Concert Review: Nine Inch Nails Rages on in Portland

Nine Inch Nails Sounds so much better live.

Gone is the synthetic drum machine, the repetitive beat, and the sometimes it sounds like it was recorded in a tin can sound. That’s not to say the digital version of Nine Inch Nails is bad it’s just that the intensity, the rage and the hard charging insanity is so much more alive in front of an audience.

Trent Reznor brought his one-man band (he writes, produces and plays all instruments on Nine Inch Nails albums ) along with five touring members to the Moda Center in Portland on Monday in support of his latest album Hesitation Marks. Industrial rock may have peaked in the 90s and all those original fans may have grown up (the upper bowl at the formerly-named Rose Garden was closed) but Reznor certainly isn’t giving up on his passion. He combined a 24-song set, including eight from Hesitation Marks, with an astounding light show, barely pausing to say “Hello” to the crowd in two hours of non-stop thrash and frenzy.

Nine Inch Nails opened with “Copy of a” from their latest album which unlike the rest of the evening actually didn’t measure up to the studio version. However, it immediately set the stage with what can only be described as a light and industrial music show for the rest of the concert.

“1,000,000” was up next delivering full-frontal industrial rock and then Reznor really set the bar high on “Terrible Lie” from their acclaimed first album Pretty Hate Machine. It was a highlight of the evening and the lighting, strobes, and absolute fantastic drumming from Ilan Rubin delivered an extravagant display of what can be accomplished on stage.

To say the lightshow and special effects shaped this show would be an understatement. The evening started with an abundance of fog obscuring almost all visibility of the stage at times. Each band member had their own set of lights as if to embed each one on individual stages. At times, typically during Rubin’s massive bass drum, each “stage” got the lights turned on while the others went dark and this bobbed around and around adding to the already intense strobe effect.

After “March of the Pigs and “Piggy” Nine Inch Nails ripped off five more from Hesitation Marks starting with “All Time Low” an already hypnotic song that got its due in stage accouterments. “Disappointed” was anything but and that’s when the special effects got even more grandiose. A stage-wide screen dropped in front of the band displaying all sorts of graphic imagery that seemed to trap Reznor and his crew inside a television with bad reception. The visuals eventually engulfed the entire stage trapping the band behind a bewildering display of awesome effects.

The light show never let up and neither did Reznor with “Came Back Haunted” and the reflective, almost introspective, “Find My Way” which gave the band a bit of a breather after “Haunted.” “Find My Way” brought a new round of special effects as the stage-encompassing screens gave way to a blue background giving the allusion that the band member’s shadows were playing.

“Various Methods of Escape” closed out the run of new songs and turned off the accelerator as the drum machine took over and the pace slowed up quite a bit. If guitar solos and clever drum fills can define rock music than pulsating rhythms and cyclical background chaos can describe Nine Inch Nails. In fact, only one song “The Wretched” displayed an actual bona fide guitar solo provided by long-time guitarist Robin Finck.

For his part, Reznor ditched the Goth look that so many angry and misunderstood Generation Xers embraced two decades ago. At 48, he’s extremely fit and looks a man 10 years his junior. His voice remains impeccably pure to his albums. Though he’s successfully turned his life around after a bought with substance abuse and depression, he still manages to get his blood pressure up to roar out classic Nine Inch Nail anthems like the profanity-laced “Wish” and fan favorite “Head Like a Hole.”

The band relaxed a bit for the encore bringing out “The Day The World Went Away” and “Even Deeper” both off 1999’s The Fragile, “While I’m Still Here” which copies a bit too much from “Copy of a” and finally the wrenching “Hurt” which Nine Inch Nails took back from Johnny Cash. Well, at least on this night.

Nine Inch Nails Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:

  1. Copy of a
  2. 1,000,000
  3. Terrible Lie
  4. March of the Pigs
  5. Piggy
  6. All Time Low
  7. Disappointed
  8. Came Back Haunted
  9. Find My Way
  10. Various Methods of Escape
  11. The Frail
  12. The Wretched
  13. Survivalism
  14. Running
  15. A Warm Place
  16. Somewhat Damaged
  17. Wish
  18. The Hand That Feeds
  19. Head Like a Hole
  20. The Day the World Went Away
  21. Even Deeper
  22. While I’m Still Here
  23. Hurt


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