Posted by: Cory | September 1, 2008

REVIEW: Nine Inch Nails @ Rupp Arena (Lexington) – 8/31

Photo by Matt Jordan of YANP

Nine Inch Nails played a nearly packed house in Lexington’s Rupp Arena last night.  Trent Reznor, being something of a role-model for me as a visionary, one who embraces emerging technologies better than anyone else, and one who makes utterly incredible music, I had been excited for months since I first learned of it and began strongly promoting the show.  I’ve said it before, Trent Reznor is a visionary, and I think unequivocally the most important man in music today.  This was the show I had been the absolute most excited to see for the summer, because after being a lifelong fan since Pretty Hate Machine, and seeing them in 2006, I knew that this show would be artistic buffet of incredible sound, visuals and energy.  Naturally, I was not let down in that regard.

Similar to the 2006 experience, the first song of the set, 99,000 began as the stadium lights were still illuminated, so as to catch people off guard.  In 2006, it had been pinion which silently crept into our ears.  I recall at that time recognizing it immediately and to begin getting into it.  Last night, the crowd didn’t take quite as long to recognize the song being played and the crowd erupted as the stadium lights quickly faded to black and the blue and red stage lights revealed Trent and the rest of the crew.

In 2006, I was in the first row on the floor and the experience was surreal with the energy and angst of the crowd flowing along with the music.  With this experience, detached from the energy of the crowd, I was able to give perhaps greater appreciation to the visual elements of the 3 layered LCD screens, and the beautiful imagery they created.  Nine Inch Nails knows how to use a stage better than any band I have seen, fitting a wide number of instruments from the normal guitar, drums, mics, to less conventional things such as a dulcimer, marimba, water jugs, chimes, timpani, keys, multiple interactive LCD screens and more.  As everyone was able to see, Trent set an electronic drum sequence using a large touch sensitive LCD screen just prior to Echoplex.  What most people may ot have realized was that during The Great Destroyer, Robin Finck, Trent Reznor and Alessandro Cortini all appeared to be live mixing the LCD screen from white static to blue and green, incorporating several other visual elements into it, including the Microsoft blue screen of death.  Each of these had a monitor in front of them with a touch senstive LCD screen on it which they appeared to be controlling.  The visual element to this show blew away what they had done in 2006.  It was magical.

Watching this show and realizing that Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989, you can’t help but feel while Trent has been a rock god for years, that his evolution quickens, and never moreso than in the last two years.  Having released the operatic Year Zero, alongside the incredible campaign he initiated to elevate the expereince of new media, to his later ran in Australia where he encouraged the Aussie’s to download his albums for free online, to dropping his record label and adopting what is in my opinion the best current and most sustainable method of distribution with Saul William’s album, as well as his release with Ghosts I-IV, to his thank you in The Slip.  It has been a big year for music, and at the forefront, Nine Inch Nails.  I mention this because you can see it in the way that the performance ran last night.  From everyone I have spoken to, whether they’ve seen NIN once, twice, or twenty time, last night’s show has been the best.  Trent’s energy commanded your attention, and the amount of time each of these guys have spent in studios and touring together has left them with incredibly tight and precise coordination, whether it is bringing walls of sound to a suddent and abrupt hault in the blink of an eye or putting together the beautiful pieces that is Ghosts.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about Ghosts as though it were some major departure for the band, but can’t help but wonder if they don’t recall hints of what was to be Ghosts in tracks like A Warm Place from The Downward Spiral, arguably one of the more beautiful songs of the time.  As the series of Ghosts songs began is when the LCD screen really came into the show.  Serene piano-heavy music set to what might have been post Year Zero industrial landscape just before leading into the second best visual display of the night, a rain storm which hid the band from us only until a patch cleared up for us to see them, and finally, shattering.  The best visual display of the night was no doubt a blue screen on The Greater Good, which showed what looked like a topographical map and the image of portions of Trent’s face and mic as he sang the subtle beauty of the that song.  At the conclusion of the song, someone with a flashlight came to the stage to wipe the screen clean using a flashlight.  As the person flashed the light at certain areas of the screen, the blue of the screen cleared away to reveal NIN again to us.

