Live in L.A.: Nine Inch Nails, the Forum, September 6
By Siran Babayan
Somebody owes Mr. Self Destruct a great big apology. You know him, Trent
Reznor, he who hates everyone. Radio hasn’t given Nine Inch Nails the airplay it used to. And at the risk of setting off torch-wielding fans, NIN’s last two albums, 2007’s Year Zero and this year’s The Slip have left me cold, and not in the way us Ninnies like to feel. But a mere two years after the band’s last stop here, I was reminded that seeing NIN live is to be blinded by the light, many lights, lights that can be seen from outer space, even in an indoor arena. A NIN show is a visual feast, Christmas and Vegas rolled into one, causing some to vomit around us, literally. Or perhaps it was the booze. Remember the night if you were there, or look at our photos, then judge for yourself.
All photos by Bryony Shearmur
Wearing a red shirt, Reznor stomped onto the stage during “999,999,” followed by “1,000,000,” both off The Slip. Reznor still likes to make a mess, tossing water bottles like grenades, and hurling and kicking keyboards, keyboard stands and microphone stands like beach balls. (At least he’s not jumping his band mates from behind anymore.) And longtime guitarist Robin Finck (with the band since 1994) is still sporting dreads, while new bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (of Beck) has an afro. An afro in NIN is as alarming as, well, Reznor wearing color.
After Reznor screamed “All you fuckin’ pigs,” we knew what was next, though he didn’t have to. The first few pounding beats of “March of the Pigs,” from The Downward Spiral, are NIN in a nutshell. But it’s also a maddeningly short song, which Reznor had the sense to stretch out a little here and there. As for “Closer,” Reznor needs to stop fucking with us like an animal. (He stayed true to all the big hits, including “Hurt” and “Head Like a Hole.”) Sure, I still have visions of Mark Romanek’s rotating pig heads — Reznor must really dig swine — dancing in my head, but it’s an overplayed, 15-year-old relic that’s pretty lightweight compared to other material, and
should have stayed in the college dorm room of every fan who came of age with Reznor along with "You Oughta Know." Again, Reznor had the smarts to tinker with it, adding more emphasis on all the effins and mixing it with “The Only Time.” And he sure knows how to work a microphone, whether writhing around the stand or holding on to the mike as if it were greased with Crisco in Iggy Pop–like posture.
Nineties alt-rock’s biggest sex symbol is in his 40s now, and he’s not content with just randomly banging on keyboards and smashing stuff. Ever the maestro, Reznor included tracks off this year’s all-instrumental album, Ghosts I-IV, that had the band playing on an upright bass, marimba, and even a xylophone.
If a little jazzy experimentation wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the must-be-seen-to-be-believed visual effects sure were: a giant LED curtain that projected everything from a rainstorm to shattering glass; swinging light cords that looked like a candy-cane lane; synchronized videos that seemed to move along to the music; and static screens that disappeared with the touch of a finger. (You can bow down before Leroy Bennett, the lighting programmer who's worked on tours for the Cure, Prince and Paul McCartney, and currently Madonna.) During “Survivalism,” eight different screens showed live surveillance shots of the crowd, and a couple who may or may not have been doing it in the Forum’s bathroom. And on “The Hand That Feeds,” a single, stark image of Bush in the background that very slowly and eerily morphed into McCaine’s.
Even in the midst of all that unmitigated noise, you could hear rows of wows. Which begs the question: Why doesn’t this man have his own theme park yet? Dolly Parton has Dollywood. And Trent Reznor could have Nailland, or Nintopia, the happiest place in hell.