Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails played last night in Brooklyn. For more on the band's history and Reznor's unique approach to the future, read FADER's Trent Reznor Icon Issue.
For a moment, it seemed as if Nine Inch Nails would play to an empty house last night. At a capacity of almost 20,000, Barclays Center is a cavernous venue that can make sizable audiences feel small, and smaller audiences disappear entirely. By the time NIN’s very capable Tension 2013 tour opener, Godspeed You Black Emperor, took the stage shortly after 7PM, the arena was three-quarters empty. The Montreal-based band is an unlikely opener for NIN—it has none of the blunt force of Reznor’s act—but he has a history of choosing partnering acts to stretch his fans’ comfort zones (Saul Williams opened the band’s 2005/2006’s Live: With Teeth tour). Despite the paucity of interest from the black-clad crowd, GYBE—who just last month won Canada's prestigious Polaris Music Prize—offered a remarkable performance, filling the space with sweeping, wave-crashing instrumentals from their latest offering, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Between the time that GYBE finished their set and NIN took to the stage, the audience first trickled, then streamed into Barclays. NIN opened with “Copy Of A,” their second single off this summer’s Hesitation Marks, to a roar of approval from a packed house. What followed was a mammoth, vibrant, two-hour plus set of 21 songs (plus four during encore) that spanned the band’s catalog—everything from the anthemic “Terrible Lie” to fan-favorite “The Day the World Went Away” all the way through to “Satellite” (notably missing was this summer’s jarring red-headed stepchild “Everything”). Belying his 48 years, Reznor stomped like a sullen teen from one end of the stage to the other, climbed down to the audience and, in a nod to wilder times, even smashed a guitar. The lighting, arranged by legend Roy Bennett, was jaw-droppingly good, alternately framing the band in light boxes, veiling them in undulating sheets, blanketing them in fireflies, and flooding the crowd without ever drowning out the performance itself. Though there was none of the onstage brutality of NIN’s heady salad days, the group’s lost little luster or energy over the years—and neither had the crowd.
After working with the FADER on their Trent Reznor Icon Issue and reading countless interviews and profiles from over the last quarter century, it dawned on me that one of Reznor’s intangible talents is his uncanny ability to maintain relevancy over the decades. The audience at Barclays on Tuesday night was a decidedly older set—you would have been hard pressed to find anyone under 18, or even 25 for that matter. And yet, the music didn’t feel dated like it could have. A track like “Head Like a Hole”—released in 1989 when Madonna was still married to Sean Penn and Michael Jackson was just finishing the Bad World Tour—still has blood coursing through its veins. And for that matter, newer tracks, like “Came Back Haunted,” can feel like instant NIN classics.
Thanking the band toward the end of the show, Reznor told the audience that he had no idea NIN would survive this long. It's worth noting that other bands of the era have endured too—just last month Ministry released From Beer to Eternity and this past summer Jane’s Addiction released Live in NYC—but Tuesday’s show proved Reznor's not simply weathered the past quarter century, but thrived in it.