During Survivalism, a series of live feeds were set up showing various areas of the arena, namely Camera 1) Trent, 2) Crowd, 3) Bathroom sink, 4) Sound Guy, 5) Stairwell, 6) Crowd, and 7) Toilet.  While some of the feeds were definitely live, we all have our doubts about the Camera 3 feed because during the song, it depicted a guy having sex with some girl from behind directly on the sink in focus (picture below).  Also, the sound guy seems an odd choice, particularly since he happened to be going NUTS, but nevertheless, the feed was wonderful and played into the theme of the Year Zero very nicely.  I would love to catch an all Year Zero show, even while fans are generally coming to hear their favorite Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine songs, I think there would be so much room for a really creative set for Year Zero only.

The show ended with a fury of fan favorites, namely Only, The Hand that Feeds, and Head Like a Hole.  By this time, the frustrations I had dealt with before the show were wiped completely from my mind and all I could do was appreciate what was happening as the NIN logo climbed its way down the LCD screen before standing prominently before us.  For some it is merely a logo, and for others of us, a symbol of strength, edurance, innovation, and brilliance.

As Echoplex opened the encore, Trent created the aforementioned electronic drum sequence using the touch sensitive LCD.  As an electrical engineer and patent attny, I was mesmerized.  My personal favorite and has been one of my favorite songs since 1994, was Hurt.  As soon as the introductory swirling wind sound began, I started jumped, excited to know what was about to happen…and then it kicked in, Trent’s confessional plea “I hurt myself today”.  The crowd went nuts.  As the end of one of the greatest concept albums of all time, I cannot find a place for it anywhere than at the very end of the set, particularly when the last suicidal blast happens at the close, and the power struggle is lost.  While I enjoyed In This Twilight, I felt its placement was poor.  The sentiment of Hurt is so powerful, and although out of context from the rest of the album, it loses some of the cumulative meaning of the concept of Downward Spiral, anyone with familiarity with the album is surely aware enough to pull it together themselves.

All in all, the show was incredible both visually and musically.  I missed a large part of the energy being a wallflower stuck in the stands, but the music more than made up for it.

For Photos & the setlist,


    Letting You Get Away
    March of the Pigs
    Head Down
    The Frail
    Gave Up
    The Warning
    The Great Destroyer
    Ghosts 21
    Ghosts 14
    Ghosts 19
    Ghosts Piggy
    The Greater Good
    Terrible Lie
    Ghosts 31
    The Hand that Feeds
    Head Like a Hole


    The Beginning of the End
    God Given
    In This Twilight

Photo by Jeff Dill (all the rest by Backseat Sandbar)

I apologize for the quality of these photos. Blame miscommunication issues amongst the staff at Rupp Arena for that one. I broke my own rule and got screwed…




  2. What an amazing concert. That was the 9th time I’ve seen them since ’94, and easily the best. I’m not even particularly fond of Hurt, but I like this arrangement of it, and also thought they should move that to the last song.

    Nitpicky comments:
    No way was that a nearly packed house. It was maybe half full.

    The Echoplex intro and the flashlight sweeping part is fake, it’s just timed really well to look interactive.

    The Greater Good didn’t use any blue/green screens, it’s just a regular video feed cropped and filtered. Trent and the cameraman walked out on the right side of the stage briefly towards the end.

  3. The show was incredible. The floor was completely sold & by packed, I’m only counting of the seats they were selling. If you noticed the back of the arena mostly empty, it’s because (as least I was told), they weren’t selling those seats…

    As for the touch sensitive portions….you’re probably right (and definitely so with the flashlight sequence), but echoplex was impeccably timed…

  4. 1/3 of the arena was dedicated to the stage/vids. He stopped the show and said everyone sitting to the side of the screen should move back and that tickets werent supposed to be sold at the side. Well, we were beside the stage and I could have thrown a ball and hit any of the performers, except maybe finck.

    The lower arena was 90% full, Rupp holds almost 25000, so I would guesstimate the crowd size at 7-9,000. Upper arena wasnt used.

    As for the show itself, this is the 4th time Ive seen NIN. First being Perfect Circle/NIN in st louis in 99/00. This was one of the best Ive seen. Truly, Finck made a difference in the guitar work and I thought made for a better sound. Trent really gives himself to the crowd and comes off as a humble, intelligent and kind person.

    My wife and I were mezmerized and had a great time. His music is so sensual it made for a good nightcap as well.

    I give it 5 stars of 5.

  5. I saw NIN on the downward spiral tour when I was in college and it was an awesome show, but I went with a friend to the Lexington show and had the best time I have EVER had at this show. I was blown away with the show, and Trent seemed really personal compared to the shows I saw in college. This show was also the first one I ever got in the ‘pit’ or whatever, which is funny cause I’m 32.

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