio (no pun intended) to end the main part of the concert.The Nine Inch Nails photographer knows this is the last escalation point and rushes through the crowd for high-quality photos of fans twitching with excitement.
The recall brings some nice surprises. “Only,” a pitch-perfect pop track and one of Nine Inch Nails’ preeminent songs for radio, gets many attendees from a variety of genres dancing. I’m so happy to join them. This is the “sexy” part described earlier and a very pleasurable erotic component of the whole experience. “And All That Might Have Been” quickly makes up for that, though; a quietly devastating ballad that Reznor has rarely played in the past 20 years, it’s a sad but powerful near end to a supercharged spectacle.
Of course, the performance ends with “Hurt”, a song lovingly covered by Johnny Cash. Nineteen years ago, Cash gave this iconic tune new meaning, singing regrets towards the end of life, but it’s still Reznor whose original lyrics still pack the most punch. It’s probably because, for us, here and there, there’s no proverbial end in sight -_ once we leave the hall, we can live a long time with all the phenomena that Reznor describes and despises if strongly. It doesn’t take anything away from the show.
Around 11:00 p.m., we leave the room, only to realize that a huge, three-day rail strike is about to start across the country and that we may not even be able to make the return trip. In our lifetime, reality has never been more difficult than it is today, and we are grateful to Reznor for allowing us to process our misfortunes in such an exciting, cathartic, and ultimately very fun way.