Let’s start with his mutating new song All Time Low — the point at which his band Nine Inch Nails became merely the audio of a behemoth television for the rest of the night, a tortured rainbow of fire simmering from the bottom of the grated screen. The beginning.
His gospel singers lulling us into actual relaxation at the end of the pretty song, harp-like notes bubbling, we suddenly felt a million miles away from the gay clubs like Flashback that used to be the only place you’d hear Nine Inch Nails in public in this icy city, jackhammering industrial songs like Head Like a Hole and Terrible Lie guaranteed to proliferate the dancefloor with swirling black boots, chains, human sweat.
Now the nucleus of his futuristic tech, non-chatty Reznor played to a crowd of (no insult) perfectly normal radio listeners, the goths and the metalheads far outnumbered but everyone enjoying the handsome and still ripped 48-year-old’s set of songs off the daring and beautiful Hesitation Marks. It’s one of the best albums of the year, even daring to have a cheerful number. Like, NIN’s first one ever.
The visual effects, spinning vectors fit the Radiohead-riffing Disappointed, and Came Back Haunted is a perfectly calculated punch, so the 7,000-plus were happy with that, too.
Opening with the tireless, lyrically savvy Copy of A, the singer has to feel good about his new music. Claims the new album is anything like Downward Spiral are nonsense, but they’ve expanded NIN’s range tremendously.
Early on came Terrible Lie, then the eternal pair of March of the Pigs and Piggy. As the concert broiled hotter and hotter, Reznor hit the keyboard for The Wretched, his alluring piano exploding into a bombardment of solid noise that, like hockey fights and car crashes, brought a good number of us here to the NHL rink.
Clutching the mic and curling his body into a bouncing S, the Pennsylvania-born American shrieked and glared, then revisited his common theme of being someone else on I Would For You, another elastic and ferocious new one.
Next, Survivalism, from the epic dystopia year Zero, and o how I wanted to be down in the pit clutching a beer in my teeth instead of in front of this cursed writing device.
An aside: Thunderstormy, hypnotic and inventive, L.A.’s Autolux was a perfect coliseum appetizer. Carla Azar, Greg Edwards and Eugene Goreshter switched off vocals like the legendary Sonic Youth tingling in their blood, and the band seemed like some living machine built to tribute Azar’s simply tremendous drumming. You wouldn’t want Turnstile Blues to be the soundtrack to things happening to you behind a locked door.
“Never though I’d be on the same ice as Gretzky,” Goresther beamed. There’s a meme bands won’t be able to chime soon enough.
Back to the spider-legged light show, NIN continued its new-song winning streak with the intentionally off-balance Running. A brief lullaby from Further Down the Spiral, then — oh yes — Somewhat Damaged with its heavy-industrial refrain, “Too f---ed up to care anymore.” Deeper and harder into the Broken-Fixed era we dove, Wish pummelling the fist-pumping crowd as the strobes and pot lights ejaculated. Kaboom!