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Nine Inch Nails at Staples Center: Where The F*ck Were You?

November 8, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles

NINIn terms of shows, it’s hard to find words I haven’t said before, here: Nine Inch Nails Wave Goodbye LA Night 1, here: Nine Inch Nails – Henry Fonda Will Never Be The Same, here: Nine Inch Nails – Wave Goodbye, here: Nine Inch Nails: Wave Goodbye (at The Wiltern, the final show), here: I Have A Confession. . . , or here: Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour.

I’ve been listening exclusively to Nine Inch Nails since seeing them perform at Staples Center Friday night. It’s been a long time since a concert inspired me to do that. I’ve been listening to this band for more than 20 years and, even today, as I listen to Nine Inch Nails, I can hear new perspectives in the music. It’s dynamic and evolving. It’s the varying degrees of tension between the instruments and the space between the noise. If you step out of the literal and just listen to the music, you can hear something new every time.

There are back up singers in this line-up and when they sing, that’s one thing. When they scream, that’s another thing. These women – and everyone on that stage and associated with this production – are essential to the show. Everyone’s role is additive and complementary to the experience.

NINRob Sheridan, Nine Inch Nails’ creative director, is brilliant. Trent Reznor has an amazing ability to recognize and embrace exceptionally talented people. The creative collaboration with Sheridan is signature to the Nine Inch Nails brand.  You know what this music feels like as a result of the entire production; not just the sound.

And the sound is great, no matter where they play. Staples Center can be tricky with sound because it tends to bounce around the room. A Nine Inch Nails show – loud as it may be – will not send you home with ringing ears. There’s precision in the production.

If I could use one word to describe Nine Inch Nails, it would be “integrity”. Integrity of music, integrity of art, integrity of the relationship with their fans. This band keeps their promise every time. Even if you’re not a fan of the music, I recommend seeing Nine Inch Nails for the inspiration of the vision and the aspiration of being that committed to their art.

So yeah, the show was outstanding. Where the fuck were you??

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Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour

September 3, 2013
The Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA

Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor At The TroubadourWithout knowing what shape, nor time, nor place it would happen, I’d been anticipating this night for four years. ”I won’t let you down,” Trent Reznor assured everyone during Nine Inch Nails’ final show of the Wave Goodbye Tour, on September 10, 2009.

True to his word, Reznor has not disappointed. During the Nine Inch Nails “hiatus”, Reznor brilliantly scored 2 soundtracks, one of which landed him an Oscar. He also co-created How To Destroy Angels with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, which included one of the most visually impressive productions I’ve witnessed. Rather than continuously churning out albums and tours as Nine Inch Nails, Reznor recognized he needed a break, focusing on other creative and personal endeavors. The creative freedom and perspective gained from his Nine Inch Nails “break” (arguably one of the most productive “breaks” on record), was evident during Tuesday night’s show.

NIN Troubadour MarqueeFor all in attendance, the Nine Inch Nails show at The Troubadour was a story of miracles.

Listening to the crowd prior to the show, provided hours of “how I got in” stories. One woman was determined to win tickets for her boyfriend, so he could see his favorite band on his birthday. Another woman described her meticulous strategy for winning tickets from radio stations, including the theory that land lines provide a better chance of winning than mobile phones. People described how they enlisted co-workers, friends, and relatives to help them pound the phones each time a KROQ DJ announced “one lucky caller” would win a pair of tickets.

Prior to the show, a man worked the line, offering people $800 a ticket. Perhaps he did eventually make his way in, but from what I saw, observing the first 100 people in line, he was met with one consistent response: silence and a definitive shake of the head, “no.” Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t replace a once-in-a-lifetime Nine Inch Nails experience.

Everybody in attendance recognized and deeply appreciated the fact that they were seeing Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour, an intimate venue, with rich history. The atmosphere prior to the show was gracious, celebratory, and invigorating. People didn’t wait until the show began to enjoy the experience. They’d been enjoying this night since the moment they knew they would be among a mere couple hundred people who would see Nine Inch Nails play The Troubadour.

