On the first night of their “Tension 2013” tour, Saturday, September 28, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his band hit the Xcel Energy Center with an opening blast of four songs beefed-up to fill an arena—“Copy of a,” “1,000,000,” “Terrible Lie,” and the near-perfect “March of the Pigs”—before catching their breath on song five, “Piggy.” With the song’s final notes still ringing, a metal grill, the kind convenience stores pull over their windows each night, descended across the front of the stage, trapping Nine Inch Nails behind it. Despite all his rage, Trent Reznor was just a rat in a cage.
Among that opening salvo was a song from their new Hesitation Marks and three more from Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral, albums that turned many of those in attendance into NIN listeners as teenagers. Five songs in and the show had already supplied most fans plenty to cheer for a night where nearly half the set would be devoted to an album only a month old and NIN’s perhaps best-known single, “Closer,” never made an appearance.
And so the night played out in movements. The crowd, who started off on Reznor’s heels, lagged while the grill obscured the band. Visually, it was striking how well the lighting and linked steel played thematically with the industrial group.
Grids of lights hung overhead and streamed down bright shocks like factory windows catching dust motes, while percussion and triggered beats ticked and clanked on.
Meanwhile, the grill served as a porous screen, upon which were projected shifting, angular patterns, that at times looked like something out of Cube. Or perhaps the band was trapped inside a giant television. If that was the intention, last night the NIN channel was certainly built on original programming, not reruns, no matter how much the audience may have wanted their comfort.
The third section of NIN’s set began with “Somewhat Damaged” from The Fragile and saw the fans on the floor raising fists and hoisting each other to body surf toward the stage. Following they played “Wish” from their blistering Broken EP, a relic of early 90s rage.
Throughout those separate sections, Reznor strained at the mic, pushing NIN on, occasionally growing frustrated when at a few points his crew delayed a song to fix some unseen issue. Those things can be expected at the beginning of a tour, especially with so many moving pieces, but after the show NIN fan circles were a-twitter when a photo of the planned setlist seemed to show a technical issue may have been responsible for “Into the Void”—scheduled between “Find My Way” and “Satellite”—never being played.
Despite any hiccups or a less than ideal setlist for some fans, NIN’s show was surprisingly tight. At its highest points Reznor and crew made a great case for arena shows as genre, showcasing how a band can augment their songs by filling out arrangements with additional live performers and square away a show with a tempered visual component that makes the stage a unique space and, in best case scenario, a compelling metaphor.\
“Copy of a”
“March of the Pigs”
“All Time Low”
“Came Back Haunted”
“Find My Way”
“I Would For You”
“A Warm Place”
“The Hand That Feeds”
“Head Like a Hole”
“In This Twilight”
“While I’m Still Here”
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