NIN kick off their last tour with an insanely small NYC show

Report: Nine Inch Nails [New York, NY; 08/22/09]

By Ryan Dombal for Pitchfork on August 24, 2009

When Trent Reznor walked out onto the stage at the Bowery Ballroom (capacity 550) around 9:30 on Saturday night to start Nine Inch Nails' brief Wave Goodbye farewell tour, the house lights were still on. There was no fanfare. No entrance music. Honestly, I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn't a roadie.

To say this was an "intimate" or "wildly small" or "exclusive" venue for a Nine Inch Nails concert doesn't really do the experience justice. While the night may have started inconspicuously, the no-frills walkout was something of a red herring. Because while this gig was a fraction of the size of a normal NIN show, Reznor still brought along a good portion of his supremely blinding lighting rig. And the four-piece band's sound was immense and crushing-- not especially loud per se (though it was quite loud) but especially big. It was like putting a monster truck engine on a Power Wheels; a hurricane slamming a one-tree island. With all those strobes, equalizers, and-- yes-- definition-of-angst, industrial jackhammer songs, Reznor essentially ruined the Bowery Ballroom for me, i.e, how am I going to see Another Indie Rock Band at the lower Manhattan venue after watching NIN turn the place into the World's Biggest Small Rock Club?

That said, it was worth it. From the first song-- an inhumanly tight take on stop-starter "Somewhat Damaged" that set the "this is really going to live up to expectations, huh?" tone-- through the last song two hours later, Reznor reminded everyone in attendance why Nine Inch Nails is still a serious concern 20 years after they emerged. And why the band will be missed. Thanks to recent anti-record label moves and a string of technology-pushing tours (not to mention his endearingly curious and entertaining online presence), Reznor is taking NIN out on an uptick.

It didn't look like that was a possibility just four years ago, when he released With Teeth-- an over-produced regurgitation of an LP-- to a fan base that had seemingly grown out of his eternal doom. But the Bowery show underlined the main reason why Reznor endures: ferocity. Not studio trickery. Not Dylan-esque insight. Simple, blunt force. The night's best moments-- "March of the Pigs", "Wish", "Last"-- were its most aggressive. Even with the bounty of pricey equipment, Nine Inch Nails were the best punk rock band on earth Saturday night.

"This isn't meant to last/ This is for right now," screamed Reznor on "Last", narrating the unique moment in his typical straightforward manner. And though the singer is best known for his bleakness, the night's air of finality was flipped into a triumph-- one of those "celebrating life" funerals you read about in books. "I'm too old for this shit," he joked, Lethal Weapon-style, between songs. But there was no indication of fatigue, no relenting. Reznor turned the tiny crowd's unrequited dread into bliss yet again. Just like he did back in high school, or junior high, or even during a irrationally black college-and-beyond bender. Nine Inch Nails may be going dark, but confusion, anger, and despondency will abide.

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