Nine Inch Nails – Lights In The Sky (over L.A.)

Note: This is the second half of my Nine Inch Nails – Lights In The Sky 2008 Tour. The first half (from Seattle) can be found here.

I love Nine Inch Nails. I love Nine Inch Nails so much that when their Lights Over North America Tour was announced, I went twice. Seattle was amazing because I had no idea what to expect save for a great light show; LA was amazing because I knew exactly what to expect. Maybe that makes some sense, just read on if it doesn’t (and if it does…)


the amazing deerhunter (w/ the awkward Bradford Cox)
the amazing deerhunter (w/ the awkward Bradford Cox)


+10 points for being LA when Deerhunter came around. Crystal Castles sort of bombed in Seattle because no one knew who they were. Admittedly, while they are getting pretty big in the indie world, I can’t really expect a bunch of metal-heads to be too interested with the 8-bit/electro/indie scene. I love both Crystal Castles and Deerhunter, and so do people in LA.

Bradford Cox is one freaking looking dude. The rest of Deerhunter looks fairly normal for an indie noise/ambient/rock group, but Cox stands out like a sore thumb. Luckily for us all, the music that roars out of the speaker towers makes you quickly forget any oddity that Deerhunter embodies. Their set was about 30 minutes long, just long enough for them to find a nice balance between their noise material and their more rocky/beat-driven songs. It went smoothly, and I think everyone enjoyed the set.

trent behind one of three massive walls of light
trent behind one of three massive walls of light

Nine Inch Nails

When I say that I fully knew what to expect the night of the concert, I honestly mean it. I wasn’t expecting anything new to come up. Maybe they’d tightened things up on the corners (not to say that the Seattle show was sloppy), but the show is so massive that it seems nearly impossible to change anything at all. Turns out I was fairly wrong.

Aside from the different set list (which I’ll discuss later), the light show had changed, and the performances were out of this world. In the Seattle post, I mention that this lineup is the best that NIN has ever had, but I said that because of how good they sounded. At the LA show, I realized that every member of the band brings something unique to the table besides their musical expertise. Whether being menacing, aggressive, staid, precise, or one of the many other things that each are on stage, NIN has captured what an over-the-top live show is.

One change to the light show from Seattle was the inclusion of a face morphing graphic during The Hand That Feeds. I don’t recall what was going on at that time in Seattle, but there certainly wasn’t a massive George W. Bush being shown. That night in Inglewood, the only graphic shown was Bush who seemed to be getting progressively older as the song went on. I thought it was weird, until I realized that Bush wasn’t getting older. He was morphing into John McCain. I say this with all honesty, I really thought he was just getting older at first…

The songs that were played throughout the night (+2 from the Seattle show) differed slightly from other tour dates. Unfortunately for me, The Great Destroyer was left out, so the insane spastic strobes and static that the song encompasses was greatly missed. God Given was played however, which almost makes up for the missed Destroyer. That song has a solid tech/glitch beat to it that makes me smile every time I hear it. The best part of the song though wasn’t the music at all, it was Finck. When the chourus dies, this creepy whispered line some in

i would never tell you anything that wasn’t absolutely true that hadn’t come right from his mouth and he wants me to tell you

and the song starts right up when the whisper ends. Finck was the guy who did the whispering live. Talk about something that comes straight from your nightmares. They had the light shining on his face like he was telling a horror story (and he might as well have been). Of course, they closed with Hurt & In This Twilight. It was a night that, when paired with Seattle’s date, makes up one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.

Now I just have to seen them in a festival setting…

Set List

  1. 999,999
  2. 1,000,000
  3. Letting You
  4. Discipline
  5. March of the Pigs
  6. Head Down
  7. The Frail
  8. Closer (The Only Time)
  9. Gave Up
  10. The Warning
  11. Vessel
  12. 5 Ghosts I
  13. 17 Ghosts II*
  14. 19 Ghosts III*
  15. Ghosts Piggy
  16. The Greater Good
  17. Pinion
  18. Wish
  19. Terrible Lie
  20. Survivalism
  21. The Big Comedown
  22. 31 Ghosts IV
  23. Only
  24. The Hand That Feeds
  25. Head Like A Hole
  26. Echoplex
  27. Reptile
  28. God Given
  29. Hurt
  30. In This Twilight

Nine Inch Nails – Lights In The Sky (over Seattle)

Last night at the Key Arena in Seattle, WA, I witnessed a legendary rock band at it’s finest. While I haven’t been listening to Nine Inch Nails (NIN) from its Pretty Hate Machine days (come on, I was 3 months old), I have been listening for quite some time now. After I went through my industrial phase a few years ago, NIN was one of the few bands I kept with me. Trent Reznor has been one of the outspoken artists when it comes to digital rights management, and to still be relevant twenty years after releasing a 5-star album is incredible.