Troubadour StageA few minutes prior to 8:30pm, the energy inside the venue shifted. There was a collective understanding that this was the time to take care of any last minute needs or desires. People worked together, taking turns buying t-shirts, drinks, and making their final bathroom run of the evening.

When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, it was explosive. Kicking the set off with “Somewhat Damaged”, the band and the crowd took the energy to otherworldly levels. The sound – despite its high volume – was crystal clear. There was no unintended distortion. The sound being as perfect as it was, I neglected to wear earplugs.

Yep, there were lights.

Yep, there were lights.

I wish I could describe what it felt like to be at The Troubadour when Nine Inch Nails played. We may have been inside a small venue, but from a production standpoint, this was no little show. One third of the balcony appeared to be taken over by the band’s equipment. When the show began, the neon “Troubadour” light behind the stage was dimmed. The audience was transported to a place they’d never been, even if they’d previously seen Nine Inch Nails a hundred times before.

That is among the reasons Nine Inch Nails is widely lauded as one of the best (if not the best) live bands in the world. No matter how many times you see them, every experience is unique, and the definition of “perfection” evolves.

For me, what stands out most is how much Trent Reznor cares and how apparent that is in everything he does. This is his life, his art, his passion. He cares about the experience as a whole, that people continually walk away, as I do, drenched in sweat and nearly speechless. Every show is unique, surprising, and absolutely mind, spirit, and energy altering.

Prior to the show, people speculated about the set list. The majority of fans suspected the band would play the new album, Hesitation Marks, straight through. Some elaborated that, following the new songs, Nine Inch Nails would certainly play some of their older material. This is what happens to music fans’ expectations when Nine Inch Nails leaves the scene. We become accustomed to, and expect that, every show is about pushing a new album or promoting something else entirely. That is how most bands would do it. That is how nearly every band I’ve seen this year has done it. That is the format we’ve grown accustomed to and accept.

This is how Nine Inch Nails did it at The Troubadour:

1. Somewhat Damaged
2. The Beginning of the End
3. Terrible Lie
4. March of the Pigs
5. Piggy
6. The Line Begins to Blur
7. The Frail/ The Wretched
8. I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)
9. Gave Up
10. Sanctified
11. Disappointed
12. The Warning
13. Find My Way
14. Came Back Haunted
15. Wish
16. Survivalism
17. Burn
18. The Hand That Feeds
19. Head Like a Hole
20. La Mer
21. Hurt

For those who are less familiar with Nine Inch Nails’ discography, that’s a 21-song set list, including a mere three songs from the new album.

Nine Inch Nails at The TroubadourIt almost seems as if Trent Reznor takes it as a personal responsibility to make people question – and raise – their expectations. Every time I see Nine Inch Nails I’m surprised, even though I shouldn’t be. They are my favorite band to see live. I know how good they are. I know what they’re capable of. Then, they remind me: no matter how much I think I know, no matter how high my expectations, Nine Inch Nails leaves me at a loss for words with their sheer brilliance and dedication.

Their energy never wanes. Likewise, there’s no ramp-up time. When the band first burst onto stage, I felt like I had been blown back twenty feet. There was a simultaneous sound and light explosion that removed the audience from whatever day it was, whatever they had been thinking about, wherever they were – physically and mentally – and transported them to another world.

NINSimilarly, for Nine Inch Nails, the encore isn’t when they play their “biggest hits” or “fan favorites.” NIN takes the word “encore” literally – “another.” They return to the stage for more of what they’ve done – a mind-blowing level of making people lose their shit.

In addition to his integrity and dedication, Reznor exudes gratitude. With everything they do, Nine Inch Nails’ recognition of their fans is expressed. I walk away from each Nine Inch Nails show with an overwhelming feeling that the band truly appreciates each of us; not because Reznor says “thank you” numerous times, but because of the show itself.

