Picture Book & Live Review: Nine Inch Nails @ Philips Arena

Nine Inch Nails 391-001

Photos By: Deidra Pinion
Review By: Ellen Eldridge

Trent Reznor dug his Nine Inch Nails even deeper into his fans’ psyches during the Tension 2013 tour stop at Philips Arena October 24. The set list stayed close to recent city stops, with “Copy of A” as the opener and “Hurt” as the grand finale. A solid two-hour set ensured fans got their money’s worth, but the truly inspiring aspect of this tour is the hope found by a tortured hopeless romantic, who is no longer hopeless.

The first time I saw Nine Inch Nails was in 1994 at the 25-year anniversary of Woodstock, and I brought a journal that my 16-year-old self saw fit to circle on the cover the proof of mud. I labeled it too, and I believe the book is buried in a closet somewhere still.

What Nine Inch Nails is known for is exorcising those demons and tortured moments that we each have. Most people get over their teenage angst and frustrated anger by the time they spread their wings in college and land a career where they can begin to reap what they’ve sown. Last night’s show proved a nostalgic return to those dark tendencies and cathartic expulsion.

“Terrible Lie” appeared third in the set, as playing this song has been par for the course across the years. The crowd perked up instantly, singing along, while I thought to myself that we—Reznor and I—were actors. The idea of acting transformed into a sense of relived nostalgia as a process of giving back—or giving the Devil his due. By the next song in the set, “March of the Pigs,” the line “Nothing can stop me now ‘cause I don’t care anymore,” struck me as a tribute to those feelings of frantic desperation.

The musicianship of Nine Inch Nails has been criticized as overly electronic or impure, but what we noticed last night was that Reznor’s music most excels at dynamics. That sharp punctuated moment when fans in their 30s snap their heads down to the snare beat while a steady bass line mimics that which is mundane in life. The drums carry on frenzied like the trapped minds that are banging their heads. The contradiction is built musically as the lyrics, though simple, convey a dramatic dynamic of rising and falling. Nine Inch Nails capitalized on these dynamics of sound with the inclusion of the stunning light show that many fans knew about before they left for the show.

That “I don’t care anymore” lyric repeats in varying forms in just about every song, but Reznor obviously started caring and taking much better care of himself. Those arms weren’t built by clutching his mic stand. The metaphor of “Broken” and “Fixed” and the struggle Reznor faced personally throughout his life has come full circle.

On the stage last night stood an Oscar winner and happily married father of two, singing his heart out and giving credit to the dark places he visited without taking up permanent residence. I’m willing to bet a similar experience occurred for many fans in attendance. We either get to a place where we can exist with our demons or they consume us. That is what I felt as I sang along with some songs I hadn’t heard in years. He may have come “back haunted,” but many artists and fans don’t come back at all. The tension rears its head on a tour like this, and fans come out to show support and share an experience akin to having a beer with an old friend, who surprised you as the hopeless romantic who found love and success.


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