Better than: Literally and absolutely anything else you might have been doing.
Trent Reznor shelved Nine Inch Nails in 2009 and, for a while, it appeared as though the future lacked any recorded output or live performances from the sonic heretic -- at least any under the moniker with which he had initially risen to fame. The paradigm of Nine Inch Nails' music had shifted in a way that left many of the fans that initially found a home in Reznor's post-outsider art, feeling alienated. The soul of the music had changed with Reznor's aging and sobering. However, the formerly inconsolable synth masher returned in 2013 with a new Nine Inch Nails release, entitled Hesitation Marks, and a tour was announced.
Hesitation Marks didn't necessary win over the hearts of those fans and critics that expected something more starkly original or aggressive from a man that had defiantly reveled in progression through the '90s (particularly after such a long period of absence). But Nine Inch Nails' live performances have earned a reputation for being ritualistic experiences with little in the way of peers. The Tension tour stopped in South Florida last night, and NIN's reputation was validated in spades with jaw dropping visuals, perfectly defined sonics, and the flare for perfection that Reznor has wrestled with since his early days.
The show was opened by influential synth rock icon, Gary Numan. Numan, best known for his 1979 hit, "Cars," appeared in fine form, energetically dancing around the stage in a way that betrayed his years while choking a mic stand aggressively. Unfortunately, the Numan set was an abbreviated affair, culled predominantly from newer releases that showcased a sound not too far removed from that of Nine Inch Nails itself -- a band that legitimately would not exist were it not for Numan's influence. Reznor noted this later in the evening. A beefed up rendition of "Cars," which featured a chunky rhythm guitar in the chorus that made it feel more like the Fear Factory cover than the original, was the obvious highlight of the set, and the early crowd perked up as they jockeyed for positions on the open floor and adjusted their pleatherwear.
Reznor and co. made stage break to the riotous applause of an audience that had obviously gone quite long enough without a night basking in the oppressive sonics and mind bending visuals of a Nine Inch Nails show. Reznor appeared beneath industrial lighting that looked as if pulled from the bulkheads of some forsaken spacecraft. Encased in individual chambers of smoke and light, the band laid into the electro-churn of "Copy of a," which built upon itself until the song and the audience veritably exploded.
For every song, the visuals of the stage morphed and seamlessly provided a new environment to perfectly match the details of the performance. The lighting that coalesced into new realms for each song was particularly impressive, playing an integral part in the performance and removing the show from the cavernous bowels of an arena in the Everglades and transporting it to strange, new worlds for every new movement of music.
"Disappointed" was performed from a dancing forest of yellow LEDs, "Find My Way" was done in front of a massive blue back drop that turned the band into silhouettes, a massive screen dropped in front them to add a third dimension to portions of the night. And for the members of the audience "taking the journey" (as Reznor later described the performance) with the aid of substances, the lighting was surely an overwhelming experience in conjunction with the bombast of the music.
And though much of the night was comprised of new fare, classics though were plentiful enough to make most fans happy. NIN played "Terrible Lie" early in the set, and a sea of voices and cell phones greeted the massive wall of guitar filth and synth wash. "March of the Pigs" followed to turn up the heat, and the trifecta of favorites was rounded out with an unbelievably dynamic run through "Piggy." The night hit a fever pitch with "Sanctified" that wasn't topped until "Head Like a Hole" closed the set proper.
The performance was made exponentially more powerful when bolstered by the astonishingly talented team Reznor assembled for the 2013 incarnation of Nine Inch Nails. It included guitarist Robin Finck, drummer Ilan Rubin (who is now our favorite new drummer), bass hero Pino Pallidino, and even the Rolling Stones' blues howler Lisa Fischer (who had an incredible 5th Element-esque vocal feature). Their gifts, the visual show, and Reznor's own persona -- now more intense than ever with his musclebound frame and sober focus -- the show was without a doubt the best performance we've seen -- or expect to see -- in 2013.
Copy of A
March of the Pigs
All Time Low
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
I Would for You
The Big Come Down
A Warm Place
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole
Reptile (with Gary Numan)
We Take Mystery (To Bed) (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
While I'm Still Here
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