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Help Me I Am In Hell

June 23, 2006

In lieu of a Friday Music Audit, here is an impression of the Portland, Maine 6-21-06 Nine Inch Nails concert, part of their Live: With Teeth 2006 junket…

NIN Portland, ME

Your Montag is an avid Nine Inch Nails fan. I’ve been on board since 1991, or HALO_02 as diehards might know it. Still, when I bought tickets back in December for their February concert, I didn’t know what to expect, having never seen the live show before. Sure I’d seen video of live shows, and heard live recordings, but based on those, my expectations were not exactly high. Then, when the February date was cancelled due to illness, there was an extra four months of not knowing what to expect before the show finally happened this past Wednesday night. Well, as it turned out, the show rocked.

When I say “the show rocked” what I mean is “The show fucking rocked in a rip out your guts and spit them back at you in a way that twists you up and leaves you on the floor with leg spasms and the desire to sleep for a week.”

(Which is a good thing.)

What I discovered is that there are certain aspects of a NIN live show that get lost in the recording process, the way a ghost cannot be photographed, or a vampire is not reflected in the mirror: like how the air throbs with drums and bass, or the relentless strobing of stage lights with more seizure inducing capacity than a Pokemon cartoon, the combined effect of which makes one feel like they’re watching a blipvert on Network 23.

After opening act Peaches she was good! —left the stage, the stage crew went about making the necessary changes to the setup, during which time, several panels of horizontal metal bars were lowered across the front of the stage (we would later learn that these panels supported a grid of LEDs that would light to create various patterns that I would describe as: ‘simulated flames’, ‘dripping blood’, ‘plume of smoke’ and ‘roiling clouds’ which may have been the same as ‘plume of smoke’ but for different background music.) For the first number, these metal bars served as cage separating performers’ habitat from audience’s outside world.

Before the house lights went down, we saw band members entering the ‘cage’ and could hear strains of Somewhat Damaged off The Fragile (Left) (HALO_14) apart from which, as far as I can discern, there can be no more perfect NIN song for opening a show. As the song grew, building intensity on intensity with more intensity, the house lights went down, and the stage lights produced a monochromatic strobing effect as blinding as arcing electricity. The framework of trusses supporting the stage lights slowly pressed down on top of the group, reducing the volume of their space and seemingly forcing the volume of sound out into the arena where the beating base drum sounded like heavy machine gun fire and felt like repeated, breath-stealing blows to the chest. And at the song’s apex, there was a cacophony of drums, during which the stage lights seemed as though wired into the drum kit, triggered by each strike of each drum. The effect of which was overwhelming, but in a way that Nine Inch Nails fans like to be overwhelmed.

It was fucking great.

There would be a couple of respites from this sensory onslaught during the down-tempo songs where the stage was flooded with mist and colored light. The combination of this effect, the purple light and the audience-borne constellation of cigarette lighters, during Something I Can Never Have put me in mind of a Prince performance of Purple Rain which I have never seen.

Trent Reznor doesn’t have flowing black locks anymore. His head is shorn in a very short style, and while I was too distant to see, at the show, recent pictures of Reznor reveal short hair and awesome sideburns. A style recognized by me as Teh Fehlleistungen. (Your ‘do is going big-time, F!)

Reznor doesn’t sing the songs as recorded. He doesn’t hit all the same notes. [Disclaimer: This is not meant as a negative comment in any way.] I can sing NIN songs, as they appear on the albums, note for note, and replicating the same tone of voice — for about an hour — then my voice is trashed for a week. This show was over two hours long, and the tour schedule seems pretty relentless. I can see why one might want to figure out a different way to sing these songs and sustain it night after night. Reznor nonetheless got in the requisite number of screams, and achieved the biting emotional intensity you’d expect. An amazing feat. So it is really of no matter that I was slightly unsettled in my attempts to keep up.

He throws the word “fucking” in a lot of extra places, too. Which is more funny than anything.

