It's always a sign that there'll be a very excitable crowd when a gig sells out in about an hour. As it goes, outside the venue there are still desperate fans not only wanting in, but wanting to swap balcony for floor tickets in an effort to get closer to the band. All in, there's a pretty heady atmosphere of anticipation in the Academy tonight. Ladytron play a superb support slot but, try as they might and as good as they are, the majority of the crowd just want it over with so that Nine Inch Nails can come onstage. Even when they do there's no way to see past the incredible wall of dry ice that's been built up. It seems that, rather than lug the expensive set displays that graced their American tours across the atlantic, the band have swapped them for some kind of super-powered, mega smoke machine. As a result, for the first two songs all the crowd can see are shadowy outlines of Reznor - along with Jeordie White, Aaron North, Alessandro Cortini and Josh Freese, the latest version of NIN.
Tearing through opener 'Mr Self Destruct', tonight they feel like a group, rather than a selection of hired musicians - opposed to the last time they hit the UK and were mainly new recruits. But it's still about the man in the middle: Reznor himself. He finally emerges from the smoke during the third song, 'We're in this Together', to a rapturous cheer from the crowd. The choice of this single from The Fragile - along with 'La Mer', 'Into the Void', and 'No, You Don't' later on suggests that he's finally over its relatively cool reception back in 1999. The fact that the fans lap it up just as readily as more established set pieces 'Wish' and 'Closer' must be a bit of a boost for the old ego. Even if it's not, the reception he receives from the crowd would be. The floor is alternately wild with thrashing limbs and jumping bodies or transfixed, depending on the tempo of the song. There's even a few audience members who have evidently spent the last two weeks glued to NIN's myspace and learned all of the words to brand new track 'Survivalism': this is hero worship for sure.
Tomorrow's set will see a whole new crowd and a whole different set - this time focussing on The Downward Spiral for songs - but the same reaction comes out of it. For a band that's been around in one form or another for almost 20 years now, it's impressive to see them still sending audiences happily spiralling around the mosh pits and screaming along. As the audience trickles out, there's more than one proclamation about Reznor's genius. For this crowd, NIN have proved that they're just as vital and fresh as ever.