“We’ve been away for a long time,” Trent Reznor told a captivated audience at Nine Inch Nails’ sold-out appearance at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. Tuesday night. “And to have you all still here means the world to us.”
It ought to. Having taken a hiatus the length of which would have killed most bands, Reznor had every reason to expect that his most recent album, The Fragile, would be met with indifference from even his most stalwart fans. And to some degree it has — the album has sold a mere 750,000 copies to date, ranking far below the multi-platinum success of its predecessor (1994’s The Downward Spiral). And Reznor’s grateful remarks, delivered at the outset of the band’s encore, struck a chord with the crowd, die-hard NIN fans who’ve stuck by the band despite flagging album sales, fleeting radio support and a sea-change in popular music (The Downward Spiral bowed at the high point of grunge, while The Fragile has had to contend with the insane popularity of pop tarts like Britney Spears and ‘N Sync); it also prefaced the encore’s first song, “The Day the World Went Away” perfectly.
Consider the group’s Anaheim show to be a sign that the world might be on its way back. Although the group couldn’t fill the comparatively small Cox Arena in San Diego on on June 3, they packed the cavernous Arrowhead Pond to the rafters and managed, despite refusing to rely solely on the slash-and-burn mechanics of their inhumanly intense Self Destruct Tour, to keep the crowd in check.
The show opened with ferocious renditions of two of the band’s earliest hits (“Terrible Lie” and “Sin”, both from Pretty Hate Machine), Reznor relentlessly abusing longtime guitarist Robin Finck and multi-instrumentalist Danny Lohner (highlights: Reznor mock-sodomizing Finck with a water bottle, then grabbing him a headlock, then unplugging his guitar and throwing Finck into the crowd). About halfway through the set, however, the band broke into a somber set of The Fragile’s more atmospheric songs. Positioned in front of a stunning three-screen LED video display, Reznor and Co. took the bold step of playing mid-tempo, mostly ambient numbers like “La Mer” and “The Great Below” to an audience clamoring for songs from the group’s back catalog — songs that, thanks to the long break between NIN’s breakthrough The Downward Spiral and the as-yet low-selling The Fragile, they haven’t heard for five years.And while NIN happily obliged by peppering their set with 10 songs from previous albums, including the classics “Head Like a Hole” and the surprise hit “Closer,” they also made a point of showcasing their recent work’s strongest points: songs that, while not rhythmically intense or anchored by profanity-laced choruses, use intricately structured dynamics and sound design to explore different areas of their tortured psyches.
The balance of material and energy produced NIN’s most mature and entertaining live experience yet, proving that the group can do more than undo themselves at a blistering pace (one thing they can’t do: get away from trashing their equipment, a by-now tired spectacle that the band now engage in on every tour stop, the only difference being that now, as mega rock stars, they can afford to bust more guitars and pour more water on keyboards).
Still, the sturm und drang didn’t always come off smoothly. Most tellingly, and thankfully late in the show, the group made a painfully rough transition from the thrashing, propulsive “Starfuckers, Inc.” into the ultra-quiet, ultra-intense “Hurt.” Still, by that point, the crowd belonged to Reznor, and produced a final burst of enthusiasm to sing along with the scorching chorus of “Starfuckers,” only to turn around and match Reznor word for word on “Hurt.”
Ultimately triumphant in Los Angeles, NIN’s Fragility 2.0 tour rolls on through San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest and on to Europe for the duration of summer. A complete list of tour dates is available at the official Nine Inch Nails Web site.
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