This is the first of a two part post/review on NIN’s starting and ending dates (Seattle & L.A.) on their Lights In The Sky Over North America 2008 tour.

a fairly glamorous photo of crystal castles
a fairly glamorous photo of crystal castles

Crystal Castles

I’ll admit that I’m into indie music, but not THAT into indie music. I still enjoy some pop music, hip hop isn’t all bad, and I can appreciate classical and jazz music. That being said, Seattle’s NIN fans made me look like the most hipster of all hipsters when Crystal Castles came on stage. How does no one in this city know who the biggest name in rising indie/electro/8-bit/screaming music is?

As you might be able to tell, I love Crystal Castles. I saw them for the first time about a year ago at the Neighborhood Festival, and I loved what they brought to the table. Since then, they have released their self-titled LP and have been touring around like crazy.

Obviously, I loved them at this show. Though their set was pretty short at about 25 minutes, they are just an opening band, and they fit in all the greats. For me, the standout song was Crimewave. I know it’s not an entirely original song and that Alice sings the same chorus over and over, but when the opening synths start up, nothing else really matters. Of course, I also loved Courtship Dating, but I wish that she had actually sung the song instead of screaming and whispering it all (it kind of goes back and forth).

nine inch nails front man: trent reznor
nine inch nails front man: trent reznor

Nine Inch Nails

I’ll admit that I looked at the setlist from the NIN show the night before the Seattle show, but it was just so that I could prepare myself for the amazingness that I knew I’d be in front of. I didn’t watch any videos, and didn’t try to find any bootlegs. I don’t think that knowing the setlist beforehand is cheating, and I didn’t really want to spoil what I knew would be come insane visual effects.

To say that I wasn’t let down would be a grave understatement.

This show was what I consider to be the epitome of what a electronically infused rock show should be. First you have the music. NIN has been around for almost twenty years and has seven LPs worth of music to pick and choose from as a result. This set is nothing short of a best hits compilation fused with the key parts of NIN’s more recent releases; songs from each and every album were present. But while the songs played are important, they are nothing if they don’t sound good.

Trent Reznor has consistently written songs that fit his voice. He doesn’t stretch it in the studio to hit those high notes that everyone know could only be hit once. As a result, his live vocals are always on point. In addition, this NIN lineup is arguably the best in history. It consists of Trent Reznor, Alessandro Cortini, Robin Finck, Josh Freese, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. Aside from Trent, the standout here is Robin Finck, who has been playing with Guns ‘n Roses as Slash’s sporadic replacement for the past twelve years. It’s great to have him back, and his dred-hawk is pretty damn sick. Every musician is spot on, and the only hiccups all night where technical ones, not musical mistakes.

So the music was great, what about these visuals that everyone has been buzzing about? I read an interview with Reznor from the New York Times that reads:

“What I’m trying to do is use the stage as an interactive instrument,” Mr. Reznor said. “I’m in the world of science fiction now.”

Trust me, NIN delivers, and here’s what I gathered from the Seattle show. There are three massive dot screens (the ones made up of tons of tiny round lights that work like a TV screen). They are all at different depths of the stage, so they can all be layered on top of one another. There is one wall of 112 lights that rotate around and change color. There are a ton of hanging fluorescent lights that flash on and off during a portion of the show. Finally, the massive dot screens have some sort of light/heat sensor to tell when the musicians step up to them and dynamically change what they show depending on where the musician is. So how is this an instrument? For the Echoplex encore, one screen is used as a drum machine. Yes, a drum machine. It is one of those scream-out-loud-because-this-is-so-amazing moments. This is why I payed for presale tickets to get on the floor.

So if you can’t tell, I loved this concert. NIN was able to combine stunning musicianship with brand new high-tech visuals to create one of the best rock shows I’ve ever been to. Remember, this is only part one of two. Don’t expect part two to be this long, but I’ll be back to mention if the show gets any better on the last North American tour date (L.A.).

Here’s a rundown of the 28 (!!!) song setlist:

  1. 999,999
  2. 1,000,000
  3. Letting You
  4. Discipline
  5. March of The Pigs
  6. Head Down
  7. The Frail
  8. Closer
  9. Gave Up
  10. The Warning
  11. The Great Destroyer
  12. 1 Ghosts I
  13. 25 Ghosts I
  14. 19 Ghosts III
  15. Piggy
  16. Wish
  17. Terrible Lie
  18. Survivalism
  19. The Big Come Down
  20. 31 Ghosts IV
  21. Only
  22. The Hand That Feeds
  23. Head Like A Hole
  24. Echoplex
  25. The Beginning of the End
  26. The Good Soldier
  27. Hurt
  28. In This Twilight

Also, that sick picture of Trent is from laura musselman‘s flickr account.

NIN’s The Slip is 100% Free

On May 5th Trent Reznor announced the immediate release of the Nine Inch Nails album titled The Slip. Along with the release new came word that the album was available for free download in MP3, M4A, FLAC, and WAV formats and comes with a PDF booklet. Unlike the release of the recent Ghosts I-IV, Reznor did not give fans the option to pay for The Slip. In the blog post, Reznor gave fans this note:

(thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years – this one’s on me)

As a long time fan of NIN, I headed right over to the download page, got my copy of The Slip in FLAC, threw it into iTunes, admired the album art (though I still don’t understand what it means), and played through the new material. 