Nine Inch Nails kicks off their U.S. tour later this month. See them if you’re able: http://tour.nin.com/

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How To Destroy Angels Destroys The Status Quo

April 10, 2013
Fox Theater, Pomona

It was worth traversing multiple freeways and enduring the incessant glare of brake lights ahead of us throughout the long drive to Pomona. It’s worth going to Coachella, solely to see How To Destroy Angels. It’s well worth the price of tickets, at any cost.

Anybody who’s in any industry that revolves around connecting with, making an impression on, and moving people – artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, executives in technology, advertising, gaming, sales, theme parks, theater – should be required to experience this show. Anyone who wants to experience being moved and touched in a way that will inspire them, spark passion and new ideas, should figure out a way to see HTDA.

We had considerable time to reflect and talk during the drive to Pomona. At one point, I began reminiscing about amazing shows I’ve seen in years past, which I’ve yet to write about. “Maybe I’ll start writing about all the outstanding concerts I used to see,” I said, noting that those shows are even fewer and farther between now.

I arrived at the Fox Theater, with no idea what to expect. I hadn’t watched the “teaser” video for the tour, seen the rehearsal photos, nor checked in on any social media site to see what the band or anyone else was saying pre-show. I’ve been to enough Nine Inch Nails shows to know that Trent Reznor – and everyone working with him – takes the experience of live music to new heights, every time he tours. “That’s what’s been missing from live music. . . ” I thought, remembering Reznor’s speech during the final Nine Inch Nails show in 2009.

From the flicker of the first light and the vibration of the first sound, How To Destroy Angels made an immense impact when they took the stage. It’s likely you haven’t experienced anything like this. The show was immersive, high-vibrational, other-worldly, and evolutionary. Eyes wide, considering the spectacular production surrounding me, I reached for my camera. By the time I got the camera out of its pouch I had missed 3 seconds of the show; those lost 3 seconds can’t be regained.

There’s no need to try to capture the show. You cannot do it. You cannot accurately capture How To Destroy Angels in a 2 nor 3 dimensional medium. The show encompasses at least 8 dimensions. Feelings, ideas, and music was delivered uniquely, with consistent intention and care. The experience expands your perspective, as new possibilities are constantly put in front of you. There’s no time between performances to recover from the state of awe felt during each song. When HTDA begin the next song, your eyes get wider, your smile gets larger, your vision and dreams expand — you cannot believe what you’re feeling.

Don’t worry about capturing How To Destroy Angels. Put away your devices. Experience the gift they’re sharing with you and all in attendance. I’d recommend you don’t watch the teaser video, don’t watch people’s shaky videos with blown-out audio on YouTube, don’t worry about how you’ll get to a How To Destroy Angels show – just make sure you get to one: http://tour.destroyangels.com/.

Two-thirds of the way through the show, I had tears in my eyes. They were tears of gratitude for the inspiration, the expansion, the art, the reminder to continually create at the highest level, with absolute integrity. HTDA provided an experience that moved me completely, on every level – visually, aurally, intellectually, and spiritually.

I remember the last time I saw Trent Reznor on stage – he made a vow to all of us, “I won’t let you down.” He is a man of his word. How To Destroy Angels is not some “fun side project”. Or maybe it is, but every second was created, delivered, and shared beyond the most artistic, creative, professional standards. Nothing was compromised. Everybody involved in creating this experience should be celebrated. There should be an awards ceremony where there’s only one award – and it goes to How To Destroy Angels. ”This is our first show. Thank you for being here,” Mariqueen said, further highlighting all that I was feeling. HTDA is something profoundly unique. 

$27. The ticket was only $27. Thankfully, every now and then, Trent Reznor reincarnates to challenge our standards and our expectations. How To Destroy Angels isn’t giving their fans a run for their money, but they sure are giving everyone else one. 

