Nine Inch Nails / Aug. 27, 2008 / E. Rutherford, NJ (Izod Center)

Trent Reznor presented all sides of NIN's eclectic personality during this show of the aptly-named "Lights in the Sky" tour -- a gig that was as much audio-video mind-trip as it was rock 'n' roll spec

Trent Reznor typically lets his music do the talking, but the Nine Inch Nails mastermind was feeling unusually chatty during the band’s stop in New Jersey on August 27. "We've been looking forward to this show for a long time," he told the enthusiastic crowd at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, just across the river from New York City. "We've worked really hard on putting this together, and (I’ve been) sitting backstage thinking 'I can't wait to blow these f**kers' minds."

During the early days of NIN, the proverbial mind-blowing would have been achieved primarily through the brutal physicality of the show. Reznor's stage was once a ferocious battleground where nothing was safe from harm -- mic stands constantly flew through the air, instruments were demolished mid-song, band members were wrestled to the ground without provocation. But times have changed. This new Nine Inch Nails – the one free from the trappings of record contracts and album-release schedules – is an older, wiser and more sonically-diverse beast than before. And Reznor presented all sides of NIN’s eclectic personality during the aptly-named “Lights in the Sky” tour -- a show that was as much audio-video mind-trip as it was rock ‘n’ roll spectacle.

Of course, there was enough high-decibel industrial-metal mayhem to keep devil horns in the air for most of the two-hour-plus show. Reznor, looking clean cut, buff and sounding as vocally solid as ever, led the band through a series of vicious tunes from every album in the NIN catalog. The early set featured several gems from the band’s latest album “The Slip,” as well as visceral fan favorites from the “The Downward Spiral” album and “Broken” EP.

But the show took a less expected turn during the second act, when NIN turned down the volume and got “artsy” with the crowd. During several songs, the band interacted with abstract imagery projected through a translucent video screen that covered the entire stage. The tactic allowed the band to delve into its more downbeat material – overlooked album cuts such as "The Warning” and “Vessel” became showstoppers – and provided engaging visual accompaniment for serene selections from the band’s “Ghosts I-V” album.

The "Ghosts" songs presented the biggest departure from the NIN of the past, as the band used mandolins, xylophones, recorders and other unusual-for-them instruments to recreate the ethereal instrumental tunes. A subdued version of the song “Piggy” followed, featuring – of all things -- a stand-up bass. Could this really be the same leather-and-fishnets clad band that famously wallowed in the mud and destroyed everything they touched during Woodstock '94?

Reznor and co. answered the question with a resounding “yes” during the third act. The band quickly got back to business, baring its teeth and pummeling the audience with strong renditions of “Wish,” “Head Like a Hole,” and more angst-ridden hits from its past. Though they continued to use the A/V elements to their full artistic extent, the smoke-and-mirror distractions were minor; all eyes were on Trent, who once again proved himself one of the most engaging frontmen in rock. No keyboards were shattered, and no innocent band members were assaulted during the course of the show, but the scope and diversity of the set proved more visionary than anything NIN has done onstage before it. Maturity does indeed have its benefits.

Here is Nine Inch Nail's Aug. 27 setlist:

"999,999" "1,000,000" "Letting You" "Discipline" "March of the Pigs" "Head Down" "The Frail" "Reptile" "Closer" "Gave Up" "The Warning" "Vessel" "Ghosts 5" "Ghosts 17" "Ghosts 19" "Piggy" "The Greater Good" "Pinion" "Wish" "Terrible lie" "Survivalism" "The Big Come Down" "Ghosts 31" "Only" "The Hand That Feeds" "Head Like a Hole"

"Echoplex" "God Given" "The Good Soldier" "Hurt" "In This Twilight"