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Nine Inch Nails’ farewell!

| September 2, 2009

Aragon, Chicago
Friday, August 28, 2009


It proved apparent from the start that Nine Inch Nails’ Friday night show was anything but routine when the band took the stage to “Pinion,” an instrumental selection off an EP from 17 years ago. It also served as a sign that all bets were off, as Trent Reznor hit Chicago to wave good-bye, providing closure to legions of fans enthralled by every song.

The first of two Chicago farewell shows, Friday saw Reznor and co. unleashing an epic and exhaustive set that visited almost every era of his work as Nine Inch Nails, with a surprisingly strong showing of early and obscure fare. Even more surprising was just how well material off 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine and 1992’s Broken held up, with selections from the latter coming across just as fierce, if not moreso, than any other album’s work that evening. The EP’s “Wish,” for example, became an attack on multiple senses, as a seizure-baiting strobe light rapidly flashed over the band, while fans shouted along to every self-destructive lyric. And “Last,” one of the evening’s rarer live cuts, delivered pure, pummeling hatred and self-loathing in concentrated audio form.

Throughout the show, Reznor zig-zagged throughout his two-decade-strong discography, moving from the title track of 1994’s The Downward Spiral into “1,000,000,” off 2008’s downloadable The Slip. Some of the night was to be expected, especially in hits like “Closer” and the unrestrained chaos of “Terrible Lie,” itself blending a clashing mix of crunch-laden hooks against shredding metal riffs. Less predictable was the parade of rarities and deep cuts the group consistently returned to throughout the evening, including Natural Born Killers soundtrack selection “Burn,” a cut that boasts one of the meanest riffs in the band’s arsenal. Reznor also ventured outside Nine Inch Nails proper in songs like the moody and tense “Banged And Blown Through,” off his 2007 collaboration with songwriter and poet Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust! The most notable non-NIN moments, however, came courtesy of none other than the Godfather of Goth himself, Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy, a long-time friend of the group as well as musical collaborator. Murphy crooned through and belted out a cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” while remaining in the stage’s right balcony, before joining the band onstage for Nine Inch Nails’ own Joy Division cover, “Dead Souls,” off 1994’s The Crow soundtrack.

While the lean and mean Reznor served as the vocal and focal point of the evening, longtime guitarist Robin Finck will go down as the unsung hero of the night, his raw and unforgiving riffs demonstrating what set Nine Inch Nails apart from so many lesser heavy acts of the last 20 years. Whether dishing out grinding guitar against the digitalized synths of “The Wretched,” creating an otherworldly cacophony in the feral “Gave Up,” or whipping up pure punishment in “Head Like A Hole,” Finck provided the muscle and the edge on which Reznor’s library so greatly relies. Reznor may have had the anger, but Finck just melted the Earth at Friday’s show.

Of course, anger was but one extreme in the evening’s emotional spectrum, and by the end of night, it was clear the band would exit not with a bang, but a desperate plea for help and salvation. Downward Spiral selection “Hurt,” the anti-anthem closing staple of the group’s live sets, still captures Reznor’s hopelessness and helplessness as effectively as it first did back in the early ’90s. It’s a powerful statement that embodies Reznor’s lowest point. But unlike fellow alt-rock icon Kurt Cobain, the Nine Inch Nails frontman pulled himself out of his sick, the end result of which manifested in the group’s victorious last decade and rabidly received run of closing shows. As a sea of lighters and cellphones illuminated the room, Reznor carefully chose and quietly delivered each line, promising himself “If I could start again/a million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find a way.” Yet for the first time, Reznor’s words don’t seem like a statement of nihilistic intent, but an acceptance of retirement, well earned and a longtime coming. Who knew Nine Inch Nails would have a happy ending?

Jaime de’Medici

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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  1. Kerri says:

    Umm…nine inch nails/trent reznor are not retiring, just not touring as a live band anymore.