Nine Inch Nails Live at TD Garden

Nine Inch Nails Live

It was only a mere four years ago that Trent Reznor kicked up his boots, put some amps and guitar pedals on eBay and declared that Nine Inch Nails were no longer a touring band. The “final” tour, the then aptly titled “Wave Goodbye Tour,” saw the band perform at some of the biggest amphitheaters around America before finally settling down and playing a handful of intimate club shows to end it all. It was a nice way to end things and, to be fair, Reznor kept himself plenty busy after the fact. Among other things, his collaborations with Atticus Ross scored big name movies such as The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and he formed a new band with his wife, How To Destroy Angels.

But, of course, the allure of being in the band he poured the good majority of his life into was too much and by 2012 Reznor was already alluding to a new Nine Inch Nails album. Those ideas came to life in the form of this year’s Hesitation Marks and, surprisingly, a tour stretching from the end of summer into early 2014. Despite some initial setbacks regarding the touring line-up, which was at one point was set to feature the legendary ex-King Crimson frontman and guitarist Adrien Belew, Reznor still pulled together an immense backing band which includes Pino Palladino holding down the low-end.

Opening the show was perhaps the band least-likely to ever play an arena, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band, known both for their powerful music and tendency to shun the spotlight, seemed like an odd choice that catered more so to Reznor’s great taste in music rather than the corporate arena they were performing at. Their droney set, consisting entirely of tracks off of their new album, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, was met with a mixed reaction amongst some of the crowd despite it being an exercise in both powerful restraint and cathartic release. Melodies slowly formed over their bleak noise-scape, slowly punctuating the dense sound. The few tempo changes that did occur were powerful and immediate, reaching into the depths of their bleak sound to turn it into a widescreen affair that, in a weird way, actually made a whole lot of sense in an arena.

Eerie projections played behind them, but the band did nothing to even acknowledge the crowd, preferring to perform in a semicircle facing each other. In stark contrast, then, to the flashy and arena ready Nine Inch Nails. Clad in all black, Reznor also said little to the crowd but his body actions spoke volumes. An imposing figure on stage, Reznor would frequently raise his arms to the heavens or crouch down, as if he were a tiger ready to pounce while long time guitarist Robin Finck stalked the stage like a spectre of death.

However, what’s baffling is that Nine Inch Nails are even playing arenas at all. Not because their music is unworthy or that they aren’t popular enough, far from it judging by the near capacity TD Garden; in fact, their music is, at times, seemingly far too intelligent and unpredictable to satiate an arena that is potentially full of casual and inattentive fans. Take, for instance, opener “Copy Of A”, fresh off of their new album Hesitation Marks; a song that careens down dark alleyways sounding like the soundtrack to a modern take on The Matrix. Not light years away from their more guitar driven songs, but certainly an interesting and less populace direction that would lead some bands directly out of the arena and into smaller venues.

With that in mind, Reznor knows his audience and wasn’t afraid to drop in plenty of fan favorites. “March of The Pigs,” originally blown-out and claustrophobic on album, explodes in arena-ready form, quickly capsizing between frantic blasts of distortion and slow piano balladry giving the crowd an opportunity to both singalong and mosh.

Never one to half-bake anything, Nine Inch Nails’s light show was just as impressive as the actual performance. Not a single light was out of sync, each rotating and gyrating to every chord and tempo change, backed by a huge number of LEDs that stuttered and glowed in order to further emphasize the dynamic performance before them. At times, massive screens would engulf the stage, one behind the band and two in front, allowing projections to morph and almost come to life with a 3D illusion trick. The most impressive moment saw the entire band being filmed in real-time and being projected onto these screens in all varieties of distorted manners, transforming the band into wire-frames and unreal monstrosities.

The band’s setlist consisted mostly of Hesitation Marks, with a few detours into the ultra popular The Fragile and The Downward Spiral. The clear contradictions in Nine Inch Nails’s music, drum machines (including some prominent 808 handclaps), and arpeggiated synths set against ultra-distorted guitars and hard hitting drums, all meshed together to form an all encompassing sound.

Truly one of the most unique bands to ever headline an arena, Nine Inch Nails pulled a mightily impressive set that expertly blended their powerful music with an incredibly well-thought out and impressive light shows. All of this came to fruition in the last four songs before their encore: “Somewhat Damaged,”, “Wish,” “The Hand That Feeds,” and “Head Like A Hole.” The band, now in perfect synchronicity with their audience, delivered the most hard-hitting and rewarding moments of their show with fans feeding off of the energy and creating an electric atmosphere that is very rare at shows of this scale.

By Stevie Dunbar
Photo by Nina Corcoran

If you liked this, check out:
The 1975 Live at The Sinclair
Phoenix Live at House of Blues

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