The final weekend of Robert Smith’s Meltdown and there is a massive billing from Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine,and CURAETION-25 (a surprise show from Robert Smith and friends). A wave of noise to bat away the cobwebs of misery and embrace the torment inside.
Trent Reznor revealed has been feeling a little fragile recently. So much so he opened the concert with a volley of the first 4 tracks from the 1998 album. Revealing later on that he wrote the album when he was in a dark place and that it had been cathartic in getting through problems recently. ’Somewhat Damaged’ started with a blaze of strobes and hammering wall of sound. With Atticus Ross now in the live band, the synths have taken a more central staccato place in the live show and it shows. With so much aggression from the music and lighting, it’s an unrelenting assault on the senses. Every drum hit is echoed by blinding flashes and guttural growls spreading through the hall.
After that, they slide back to even earlier material ‘Terrible Lie’, ‘March of the Pigs’, and ‘Something I Can Never Have’ keep up the intensity. Where the middle of the set slows down in tempo, more colour is brought into the lighting instead of the stark white strobes and LEDs to reflect the more emotional content, but there’s not much breathing room before your senses are being knocked against the ropes again. Then again, and again..
The new songs ‘Ahead of Ourselves’ and ‘God Break Down the Door’ feature a bright strip of lights at the front of stage casting silhouettes of the band against the backdrop. Flickering side to side, in flux and always moving. Musically, the first is a pure NIN sounding, while the latter pays homage to David Bowie with a similar morose saxophone and half-vacant vocal sound, like on Blackstar - just with more drum’n’bass. The lighting feels like a statement that your shadows might be bigger than you, but you need to keep on moving and try to leave them behind. An innovative way to mimic filmed projections, with a simple low-tech solution.
In the background between songs, a team of stage crew move the lighting rigs around to give different sections of the set a different feel. Again, contrasting the organic and personal against the electronic/mechanical noise and overpowering guitars. The constant theme of friction between human and machine carries through the whole show. My only comparison for previous NIN gigs is from the massive 2009 NIN/JA tour, and the sense of scale is a completely different – and it looks to be carried on for the entire tour. More intimate settings in theatres not arenas, where the show can be more immersive and overwhelming.
There’s only one way Trent Reznor can finish a set now, with ‘Hurt’. A song that transcends the artist doesn’t come along very often, and it’s always mesmerising to hear. The dirty fabric backdrop went from just being there, to appearing like sinister faces when set against simple warm-yellow spotlights. A release from the frantic riot of the previous two hours, to return you to real life.
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