Get tickets now: http://tour.destroyangels.com/  

 

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The Dillinger Escape Plan: Get Ready To Lose Your Shit

November 1, 2011
The Wiltern, Los Angeles

Disclaimer: This Means Nothing to The Dillinger Escape Plan

The first time I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan play live was during Nine Inch Nails‘ set at Bonnaroo, June 2009.  If you’re going to share the stage with Nine Inch Nails, you need to know how to make people lose their shit.  That doesn’t mean jumping around maniacally and screaming, merely to put on a show.  While they do tear around the stage violently, The Dillinger Escape Plan knows that in order to make people “lose their shit,” you need to genuinely connect with them.  It doesn’t matter how much the band moves if they can’t move the crowd.

The next time I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan was during Nine Inch Nails’ final show, September 10, 2009, at The Wiltern.  Here’s the brilliance of The Dillinger Escape Plan: I remember them from those two shows and made it a priority to see them again.  I hadn’t experienced the band previously, I had no vested interest in them, I wasn’t a “fan”.  They more than held their own on stage with NIN.  The Dillinger Escape Plan added something to those shows.  Nine Inch Nails is arguably one of the best live bands ever.  It takes a lot to be additive to a Nine Inch Nails show, especially the final Nine Inch Nails shows.

2 years and hundreds of live show experiences later, I found myself at The Wiltern, once again seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan. This time, it was their set; they were playing their songs.  They didn’t have to win over potentially skeptical NIN fans.  They were playing to their fans and those of Mastodon, the band they were opening for.

The Dillinger Escape Plan gives you more than your money’s worth. You feel rewarded for buying the ticket, paying the exorbitant 60% service fees per ticket, standing in line, paying $5 for a 50-cent bottle of water.  Even if you don’t like their music, what The Dillinger Escape Plan does from start to finish is make people lose their shit.  There’s no ramp up to the show.  They come out full force and do not stop until they leave the stage.  Their entire set is performed at the energetic level of an encore.  At the end of the show, feeling like the band “paid” me, I bought a sweatshirt. That’s what you want – as an artist and a fan. The money, sure, but getting people to give a shit and therefore getting them to DO something – that’s the real pay off.

The Dillinger Escape Plan is raw.  Real. Authentic. In the moment. Rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking on the edge of cliffs – all things I’ve done – force you to be present.  When you’re truly experiencing life on the edge, anything other than what’s right in front of you disappears.  You are fully immersed in what’s happening, to the point where “beginning” and “end” dissipate. The only  remaining setting is “ON!”  That’s how The Dillinger Escape Plan plays.

Access to the pit at The Wiltern is generally GA, first-come, first-serve.  You exchange your ticket for a wristband and you’re in.  Once the pit hits capacity, you can stand on any one of several tiered levels (assuming you have a floor ticket).  The first tier crowd, above the pit, was going insane.  ”How come you guys aren’t down here?” Greg Puciato asked them.  ”Because of the tickets you have?? That’s ok, I’ll come to you.”

The Dillinger Escape Plan knows how to express their appreciation to their fans. Yes, it includes jumping over walls, walking on heads, and screaming in the faces of fans, but that’s what they came for.  And when the fans couldn’t get close enough, the band came to them.  ”I would stay out there the whole time – I just can’t do it,” Puciato added as he jumped off the hands and shoulders of fans, over the wheelchair access ramp and wall dividing the pit, returning to the stage.  When you see the videos below, you’ll understand why it’s not sustainable to play the entire show, balancing on a ledge, crowd surfing, and head walking.

That said, if they weren’t climbing in  the crowd, they were scaling the amps or somehow levitating above it all.  As ticket sales across the board continue to decline, it’s bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan who will endure.  They know how to connect with their fans. They know how to make people lose their shit.

