Nine Inch Nails, Pussy Riot Bring Defiant Messages to Houston's Day for Night Fest

Rick Kern/WireImage
Conceptual artist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C) of Pussy Riot performs onstage during Day for Night festival on Dec. 16, 2017 in Houston, Texas. 

Back in August at the height of Hurricane Harvey's wrath, there was speculation that Houston's third annual Day for Night festival might not even happen because its grounds -- the site of the previously disused Barbara Jordan Post Office -- were partway underwater, like much of the surrounding downtown area.

Yet, in the midst of the city's first few weeks of recovery and rebuild, the festival made clear it would defiantly forge ahead Friday to Sunday (Dec. 15-17) with a stacked lineup anchored by <a href="/music/Nine-Inch-Nails">Nine Inch Nails</a>, <a href="/music/Thom-Yorke">Thom Yorke</a>, <a href="/music/Solange">Solange</a>, <a href="/music/St-Vincent">St. Vincent</a> and <a href="/music/Justice">Justice</a>, plus a slew of installation art filling out the first two floors of the site's central building.

So when heavy rains were predicted during Nine Inch Nails' set on Saturday (Dec. 16), few fans appeared deterred: What's one storm to a contingency of fans who just weathered Mother Nature's most severe sucker-punch to the Gulf Coast in a decade? After pummeling the sprawling poncho-wearing crowd with an aggressively loud new-old-new song sandwich ("Branches/Bones" > "Wish" > "Less Than"), frontman Trent Reznor let the audience know he shared their sentiments.

"We're not gonna let a little rain stop us -- let's go, piggies," he commanded, segueing into the surly stomp of "March of the Pigs" and the industrial jazz drone of "Piggy."

Ends up he was only halfway right. The band raged through eight more tunes (among them: The Fragile's "The Frail" and "The Wretched," plus two more moody new tunes, "The Lovers" and "The Background World") before the volume of water battering the stage became an apparent safety hazard.

"I'm being told we've gotta leave the stage now," Reznor reported. "Hold on and let me figure out what the f---'s going on."

In an anticlimactic twist, the singer wasn't even allowed back out to offer a proper goodbye: Moments after the group walked off, the house lights came up and stagehands hurriedly packed up equipment, effectively stripping the festival of what should have been one of its crowning moments. 

In lieu of Nails' full run, Russian activist outfit <a href="/music/Pussy-Riot">Pussy Riot</a> (who also hosted a heavily attended talk on Friday for the fest's "summit" day) easily won top marks for the day by drawing a massive audience during their acrobatically theatrical live set, which cleverly used undeniably infectious entertainment (both sonically and visually, think something like the <a href="/music/Spice-Girls">Spice Girls</a> and <a href="/music/Taylor-Swift">Taylor Swift</a> meet <a href="/music/Die-Antwoord">Die Antwoord</a>) as the honeypot to draw people into a conversation about diffusing derogatory gender stereotypes and deliver a poignant socio-political message: Wielding a sign that read "Good night white pride" and holding middle fingers high, they sang jovially, "Make America great again!"

Inside on the blue stage, there was 90 minutes of vinyl-fueled boogies and breakbeats from <a href="/music/Jamie-XX">Jamie XX</a> (his first solo foray since the xx took up the mantle of fest headliners over the past year), and besides, this was the primetime to soak in the spellbinding installations of light and sound (among more than a dozen featured, the robotic ballet of VT Pro's Telestron was the most mind-blowing).
 
And the day's preceding programming likewise served up plenty for any music fan seeking a break from the perpetual homogeny permeating most other festival lineups: <a href="/music/Of-Montreal">Of Montreal</a> drew droves of fanatical freaks early on when they played the entirety of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? in celebration of its 10th anniversary; <a href="/music/Perfume-Genius">Perfume Genius</a> thrilled and mesmerized with an arsenal of smooth moves accompanying a hefty selection mostly pulled from their critically acclaimed fourth album, No Shape; and on the main stage before NIN, <a href="/music/James-Blake">James Blake</a> -- already an arresting singer in every instance -- finally carved out a space for himself as an equally capable performer, shedding the shell of his keyboard shroud and emerging at the stagefront to sing a trio of tunes for his set's finale.