Album Review

The first thing I noted about the album was its relatively short length. At 43:45 it’s well under an hour, which is fine by me. If there’s one thing that I’ve recently noticed it’s that I don’t really have the patience or time to sit still through a full album if it lasts longer than an hour. Whether an hour genuinely is a good marker for an album or if I’m just abnormally impatient isn’t too important, I’m just glad that The Slip can be taking in from start to finish is one sitting. 

On to the actual musical contents of The Slip. The album opens with the intro track “999,999”, which leads into “1,000,000”. “999,999” is a fairly generic building of an ambient industrial sound-scape that Reznor seems to be enjoying more and more these days. 1,000,000 is a more traditional NIN song with a distorted guitar, a simple drum line, and Reznor’s vocals all layered on each other once for verses and reverbed back on each other for choruses. The rest of the album follows in similar fashion with a few more “single-quality” songs, a piano ballad, and a 7 and a half minute sound-scape arriving near the end of the album. 

One feeling that I got from The Slip is that Reznor isn’t so much interested in straightforward industrial music anymore. I guess the feeling has been building since With Teeth, but The Slip is the first full NIN album that I could almost categorize as alternative metal. I don’t think I like this feeling, but I loved Year Zero, and I sorta like The Slip. Hopefully this feeling is only coming on because The Slip feels like a promo for the upcoming tour that NIN will be embarking on (which I already have tickets for). 

The main reason why I don’t have the hots for The Slip like I did for Year Zero is because it’s relatively predictable. Year Zero was so varied and unexpected, yet it flowed perfectly. To me, The Slip seems like an extension of some Year Zero songs where fresh material should be instead. 

Beyond the Music

I started to get into this in the review section, but The Slip doesn’t feel like a full NIN album to me. Maybe it’s because of the fact that I didn’t have to (or even get to) pay for it, but the album seems like a promo for the upcoming tour. Getting away from the fact that The Slip isn’t my cup of tea, Reznor is truly putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to his views on the record industry. 

The models (or experiments) that he has been going through are fairly unprecedented. Please don’t give me any crap about Radiohead, because I don’t think that the release of In Rainbows holds any weight against the release of Ghosts I-IV and The Slip. In Rainbows was amazing, don’t get me wrong, but if Radiohead was serious about trying out new models of selling and marketing their music, they wouldn’t stop after one go around

My best guess right now is that Reznor is playing mind games with his fans, and that we are all too willing to play along. Not only is he building loyalty through producing good music, he is now giving us gifts for participating in his experiments. Reznor made well over a million dollars of pure profit with Ghosts I-IV, so in return he’s giving us a full NIN album for free. With the antics that surrounded the release of Year Zero and the distribution methods being used now, Trent Reznor, who is already one of history’s greatest musicians, is soon to be one of the great marketers and business men of the music industry.

PS: Upcoming Tour

Here’s a few random notes about the upcoming NIN US tour. I have my tickets for the Seattle date because I’ll be up in Redmond this summer interning for Microsoft. A friend and I are hoping to snag tickets for the LA date when the presale goes up. The supporting acts this go around include Crystal Castles, Does It Offend You Yeah?, Deerhunter, A Place To Bury Strangers, and White Williams. I’ll be seeing Crystal Castles up in Seattle and Deerhunter in LA! Two amazing openers if you ask me. So exited!

Photos below are from the nineinchnails flickr feed.

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

the album cover of Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails

First statement: Trent Renzor has redeemed himself. While I didn’t think that With Teeth was a horrible as the rest of the musical community, this album surpasses it with ease. The statement that Trent has erased the ideas of pop music seems to be on target here.

Year Zero is nothing like With Teeth, so if you were hoping for a repeat, you’re out of luck. As far as comparisons go, I have read that this is NIN’s most minimal album to date; this is a claim that I have to disagree with. Pretty Hate Machine still holds that title. While Year Zero does have its fair share of simple songs, nearly every one develops to a point that is hardly minimalistic in nature. If any song was to be described in this manner, it would have to be “My Violent Heart” which eventually disintegrates in the chorus to a mash of distorted vocals and glitch electro beats (love it.)

What really pleased me about this record is the amount of depth that is has in terms of variations throughout the progression of songs in the album. No two songs are very alike (unlike With Teeth.) That being said, this record is not very commercially appealing. The songs are very dirty and noisy; it is a return to where NIN started. So far, “Survivalism” is the only single that has been released. Probably one of the most pop-friendly tracks, it still features dirty guitars and drum machine beats torn to shreds under Renzor’s moaned verse vocals and strong chorus lines.

Putting the music off to the side, if you haven’t heard of the amazing marketing campaign that has been executed by Renzor, I’m not sure where you have been. Whether the secret “lost” USB drives carrying new tracks, hidden websites revealing album information, or phone numbers playing new tracks from Year Zero, the RIAA has had a field day determining whether they should prosecute people with the “leaked” tracks or not (as usual, they did.)

This album is up there with Pretty Hate Machine and And All that Could Have Been [Live] for me. It offers so much more than radio friendly songs.