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Nine Inch Nails “The Downward Spiral” Live at Webster Hall

Webster Hall, NY

Although I attended each of the Nine Inch Nails club shows during the Los Angeles leg of the “Wave Goodbye” tour, I did not go to their show at Webster Hall in New York.  Nine Inch Nails’ performance at Webster Hall was unique because they played The Downward Spiral in its entirety, start to finish.  Thankfully, I was able to experience The Downward Spiral when NIN repeated that set during their show at the Hollywood Palladium the following week.

However, as every live music fan knows, even if the set list is the same night to night, each show takes on a life of its own.  That’s, in part, why fans follow tours around the world.  It’s why people read message boards, blogs and reviews as a tour progresses – to get a sense of what happened differently that night; to find out what they missed or to relive the show again.

One of the many reasons I admire Nine Inch Nails is that they allow their fans to truly engage with their music.  They maintain an open camera and recording policy, as well as provide raw footage and audio tracks so fans can create and share their own remixes.

This One Is On Us, a project headed up by a Nine Inch Nails fan,  recently compiled and released a DVD of Nine Inch Nails’ performance of The Downward Spiral at Webster Hall.  So what? Well, the DVD is comprised entirely of fan recorded footage from the show, shot from multiple angles and it’s available (in several formats) free of charge.  Several sources were used in the making of this DVD which gives viewers the ability to experience the show from various perspectives.

You can watch the full show, track by track, here:  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=7E15146D2F523968

For more info or to download the DVD, visit This One Is On Us.

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Fever Ray, Trent Reznor, Henry Fonda, and Me

Henry Fonda Theater
October 7, 2009

The last time I was at the Henry Fonda Theater it was to see Nine Inch Nails’s second-to-last concert (theoretically) ever.  NIN absolutely destroyed the place! Not cosmetically, but existentially. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced.  They took all my previously fond memories of past concerts at that venue, crumpled them up, and made them seem like insignificant moments in time. A reader posted the following comment on my review of the Nine Inch Nails show at Henry Fonda Theater:

September 11, 2009 at 6:37pm
They should just burn down the Fonda, because there will never be a better show there again.
If they leave it standing they should no longer be allowed to have any more concerts there.

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I’m not condoning arson, but I couldn’t have agreed more.  Something so outstanding took place that night that the Henry Fonda could have closed its doors forever and nobody would question it.

Fever Ray at Henry Fonda Theater

Fever Ray at Henry Fonda Theater

Well, it’s a good thing they stayed open because, tonight, Fever Ray resurrected the Fonda ghosts and turned that venue upside-down. . . again.  Does that make it right-side up now? If so, then the Henry Fonda is back in business.

I will admit that between opening acts I looked up at the stage and nostalgically felt that Nine Inch Nails show all over again.

But the instant Fever Ray hit the stage, all thoughts dissipated as the characters (aka the band) – led by Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson (formerly, The Knife)  – transformed the Henry Fonda Theater once again. Fever Ray’s full, layered sound filled the room, complemented by the pulsing laser show.  There were costumes and face paint, and fans swayed in reverence.

I don’t believe a word was spoken on stage between songs and if so, I was too entranced to notice. You didn’t just hear the music, watch the lights, see the smoke – you felt the music, felt the lights, felt the smoke (some more than others).

This has been one of the most anticipated shows in LA since the tour was announced on May 12, 2009.  It may remain among the most talked-about until May 12, 2010. . . or whenever Fever Ray returns.

By the way, speaking of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor was at the show  tonight, but nobody seemed  to care. Every now and then somebody returning from the bar or restroom would say, “Hey – Trent Reznor’s here!” And without turning their head, without shifting their eyes, the friend would respond, “yeah. . . ”

So this is what it’s like to go to a Fever Ray show:  your friend can tell you that your hero just walked in the room, and as if you were talking about the color of the carpet, you’d say, “yeah. . .  cool.”

That’s when you know you’re at a good show.

And here are some pictures:

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