It has been five long years since Trent Reznor has graced England with his revolutionary Nine Inch Nails and their incendiary live show. In the meantime, he has been doing nothing less than broadening his palette in any which way possible and with any project he can get his hands on. He has scored films and won an Oscar, collaborated with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, on a record under the moniker How To Destroy Angels, contributed kick, snare and vocals to a Queens of the Stone Age record and pioneered a new music subscription service, Beats Music. Reznor obviously subscribes to the theory that the devil makes work for idle hands. Apparently, all this activity reinvigorated his love for Nine Inch Nails. The result was the critically acclaimed new album Hesitation Marks and a shed load of touring. However, he has vowed that for the tours to be a success it must be satisfying for the audience and feel dangerous for himself and his band.
This means that after the relative opulence of the Tension tour of North America, which featured no less than eight performers on stage at any given time, a more stripped down, visceral version of NIN has been conceptualized for the European leg of the tour. But what does this mean in practice? It means Reznor and co. aren’t fucking around. For the opening electronic portion of the set, Reznor prowls around the stage closely flanked by Ilan Rubin, Robin Finck, and Allesandro Cortini. Like a parallel universe version of Norman Cook that didn’t get enough hugs as a child, Trent leads the band through predatory renditions of “Me, I’m Not” and “Copy of A”. The full band, including drums, airing of “March of the Pigs” is an early highlight which sees Rubin remarkably alternating between drum duties and piano for the odd lullaby like portion of this schizophrenic song. At this point, the Nine Inch Nails machine is chugging diesel.
It’s a cliché, but Reznor operates like a man half his age. He bounds and bounces around the stage, never missing a note and never out of breath. Barely a second to recover is granted between each song as the band barrels through the set precisely and unrelentingly. The classics, of course, get the most enthusiastic reaction and, without question, there is nothing quite like 20,000 people screaming, “I want to fuck you like an animal”. Beautiful and disturbing in equal measure. Deeper album cuts, like the malevolently slinky “The Wretched”, slow burning “The Great Destroyer” and also comeback single “Came Back Haunted”, are warmly received amongst the faithful.
This to and fro between electronic and more rock orientated material, builds in a focused chaos akin to tectonic plates pushing aggressively against each other until the tsunami of the closing apex. First is the unrelentingly catchy “The Hand That Feeds”, Reznor’s controversially poppy single from 2004’s With Teeth. Now solidly part of the Nine Inch Nails canon, the crowd chants every lyric at their leader while he spits the words back at them. This is quickly followed by debut single, “Head Like A Hole”, whose pulverizing beat leads to a more than satisfying climax. Now for the cuddle afterwards. “The Day The Whole World Went Away”, seduces the crowd with its willful interchange between pounding choruses and tender, fragile verses. This segues delicately into “Hurt”, the tender majesty of which has not been dulled since it’s inception in 1994. The song ends abruptly and the house lights go up. Reznor’s minions are sated for the time being. Hopefully, it won’t be another five years before he returns again.