Concert Reviews

Last Night: Nine Inch Nails at American Airlines Center

Nine Inch Nails, A Place To Bury Strangers American Airlines Center August 18, 2008

Better than: Watching all three Matrix movies on blu-ray.

Trent Reznor and...The Pips? (Derrick Miller)

More of a multimedia event than a concert, the performance last night of Trent Reznor and his latest incarnation of Nine Inch Nails was nothing short of breathtaking. Packed with enough emotional anguish and visual dynamics to fuel a season of prime time television dramas, the music was nearly dwarfed by an array of stage manipulations and large scale computer effects that cast an eerie Orwellian effect over the proceedings for most of the evening.

Beginning with three cuts from The Slip, Nine Inch Nails’ most recent effort, the band rarely took the foot off the gas pedal. When a more familiar track like “March of the Pigs” surfaced, the 80 percent-filled arena roared like an addict receiving a much-needed fix. While the music pounded like a forbearer of Armageddon, the stage crew went about turning the AAC into a high tech freak show. Metal curtains that surrounded the band turned into giant LED screens that pulsed with static and shadowy images. At one point the placement of the screens forced Reznor and three bandmates to perform a mini-set at the very front of the stage, creating a claustrophobic feel that suited the mood of songs such as “The Warning” perfectly.

About midway through the two-hour angst fest, Reznor retreated to center stage where he played xylophone (!) on several instrumental numbers from the moody Ghosts releases. Beautiful and not the least bit techno, this portion of the show was an amazing example of how well Reznor’s audience understands the mercurial artist. While the instrumental tracks are undeniably gorgeous (coming across like the Butthole Surfers covering Calexico), they are also short on the kind of drive most folks are looking for at typical rock shows. Yet, here were scantily clad goth girls and beer soaked frat boys all swaying to music that could easily serve as the soundtrack to a PBS special on long lost undersea creatures.

Shortly thereafter, Reznor unleashed “Head Like a Hole” and even three shirtless (and unconsciously loaded) youngsters in front of me raised from near death to bounce along in uninhibited glee. The second to last song of the encore was “Hurt” and the crowd sang along to the power ballad with an adulation that bordered on religious fanaticism. When Reznor finally left the stage and the house lights came on, fans cheered as if Obama himself had just spoken.

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I knew the night was going to be an odd one when the ticket lady said to my photo pass request, “The artist is having a bad day so no pictures will be allowed.” Luckily, my friend Derrick Miller brought in his digital camera and did manage to take a few long ranges shots (as did about 10,000 others). Also at the door, security was taking all spiked dog collars, wristbands, etc. and tagging them for pick up after the show. I could envision the chaos as fans elbowed one another, proclaiming, “Hey, that’s my sadomasochistic paraphernalia.”

Random Note: As they approach 40, many of these original, leather-clad goth girl, Nine Inch Nail fans are gaining some weight. Perhaps these gals need to work in a salad along with the human flesh. And believe me, all of that tight fitting bikini wear needs to be retired post haste! Reznor, too, was a rather stocky fellow, looking more like a late night plumber than the sleek frontman of days past.

By The Way: Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers opened the show impressively with a quick eight songs of doomy post-punk that recalled The Jesus and Mary Chain along with Echo and the Bunnymen. Although the band’s strobe light backdrop did not do the epileptics in the house any favors, the music was dense and almost memorable. The crowd, which, at 7:30 p.m., was more of a polite gathering, treated the trio respectfully, warming up the mosh pit for the frenzy that was to come. --Darryl Smyers