Nine Inch Nails at Xcel Energy Center, 9/28/13

Categories: Last Night
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Photo by Erik Hess

Nine Inch Nails: Tension Tour
With Explosions in the Sky
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Saturday, September 28, 2013

A quarter century after forming Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor is finally losing his edge. Some say it happened a long time ago, but it's definitely happening -- in spite of his beautiful family, his deft straddling of DIY/major label culture, his gym membership, his Academy Award, his Dr. Dre collabo, and all the pieces that fell into place in the less-recent past. Either that, or it's happening because of these milestones.

Fortunately for his muse, the whole mid-life, mid-career crisis thing can be just as much of a dark cloud as being a frustrated teenager -- if you squint just right. A resulting new Nine Inch Nails album is an exploration of dance music and major chords cleverly called Hesitation Marks. And St. Paul's hosting of a new tour's opening night would prove whether or not a 48-year-old Reznor could roll out this model of himself and have anyone buy into it.

See Also: Slideshow: Nine Inch Nails at Xcel Energy Center, 9/28/13


It began aptly with "Copy of A," which encapsulated the woes of giving a dedicated audience what they passionately crave without being bored to tears creatively. After years of making his name writing as a tortured persona, eventually it wasn't believable anymore coming from the successful emperor of dirt. Just as LCD Soundsystem's markedly younger James Murphy once snootily turned losing his edge into art, this song is a triumphant admission of defeat.  Strong in voice, Reznor sang "I am just a copy of a copy of a copy/ Everything I say has come before," over a bass-heavy groove. It's privileged tension, but tension all the same.

Nearly four years since the Wave Goodbye Tour, Nine Inch Nails have forged a live experience built on precision musicianship, a mix of hits and ample new material, the most impressive Matrix-like light displays ever concocted, and more smoke than Wiz Khalifa's dressing room. Under stage lights initially hanging low enough for Reznor and co. to touch them with outstretched hands, this hockey arena felt like the biggest basement show ever. Eventually, it became like watching artificial intelligence eat a band.

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Photo by Erik Hess

Even if we all know things are going well for Mr. Self Destruct, Reznor still did his part to at least appear to be in hell throughout the performance. With only three basic moves at his disposal -- the double-fist mic clasp and wail, the dramatic lean back with head bowed and eyes clenched shut, and the rallying wave of a rippled arm or two -- he sold "Terrible Lie" with more conviction than a thousand Chester Benningtons. With a two-guitar attack courtesy of NIN vet Robin Finck and multi-instrumentalist Josh Eustis, this was discordant bliss. As they transitioned into a brightly lit "March of the Pigs," the entire crowd became a singular pumping fist, and then everyone turned on a dime to vamp it up for the smarmy lounge act of "Piggy." "Let's fuckin' do this!" were the only spoken words necessary at its closure.

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Photos by Erik Hess

As the performance deepened, Reznor did his best to let the music and transparent projection screen in front of the band do the talking -- until the live spectacle came to a sudden halt. At this point, his crisp ensemble was highlighted by Lisa Fischer and Sharlotte Gibson completely owning backup vocals, bassist Pino Palladino holding court, and drummer Ilan Rubin racking up an unreal Whack-A-Mole score on the kit. After "Came Back Haunted" provided razor-sharp proof that the clowns of EDM will get beaten at their own game by stadium rock you can dance to, everything went black. Reznor announced, "We have to make sure we have our shit together," and a few quiet minutes passed by.


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25 comments
Andrea Nucci
Andrea Nucci

This was my 3rd time seeing NIN since '95 and their shows get better every time, I was thoroughly impressed as was the rest of my group. I love that their sound keeps evolving, it was cerebral and amazing, your reviewer clearly does not speak for the long time fans.

roscoepicotrain
roscoepicotrain

I didn't catch the name of the opening act. A little help?

roscoepicotrain
roscoepicotrain

I didn't catch the name of the opening act. A little help???

Michael Plaxico
Michael Plaxico

The show was awesome, start to finish. I wasn't a huge fan of NIN's new tracks, but, on the whole, the band sounded awesome. I was especially pleased to see them perform songs from The Fragile; I don't think they played any The Fragile tracks when last they were in the Twin Cities. Their opener, Explosions in the Sky, was great, too.

mtnbikeguy
mtnbikeguy

I've always admired artists who can re-imagine their sound from album to album. Great show, Mr. Reznor.

blainegarrett
blainegarrett

I wish all the dumbshits that watch the entire show through their camera as they record it would fall off the planet. You are recording the same crappy video as the guy next to you which is all blurry and distorted as every other video of the same band recorded before on youtube.  I see this at more and more shows. People complain about bands not getting into "it", but bands feed off their audience. It must blow to look out into the audience and see people staring down at their phones. Meanwhile, I come home and see facebook filled with people who didn't go to the show complaining how NIN hasn't been good since (pick the year you graduated highschool). As if those people wouldn't be complaining about Trent at 45 writing new music that is filled with as much angst as he did in his 20s. /rant

Luke Schoper
Luke Schoper

Look at this link you guys. Trent bought them PIZZA!!!!

Jacob John
Jacob John

Really amazing, this was my 1st NIN show. Every time they have come to MN before this I have been a broke student and unable to go. Your reviewer really disliked the newest album apparently, what a surprise he did not like the concert...

Kat Coats
Kat Coats

The pit was revitalizing and the only way to enjoy the show imo

Vanessa Joy
Vanessa Joy

This show was amazing. Screw your crappy review.

nessajoy
nessajoy

This show was amazing. I can't believe people complaining about not hearing "Closer." For cryin' out loud, does he have to play it every tour just because it's the only song of his that everybody in the world knows?

He's still evolving as an artist. Don't complain that he isn't suffering enough any more. Hearing "Even Deeper" was an amazing experience.

anonymouse
anonymouse

Personal beef: no mosh pit. Over the entire night, the closest anyone got to mosh were 3 guys on the floor, who succeeded in nothing more than giving themselves a meter of space to pace back and forth.

I couldn't get floor tickets, and while I agree overall that NIN has lost its edge, at someveral points in the night I still had the urge to go and mosh, only to look at a a hockey rink full of people standing still, only a third of whom seemed even to muster enough energy to pogo at any point in the night.

hightides420
hightides420

@Andrea Nucci i have to disagree.Ive seen them every time since 94.saw them with bowie as well.the fragillity was ok but nowhere close to self destruct in 94.with teeth they brought the screen down again.lights in the sky seemed half ass.this show was a complete mind fuck like i expected from nails.my bar is pretty high after self destruct tour in 94

mtnbikeguy
mtnbikeguy

@blainegarrettFirst and foremost, this show was amazing and I had a blast. They played 6!!!! live debuts. This review doesn't do the show justice. But guess what... I took a pic or two on my cell phone, maybe even a video too. I still walked out of that place with no voice from yelling all the words and drenched in sweat from dancing my ass off.

ReedFischer
ReedFischer moderator

@Vanessa Joy I liked the show. Did you actually read it?

ErikHess
ErikHess

@nessajoy I absolutely loved "Even Deeper" with the backup singers. "And In This Twilight" made for a perfect pairing. Huge highlight of the set for me, second only to the "Warm Place"->"Somewhat Damaged"->"Wish"->"Only" sequence that made me totally lose my shit mere minutes earlier.

harris.andrew
harris.andrew

@ReedFischer The 'whatev' points of the review are debatable though, IMHO.  It's a less hormonal, more lyrical version of NIN, and I think a lot more balanced and dimensional than otherwise.

Besides if I want a potent if venomous mix of pain and erotica these days I can just watch The View talk about 50 Shades of Gray.

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