Nine Inch Nails Roars Back to Life at Lollapalooza 2013
Trent Reznor returns to the stage after a four-year hiatus with a set that embraced NIN's past and pushed towards its future
On Nine Inch Nails’ latest single "Came Back Haunted," Trent Reznor snarls, "I am not who used to be.” And there was no better place for him to prove that point than on the main stage of Lollapalooza, the now-stationary incarnation of the once-traveling festival where Reznor first made his mark 22 years ago.
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During Lollapalooza's inaugural run in 1991, Reznor, then 26 years old, introduced his brand of industrial-rock mayhem to the masses with a run of shows that was regarded as much for physical brutality as musical innovation. That stage was a platform for the angst-ridden rocker to exorcise his demonic fury (at the establishment, at God, at himself) via adrenaline-fueled temper tantrums. Everything in his path -- guitars, keyboards, and often the occasional band member -- was left lying in broken heaps by the set’s close.
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Few who witnessed those shows would have imagined that Reznor would mature into the 48-year-old, Oscar-polishing, critically acclaimed and happily married father of two that took the stage Friday night. But while much has changed for Reznor the man, Nine Inch Nails’ first U.S. show in four years proved that many things about Reznor the musician have remained fiercely intact. The band that once threatened to fly off the rails at any turn remained in careful control for the entire performance. But instead of dulling the blade, the performance managed to sharpen it in ways that allowed the music to make deeper and more precise cuts.
When Reznor announced in February 2013 that he was ending his performing hiatus, he promised fans a revitalized and refocused incarnation of Nine Inch Nails. And that’s what he delivered during a 23-song set that embraced NIN’s past while impressively pushed towards its future.
Taking its cue from the Talking Heads’ classic 1983 ‘Speaking in Tongues’ tour, the show began as an exercise in sleek minimalism. A buff, tank-wearing Reznor walked onto an empty stage illuminated in simple white light. As the electro rhythm of the unreleased track "Copy of A" began to pulse, additional keyboards and band mates were ushered onto the stage until the five-member group stood in a formation that both musically and visually echoed Kraftwerk in its stark techno precision.
Patiently, the set roared to life, growing in both its scale and technicality with each song. As crew members rolled drum kits and a series of LED panels onto the stage, dancing shadows and keyboards gave way to searing guitars and psychedelic visuals that artistically backlit the band.
Musically, the performance was as dark and menacing as ever, and the carefully curated set list weaved through all the different textures and temperaments Reznor has embraced during his career. Ferocious anthems like “March of the Pigs,” “Wish” and “Terrible Lie” reached highs that were countered by the brooding lows of “Piggy,” “Help Me I Am in Hell” and the subtle serenity of the new track “Find My Way” from the band’s forthcoming album “Hesitation Marks” (scheduled for release on Sept. 3). But even during in the show’s most vicious moments, the pot never completely boiled over. The jumbotrons flaking the stage remained dark for the band’s entire set, meaning that even the explosion of “Head Like a Hole” remained somewhat contained on the field, decimating only those closest to the stage. From start to finish, this was a more masterfully designed and carefully constructed show than Nine Inch Nails seemed capable of in its early years.
Reznor may not be the man he used to be, but it’s fitting that the loudest cheer from the crowd came during the set’s closing song “Hurt," when Reznor cries “You are someone else/ I am still right here.” Above everything else, Reznor proved that the animal inside him hasn't rolled over and died; it's just evolved into an older, wiser and more decidedly more refined beast.
Copy of A
Came Back Haunted
March of the Pigs
Help Me, I Am in Hell
Me, I’m Not
Find My Way
What if We Could (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross cover)
The Way Out Is Through
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole