Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NIN Wave Goodbye at the Palladium, 9/2/09

I go to a lot of shows, as you may have gleaned from even a cursory examination of this blog. Most of them are good, very few are bad, some are great, and a handful get the chance to be historical, transcendent, mind-blowing in that way that most music fans should be lucky enough to experience. Yep, you guessed it--this was one of those type shows. 

For me, it's mostly about the quality of the actual performance, the setlist, the sound; all those things the band has the most control over. Context, though, also plays a role, and I'd say that seeing one of my first and favorite bands in a relatively small venue for what was to be one of their final shows ever is an important part of the equation. I'd been waiting eagerly for this concert for over a month, ever since I managed to scoop up two presale tickets even after multiple login errors on the Nine Inch Nails website, and I made sure my girl and I got there early; there's no way I was having a repeat of the tardiness of the last one. My fears of long lines proved unfounded though, as we just walked right up after meeting a friend for a drink across the street. People were already pressing up against the merch window like fiends at a dope sale, and after a helpful tip I swung around to the side and purchased a commemorative poster. In an unexpected celebrity sighting, Steve Perry of Journey was in line behind me. His girlfriend looked like a fan, but the thought of Steve Perry singing "I wanna fuck you like an animal!" in his Steve Perry voice while crusing down Sunset just doesn't click for me.

Dorkiness firmly in hand, we made our way to the floor, where the ratio of black to all other colors in the sartorial choices department was roughly 364:1 (yes, I wore green). Openers Mew put on a solid show, creating an impressive wall of sound that fortified the lead singer's slightly too-high voice, but we all knew they were just passing time. After their set my friend Jamie and her sister found us in the crowd, not long before the lights went out, the crowd lost its shit and Trent Reznor brought his latest version of NIN to the stage for one last time. I'd read that he played his breakthrough album, the mid-Nineties classic The Downward Spiral, in its entirety at a New York show, so when the beginning of "Mr. Self Destruct" rang out I started screaming and jumping up and down like a redneck at a monster truck rally. After tearing through a fearsome rendition of that track, they slowed down into "Piggy," and I knew we'd be getting the full album. I don't think Reznor even spoke to the crowd until after the final song, but everything was tight and energetic. He ditched the extended live version of "March of the Pigs" for the original, and "Closer" sounded as good as I've ever heard it. This was also the first time I ever got to hear "Ruiner" or "Big Man With a Gun," two of my favorites, and they were top notch as well. The first set, like the album, closed with "Hurt," with Trent sounding mournful and powerful, reminding us all why we love that song so much.

After that, the band played for nearly another hour, touching upon most of the other albums (though The Fragile was ignored), Reznor still only speaking occasionally, mostly to announce that he was so sick that his voice sounded to him like it was coming from an AM radio. A few songs into the second set he started talking about how he spent a lot of time thinking on how he wanted the band to sound before he even started, and that the man he was about to bring out on stage was a huge influence. Finally, Steve Perry's presence explained! But no, it was Gary Numan, looking buff and scary (so he fit in with Reznor). They played his song "Metal" with Trent retreating to keyboards, and then the omnipresent Eighties hit "Cars." Say what you will about that song, but it was a hit for a reason, and NIN playing it seemed to have a rejuvenation effect on both the song and Numan himself. One of those unforeseen and extremely memorable concert moments, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Numan left the stage to lunatic cheers, and NIN charged into "The Hand That Feeds" and then the song that started it all for me and many other fans, "Head Like a Hole." I started my journey with Nine Inch Nails and Reznor almost seventeen years ago with an old tape of Pretty Hate Machine that I wore out from rewinding the first song over and over, and while the journey didn't necessarily end that night in the sweaty confines of the Hollywood Palladium, it definitely reached the conclusion of a long chapter. God (and Trent) willing, I'd love to read it again, but for now color me satisfied.

1st Set: The Downward Spiral: Mr. Self Destruct / Piggy / Heresy / March of the Pigs / Closer / Ruiner / The Becoming / I Do Not Want This / Big Man with a Gun / A Warm Place / Eraser / Reptile / The Downward Spiral / Hurt
2nd Set: 1,000,000 / Terrible Lie / Lights in the Sky / Burn / Gave Up / Suck / Metal (with Gary Numan) / Cars (with Gary Numan) / The Hand That Feeds / Head Like a Hole

Finally, here are some pictures of my friends and I before:

And after:

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