Nine Inch Nails at The Woodlands, 8/16/14
Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, The Dillinger Escape Plan
Photos by Jim Bricker
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 16, 2014
For the first time in literally six years, Trent Reznor took the stage in front of a Houston crowd Saturday night.
Hard to believe, but true: the last time Nine Inch Nails performed in Houston was August 16, 2008, on the first round of the "Lights in the Sky" tour. Houston didn't get a show on the NIN|JA tour, NIN didn't Wave Goodbye to Houston, we didn't get a How to Destroy Angels show and somehow last year we were passed over while San Antonio -- SAN ANTONIO -- got a show.
In the past six years, Nine Inch Nails has been a lot of things in a lot of different configurations, but right now they're a lean, amphitheater-rocking machine, stripped down to what's absolutely necessary musically and led by a guy who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar during his time not being NIN.
And maybe the wait was a good thing, because the band that took the stage Saturday night may be the most interesting version of the band yet.
The show started with Reznor walking out to a mostly empty stage with the house lights still on. This was really exciting, even if it doesn't sound like it when written out. It's not the first time he's done it, obviously -- this summer tour is basically a variation on last year's festival shows -- but it's so different than what we're conditioned to expect from a concert that it's hard not to feel a literal rush of excitement at being presented something so unexpected.
Part of it also has to deal with the mystique of Trent Reznor. Sure, he may be a chatty guy (offstage at least) now, but it's still weird to think that the dude who built a studio in the Sharon Tate house, gave the world Marilyn Manson and was generally an enigma is now just a relatively normal, albeit still fascinating dude. You wonder what the guy who used to smash all his equipment on the regular would think of the kilt-wearing, tambourine-shaking Trent of today.
NIN's current incarnation is down to four members, which means on quite a few songs the players had to switch instruments mid-song to make sure the parts that need to be played live get played. Trent doesn't want to play the piano in "March of the Pigs?" Don't worry about it, Ilan Rubin can leave his drum set, walking over to the keyboard, hit the notes, then return to the drums right back to that 7/8 time signature without missing a beat. It's a sight to see.
Still, nothing is lost by only having four guys onstage. "Reptile" still sounds like a crawling nightmare, "Hurt" still tugs at the heartstrings and "Head Like a Hole" still sounds massive. The only real odd moment was a surprise appearance of a drumless "The Day the World Went Away," the only track from The Fragile performed all evening. After so many songs with drums, drum tracks and synths, seeing a basically all-guitar lineup on stage was a bit weird.
There's something to admire about how this tour treads in the familiar while still messing with expectations. There are multiple songs with no live drumming, it's heavy on tracks from their most recent album, Hesitation Marks while barely acknowledging that Year Zero, The Fragile and Pretty Hate Machine exist. The one track from Year Zero that shows up, "The Great Destroyer," becomes a noise freakout after about a minute and a half. An awesome noise freakout, mind you, but not what one expects from a major amphitheater tour.
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