Also entertaining were the frenetic spasms of guitarist Aaron North. At one point he was throwing himself violently around stage— actually, for the entire performance he was throwing himself violently around stage —but at one point he was doing something that I can only describe as ‘attempting to kill himself with a guitar strap.’ In any other context, one would give this maniac a wide berth. But here, he is a single component of the glorious spectacle.

The show came to an end with a bracing performance of Head Like a Hole, and without the pretentious masturbatory drill of making the crowd chant and stomp and plead for an encore. (Thank you for that.) At the end, the grid of LEDs lighted up with the N-I-backward N logo, the house light came back up, and everyone left.

Fucking — great — show.

As a post-script: about the fucking logo. Now, Your Montag enjoys the logo as well as I should. It’s crisp, it’s simple, it’s symmetrical and the backwards ‘N’ that makes it so, is the balls. It’s a great logo. That said…

APPLAUDING THE ‘NIN’ LOGO IS FUCKING STUPID.

You have been “branded” by a marketing device.

If industrial music, as a genre, is commentary on a society that dehumanizes people; and if you have a problem with a society that dehumanizes people, why allow yourself to be programmed, like so much circuitry, to respond to a symbol? No matter how cool it seems to be.

Continue reading for my imperfect recollection of the set-list and a perhaps unreasonable wish list.

Set list: from memory, possibly incomplete, definitely out of order:
Somewhat Damaged
You Know What You Are?
Sin
Terrible Lie
March of the Pigs
Something I Can Never Have
Burn
Closer
Gave Up
Down In It
Help Me I am In Hell
Only
Wish
Hurt
Dead Souls
(?)
The Hand That Feeds
Big Come Down
(which TR apologized for fucking up.)
Get Down Make Love
Suck
La Mer
Head like a Hole

Not that Your Montag is dissatisfied in any way; but I’d also like to have heard:
Ringfinger
Last
Big Man With A Gun
The Becoming
(The Darth Vader song!)
Perfect Drug
Sunspots

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10 Comments
  1. June 23, 2006 6:39 PM

    Great review, Montag! Sounds like a good time was had by all. And what a great setlist. One thing; Peaches was the opener? That seems like a totally different demographic than NIN fans. If it works, go for it, I guess.

  2. June 23, 2006 10:42 PM

    Thanks. Yeah it was a great show. I didn’t think Peaches was such a stretch — aggressive guitar and keyboard driven music with a similarly aggressive stage show. I missed probably half of her act because of the stupid bottle neck they had funneling people in through a single enterance with the line snaking down the block. (I presume for security reasons.) Anyway, I’ll be checking out more of her stuff as a result of seeing (part of) the show.

    I wish I had gone to the Boston show tonight with fucking Bauhaus (!) as the supporting act.

  3. MadameD permalink
    June 24, 2006 12:37 AM

    Dude, that’s awesome.
    And, your micro-rant on applauding the logo? Just makes me think of Tool’s “Hooker with a Penis”. I love that song.

  4. June 26, 2006 11:36 AM

    Yes, great song.

  5. June 26, 2006 2:51 PM

    Didn’t realize that The Fehlly had reached such a high profile. *grin* (I heard a live interview in Los Angeles with TR a couple of months ago; they were making fun of his hair, but since it was a radio broadcast I had no idea what they were mocking…)

  6. brian permalink
    June 10, 2007 1:20 PM

    pinion was a great opening act song.

  7. October 19, 2007 7:21 AM

    Don’t ask me why, i happened to stumble across your blog doing a picture research on “woman short hair” (ahem, now what am i sounding like). When I saw Trent there (?!) I couldn’t help but click, and I’m happy I did. As a NIN fan I want to see them at Pukkelpop, in Belgium, for this performance tour (fourth time i’m seeing them live). And the performance here was pretty right like you described it. Reminded good memories… thank you for that :)
    And btw i even agree with you on that logo stuff, which was the first time i saw that on NIN’s stage, and found it pretty weird at that time.

  8. October 19, 2007 8:39 AM

    Thanks, So, for clicking and commenting!

    Lest you be disappointed, here is a picture of Ingrid Bergman rockin’ the short hairstyle back in the day.

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