Industrial metal, with its popping synth, is music better suited to the indoors. But last night at Starlight Theatre, Nine Inch Nails did its best to create an appropriate mood.
Smoke billowed on stage throughout the set; row after row of blinding lights flashed on and off in time with the music. Projections on a screen (like what headliner Jane's Addiction would use later) would have been nice, however. Back in the day, NIN was kind of a pioneer in the realm of creepy music videos. But -- especially if yesterday hadn't been so depressing and overcast -- the bugs and scalpels and bondage wouldn't have projected at a performance that started and ended before night fell completely.
And so, Trent Reznor and the cast of musicians currently backing him served up a stripped-down show, featuring most -- but by no means all -- of NIN's hits, a little too much new stuff, plus a few old treats for the fans who've been hating themselves along with Reznor all these years.
The show started at approximately 7:53 p.m. as the silhouettes of the band members emerged in the white fog. Reznor, who's grown stout and muscly over the years, appeared in a dark black or blue shirt. In a pseudo-medley trend that continued throughout the night, the first song "Now I'm Nothing" blended seamlessly into the next, "Terrible Lie."
According to the official setlist that Clubs Editor Berry Anderson had photographed, "March of the Pigs" was supposed to come next, but I'm sure the band snuck in "Discipline." I should have paid closer attention to when the band strayed from the predetermined song order, but I confess to losing myself just a little in the slithery beats, crushing guitars, shotgun drums and heartbreaking keyboards -- the signature NIN sound.
The Reznor razor has dulled some, but not much, over the years. Although he's a verifiable superstar -- one of a few '90s rock icons to remain active -- and therefore presumably living a pretty comfortable life, he's still able to summon up a rage, or at least a convincing approximation of it, on stage. Throughout the hour-and-a-half set of songs about self-destruction, self-hate and fury at the powers of God, Reznor flung himself, a tambourine and at least one mic stand across the stage. As usual, he rotated from guitar to keyboards to just singing, frequently backed up vocally by his band mates. When he did stand at the mic, he gripped it desperately, bending his body to and fro or up and down, often with an angry grimace on his face.
Reznor barely addressed the crowd until very late in the set. As support for Jane's Addiction, NIN plowed through the music, squeezing in as many songs as possible. The energy lagged a bit in the middle, mainly when the band played songs that are more digital and less guitar-driven. One of the times that Reznor did speak, he confirmed reports that this is NIN's final tour. "Thank you for all the years of paying attention," he said. And then he gave a nod to his oldest fans by performing "Physical (You're So)," an Adam & the Ants cover from NIN's 1992 release Broken. Uncharacteristically sexy, "Physical" was by far the best song of the show. And it was a perfect lead-in to the final three originals, starting with "Hand that Feeds."
Almost everyone's arms came up during "Head Like a Hole," and as the '90s anthem ended, it seemed Reznor might take his final bow to the fans he's been serving so long. But the stage stayed black only briefly, until the beginning strains of "Hurt," undoubtedly NIN's best-known song and a beautiful end to his set.
Earlier in the night, another big name from the '90s appeared on stage. Street Sweeper Social Club, featuring Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, was the opening act.
The rap rock group also features Boots Riley of Bay Area hip-hop group the Coup. Thanks surely to Morello, SSSC has a vibe that's kinda Rage-lite. Donning matching military style jackets and repeatedly mentioning its mission of fighting poverty and the power, the band definitely has aims that go beyond mere entertainment. But SSSC's music doesn't come off militant. It's fun and danceable, especially when the band covers M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." Also worth noting: Local band the Beautiful Bodies played a couple of sets over on the venue's V.I.P. before and after SSSC.
There's one overriding question of the night, however. Why would Reznor opt to play second fiddle on his own farewell tour? 'Cause he's just that humble? More likely -- it's 'cause he's Trent Reznor and can therefore do whatever the fuck he wants. The buzz I've heard is that NIN wanted to have a good time on this last tour, and that means kicking out their own tight set and then kicking back during Jane's Addiction -- Reznor's close pals and a favorite band.
As a NIN fan, the arrangement embittered me, especially in light of the drizzly weather, but I have to admit that Perry Farrell and co. totally brought it last night. And I'm glad I carpooled with Berry, who reviewed Jane's Addiction, because otherwise I might have stomped home early and missed the best set of the night. (Sorry, Trent. But I still love you.)
Set list (more or less):
Now I'm Nothing
March of the Pigs
The Way Out is Through
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole