NINE INCH NAILS at 1STBANK CENTER | 11/13/13 From the very beginning, a Nine Inch Nails show creates a different kind of space, a heightened reality, accompanied by an unsurpassed light show. A pulsing low end preceded the band taking the stage, and the six distinctive lighting rigs above each of the players came to life and the band went straight into "Copy of A" from Hesitation Marks. The almost retro synth beat felt urgent and haunting in a way we haven't heard before this album. Sounding like one of Reznor's most discretely layered songs, it also had a spare, even stark, physical presence that was like a palette cleanser for what was to come.
For the rest of the show, Reznor and company treated us to a broad spectrum of the band's back catalog, going back to 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, which happened surprisingly early on when the familiar pre-song textures of "Terrible Lie" came over the P.A. Live. The song seemed far more crushing and menacing, while even more polished and rendered more smoothly than on record.
In actuality, there's just nothing smooth about the song, but the reworking just enhanced its jagged edges. So when "March of the Pigs" followed with its joyous sense of pure mayhem, the crowd was amped up and singing along; it was like a glorious train wreck following a riveting car crash. All of it concluded, as though a chapter in the show, with the lurid jazz/funk of "Piggy."
The next five songs, all from Hesitation Marks served as a fine showcase for the diverse, sonically rich and inventive album, from the mutant funk of "All Time Low," to the urgent IDM-esque beat intro of "Disappointed," to hybrid ambient-industrial emotional roller coaster of evocative tones in "Came Back Haunted," to the dark, jazz-inflected downtempo strains of "Various Methods of Escape." The song suite revealed the less harsh side of some of Reznor's songwriting, without losing the emotional edginess.
From there, it was back to older songs, but with each of these, it was like we were getting to see a great live remix. As with "Sanctified," it got the dub and chilled out treatment, musically, but Reznor didn't exactly try to take the thorns and pain out of his vocals. "Survivalism" sounded so oppressive yet heady that it got a little uncomfortable before the song went into direct motion. "Wish," meanwhile, was stretched into an interesting, if recognizable, shape that linked perfectly with the cutting and driving "The Hand That Feeds" that followed.
The main set closed with a song everyone recognized, "Head Like a Hole." Even for those of us who have heard that song ad nauseam for the last two and a half decades or so, it still felt fresh and powerful, and that was because of the energy Reznor and company put into it, while also reworking the song so that it hit harder and more compelling sonic details.
The tune seemed almost like a new song again; really, it sounded like it benefited from what Reznor has learned about sculpting and crafting sound and songs since the time he first wrote it. It was both the most expected song of the show but also one of the true highlights, and it was certainly made to hold up well against the newer songs in a production and performance sense.
Nine Inch Nails didn't keep us waiting long for an encore and came back out to much applause and performed "All The Love in the World," bringing more of a pop sensibility to the show. At the end, though, it had to be one of the band's most iconic songs, the one covered by no less than Johnny Cash, "Hurt."
Grey-green clouds rose and streamed in the background on the projection screen and the song, with most of the crowd singing along, got a delicate treatment that did nothing to alleviate its heaviness. Refreshingly, it didn't come off as a bummer at all but rather an expression of solidarity for the human condition.
Nine Inch Nails 1STBANK Center - 11/13/13 Broomfield, CO
01.Copy Of A 02. 1,000,000 03. Terrible Lie 04. March of the Pigs 05. Piggy 06. All Time Low 07. Disappointed 08. Came Back Haunted 09. Find My Way 10. Various Methods of Escape 11. Sanctified 12. The Big Come Down 13. In Two 14. Survivalism 15. Running 16. Somewhat Damaged 17. Wish 18. The Hand That Feeds 19. Head Like a Hole
Encore 20. All The Love in the World 21. Even Deeper 22. While I'm Still Here 23. Hurt
Personal Bias: I first heard Pretty Hate Machine in 1990, and have been a fan ever since, and I think Trent Reznor has been a commendable advocate for more underground bands. Random Detail: There was a wide variety of T-shirt designs, most interesting and good. By the Way: Nice choice hiring Alan Moulder to do the mixing on Hesitation Marks.
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