Live Review: Nine Inch Nails in Boston

May 16, 2005 12:19 PM
Those who know Nine Inch Nails (music) only from their studio recordings--industrial-rock affairs heavy on synthesized sounds--might assume that the group's material wouldn't translate well in a live setting.

They'd be sorely mistaken, as evidenced by the band's Friday night (5/13) performance at Boston's Orpheum Theatre.

NIN's music--which frontman Trent Reznor largely performs alone during recording sessions--became a beast unleashed at the hands of Reznor and his backing band (bassist Jeordie White, guitarist Aaron North, keyboardist Alessandro Cortini and drummer Jerome Dillon), who infused each song with near-overdose levels of kinetic energy.

North--who takes over for the psychotic-looking Robin Finck, a fixture on previous NIN tours--owned his new role, flailing about the right side of the stage, and tearing through huge, shredding guitar riffs that transformed songs such as surprise nugget "The Big Come Down," a synth-heavy cut from 1999's "The Fragile," into jagged-edged, guitar-based rockers.

North's partner in crime throughout the night was former Marilyn Manson bassist White, whose instrument shook the historic venue. When not flanking Reznor while demonically roaring their background vocals, North and White--who, with their longsleeve, black shirts and shoulder-length, jet-black hair, looked like brothers--repeatedly doused each other with water bottles.

Dillon and Cortini, meanwhile--set back on risers positioned to the right and left sides of the stage, respectively--were the glue that held it all together, with Dillon serving up a barrage of live drum beats that brought the songs to life, and Cortini delivering the electronic soundscapes that make NIN sound like NIN.

The focal point, of course, was Reznor, who dumped himself into the performance. His muscles tensed and face often contorted as he sang and screamed his way through a litany of album-quality vocals that he seemed to forcefully wring from his body. Clad in a sleeveless, button-down, black shirt--and sporting a set of guns that suggest the now-sober frontman has traded in substances for barbells--the raven-haired mastermind behind the group was drenched in sweat just minutes into the performance.

Reznor--who occasionally strapped on a guitar, and also worked the keys for show-opening instrumental "The Frail" and grimy, self-loathing ballad "Hurt"--barely spoke a word between songs, limiting his banter to a few sincere "Thank you"s. The audience didn't seem to mind, as the non-stop pace resulted in a whopping 21-song setlist (shown below).

The majority of the set featured staples performed during NIN's 2000 tour, but included some enthusiastically received surprises--such as "Burn" (from the "Natural Born Killers" soundtrack), "Reptile" (from 1994's "Downward Spiral") and the aforementioned "The Big Come Down"--as well as four cuts from the recently released "With Teeth," the group's first new studio collection in almost six years.

The show's intensity was enhanced by some creative lighting that included two-dozen narrow, vertical bands of multi-colored LEDs that spanned the rear of the stage and stood about seven feet tall, and floor-mounted arrays of angled, metal rods that, a few feet up, were bent perpendicular to the stage, leaving the lights at their ends aimed toward the band members.

The production's greatest asset, however, was an apparently gifted soundboard operator who created a flawless mix (whoever miked Dillon's drum kit deserves an honorable mention, as well).

Noted on past tours for inflicting a staggering amount of damage to their gear and each other, NIN circa 2005 seem to have dialed down their self-destruct mode, with Reznor limiting his microphone-cord assault to just one round-the-stage pass that toppled a few mic stands but no bodies, North knocking over some of Dillon's kit mid-song, and everyone tempting the gods of electrocution by dousing each other--and Cortini's keyboard rig--with frequent servings of water.

The antics punctuated an explosive performance that would have stunned anyone who doubted the band's ability to deliver the goods in concert, and made it clear why NIN's fans remain so fervently dedicated to an entity that, over the past decade, has released only two new studio albums.

Set list:
The Frail
The Wretched
You Know What You Are?
The Line Begins to Blur
March of the Pigs
Piggy
Terrible Lie
Burn
Closer
Reptile
The Big Come Down
Gave Up
The Day the World Went Away
Suck
Getting Smaller
Even Deeper
Wish
Hurt
The Hand That Feeds
Starf-----s
Head Like a Hole

May 2005
16 - New York, NY - Hammerstein Ballroom
18, 19 - Philly, PA - Electric Factory
21, 22 - Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle
24 - Houston, TX - Verizon Wireless Theatre
25 - Austin, TX - Stubbs Bar-B-Q
27, 28 - Phoenix, AZ - Marquee Theatre
30, 31 - San Diego, CA - Soma

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