Concert Review: Nine Inch Nails: Lights in the Sky over North America 2008 Tour
by Jeff Ritter
Published: August 21, 2008
Nine Inch Nails played the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Aug. 20, to an enthusiastic if somewhat sparse crowd. The upper section of the arena was completely vacant, which surprised me as I see a ton of cars on the road with NIN stickers in their windows. The show had plenty of advance notice, so the turnout seemed a little underwhelming.
The show opened with a band who's name is not The Nameless Ones, but it might as well be. This guitar, bass and drum trio hit the stage at 8:00 sharp and played close to 40 minutes without announcing themselves as a band, naming the individual members or any of their songs. And on the whole, they sucked so bad I don't even care to do any research to find out who they were. They weren't even listed on the ticket. The drummer seemed to be in the wrong band. More than once I heard beats from him that sounded like surf rock, and I do love me some surf rock. But his band mates were all about the distortion -- not a single clean chord or even one real note was played in their whole set. The guitarist went so far as to toss his instrument to the ground like it disgusted him, only to play it as it lay. Son, you are not The Who, you are not Nirvana, and you weren't good enough to get many more gigs, so I strongly suggest not wrecking your instrument, because there might not be another for you (and maybe there shouldn't be, so do us all a favor and go Pete Townsend all over that guitar). Ah...I just accidentally discovered that these guys are called A Place To Bury Strangers. I'm sure I could find a place for them, and for their incessant use of strobe lights. I'm glad I'm not prone to epileptic seizures.
Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails touring band hit the stage right at 9:00. And despite what had to be a disappointing turnout -- the floor area wasn't full either, so headbangers had plenty of room to thrash without actually banging heads -- Nine Inch Nails put forth one of the most energetic shows you'll ever see.
I was told before the show by some friends who'd seen Nine Inch Nails previously that they pull off some hi-tech visual wizardry. I suppose that depends on your definition of electronic magic, because the first few songs were accompanied only by pulsing lights arrayed behind and along the sides of the stage, nothing to amazing about that. By the time Reznor broke into
|Nine Inch Nails
- Letting You
- March of the Pigs
- Head Down
- The Frail
- The Wretched
- Gave Up
- Me, I’m Not
- The Great Destroyer
- Ghosts (not sure which ones)
- The Greater Good
- Terrible Lie
- The Big Come Down
- Head Like a Hole
- Encore: Echoplex
- Love Is Not Enough
- God Given
- In This Twilight
"Closer" things started to become a bit more interesting as the stage was awash in red light. Reznor's delivery was as strong as ever. I often wonder if musicians secretly dread success -- they must get tired of having to do the same top hits in every show -- but Reznor seemed as enthusiastic as ever, his lines dripping with sensuality.
"Gave Up" seemed to be a crescendo to the first act. The band was in top form and the guitars seemed to reach higher and higher as the wall of red and blue lights behind them undulated and pulsed. I still wasn't bowled over with technical wizardry, but damn they sounded good.
Act Two, if you will, featured the descent of the video screens, a mesh of what I assumed to be LED displays that allowed for both background and foreground images, enveloping the band in a surreal landscape of light. They performed a bit of a slow interlude, the "Ghosts" set, with classical instruments including the xylophone. I'm not entirely sure how the majority of the crowd felt about this somber intermezzo but I thoroughly enjoy watching musicians play outside of their comfort level, or at least outside of their expectations. And Reznor's band is comprised of some outstanding musicians:Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Alessandro Cortini, Robin Finck, and Josh Freese. I think this might have been maybe the second show I'd seen to feature a xylophone, with the other one being The Moody Blues if memory serves me right. Yeah, I know, I'm old and have eclectic tastes.
The screens would come and go from time to time, but I think the most impressive bit of technical visual wizardry came on "Only." The band was surrounded by screens of static. When Reznor would sing, he'd step slightly closer to the front screen (which he was behind, remember) and the static would part to reveal him. When he wasn't singing the portal would close back to solid static. At the chorus, the static would collapse into a sort of amorphous "flame" or white energy surrounding the stage, giving the band an almost supernatural aura. The second verse was similar to the first, but now Reznor would play with the portal, flinging it around the stage much like Tom Cruise manipulated holograms in "Minority Report." That was some fine technical wizardry, at last.
I entered the Scottrade Center knowing exactly a half dozen Nine Inch Nails songs. I heard five of them, so I wasn't at all disappointed. The only one I knew that wasn't played, and it should be obvious to Rock Band gamers, was "Hand That Feeds."
One of the major concert venues in St. Louis is the Verizon Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, where an 11:00 curfew is strictly enforced. I figured the same would hold true Downtown, as the show went dark right at 11:00, as if on cue. But the band came back out and played another six songs, right up to 11:30 -- bonus!
The crowd was interesting to watch. Trent Reznor created Nine Inch Nails in 1988, so the angst-ridden kids that brought him his early success are now, like Reznor himself, 20 years older. There were still a few angst-ridden emo boys around -- the kid to my right who looked a bit like the WWE's Jeff Hardy, but with a red mesh top over a black shirt, fingerless gloves, shiny black leather pants and about as much meat on him as a Hot Pocket. Thank God I had a hot blonde to my left to balance things out. But the long bangs were now mostly receding hairlines. There was a guy a couple rows behind me who looked like Big Pussy from The Sopranos. And the most animated guy in the whole building was, surprisingly, one of the guys running the band's soundboard at the rear of the floor area.
This dude never stopped moving for nearly 3 hours -- I bet he burned as many calories as Michael Phelps.
I'm glad I went. Nine Inch Nails did not disappoint, and their spirited performance more than made up for the rather poor attendance. The show was an audio feast, and while maybe not up to the visual wizardry I was promised, Nine Inch Nails put on an excellent performance.