EMPIRE OF DIRT: Nine Inch Nails, Wachovia Center, Friday Night [Photos by JONATHAN VALANIA]
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Industrial music is all about the intersection of man and machine, drawing sonic tropes from the pneumatic wheeze of moving parts, and taking lyrical cues from the existential exigencies of life in a mechanized world. Trent Reznor made it speak to the punkish angst of youth trapped in dead-eyed factory towns in the dawn of the Information Age — and became the new Man In Black.
Twenty years on, Reznor may have lost some of his cultural cachet — Friday night the Wachovia Center was only three quarters full — but the potency of his art remains undiminished. Judging from the recently released The Slip, Reznor has lost none of the rage in his machine and, as the Wachovia Center performance confirmed, he has lost none of his intensity or ambition as a live performer with a taste for outsized post-modern spectacle.
The show was divided into three distinct segments: The first was a stripped-down rock band configuration wherein Reznor and co. — guitarist Robin Finck, keyboardist Alessandro Cortini, drummer Josh Freese and newly added bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, on loan from Beck — pounded out NIN showpieces like “Closer” and “March Of the Pigs” and new stunners like “1,000,000” and “Discipline” with a precision ferocity only exacerbated by banks of strobes and a Vegas-like wall of lights.
The second segment found the band hunched over keyboard consoles perched on the lip of the stage, backed by a semi-transparent scrim illuminated to look like a giant LED screen, while conjuring up the spectral synth murk of Ghosts. This scrim, it must be pointed out, was a thing of wonder — able to do things I could not begin to explain to you, eye-dazzling things that defy the laws of science and logic.
For the third segment, the band disappeared behind the magical scrim, again taking up guitars and drums, appearing as fuzzy silhouettes behind a two story high wall of TV static which slowly morphed into rain storm during the storm-tossed “19 Ghosts III”, making it look like the band was performing in the middle of a monsoon, and then morphed into an Asian temple tableaux, complimenting the oriental percussion of “The Big Come Down.” Fittingly, NIN closed out the set with a ripping spin through “Head Like A Hole,” the song that started it all, only to return for a low-key encore that peaked with a mass singalong during “Hurt,” the Reznor-penned song that became a deathbed hit and the de facto epitaph for Johnny Cash — a dark gift from one Man In Black to another.