Recently, I turned 42, which I think means I can legally drink twice as much now. My birthday celebrations were mostly low-key, but as I was kind of down approaching the date, I think the universe decided to toss me a bone: I won tickets to go see Nine Inch Nails.
I started listening to the brain child of Trent Reznor when I was an angsty twenty-something going through a lot of change in life choices. Pretty Hate Machine has been on my desert island disc list for some time, evident in that I still write as if music comes on “discs”. I had not realized that Reznor and crew had already done a farewell tour and that this was more than just another show, but I don’t know if that knowledge in advance would have made it any more awesome.
The arena is almost four hours from home. The PNC arena in Raleigh, NC is nice enough, though I still think it should be a felony to charge $4.50 for a freaking bottle of Aquafina. That said, my wife and I did dine on some pretty damn fine bar-b-que before taking our seats and having our senses overwhelmed.
I have to give some mention to the opening band, whose name apparently requires two clauses to fit in all the pretension: Godspeed You! The Black Emperors. What galled me about their music was that they were obviously talented musicians and their sound was very spiffy, but they take so much time getting to the point of demonstrating brilliance that I was too bored with their droning to care.
They played two songs, each about ten minutes long, though it felt like about ten hours. The first three or four minutes of each sounded like they were tuning up the string section or maybe were just trying to stretch the intro to cover for a guitarist who’d show up late; there is such a thing as too much foreplay, it turns out. On top of that, they had a screen showing random images, I think to add some edgy imagery to their masturbatory compositions, but it ended up just making the whole thing more confusing (Oh, you’re showing the word “Hope” in a scratchy font. How contreversial! That fits in in well with the loop of the six random photos of hospital paitents and the schematics of train parts).
I’m not arguing that they weren’t skilled, but I’m not a fan. There’s not enough drugs in the world to improve that part of the experience.
That low note aside, the concert was astounding. Reznor and the other band members were so obviously comfortable on stage, it was easy to forget that the whole production is meticulously crafted, each song with it’s own sensory overload of lights and images. The setlist rand their whole catalogue, everything from the 90’s to now, demostrating just how much of their music I’ve missed and have to go back and find. The crowd lit up on “Terrible Lie”, “March of the Pigs” and “Came Back Haunted”, devotees mixed in with people who’ve only heard them on modern “alt rock” stations.
I think just about every member of the band switched instruments at least once, going from synthesizers to percussion to guitars to saxaphone. The drummer, Ilain Rubin, stood out for me as he tore up the skins and filled the whole hall with rhythm. The Oscar winning, esteemed Mr. Reznor every inch the rock star you’d imagine, demonstrating over and over why he’s not just a musician but an influence.
As I got back home that night at 3am, there was no doubt it my mind that it had been worth the trip. As my wife put it, it was a bucket list item, and I was glad to cross it off even though I’d been unaware that seeing Nine Inch Nails in concert was even on there.
Oh, and by the way… check the “Published Works” link above. There’s a new entry. I’ll be writing more about that later this week.