I’ve seen a few shows since and scattered in between the final Nine Inch Nails concerts.
The reason I haven’t written about these shows is that they pale in comparison to the NIN experiences of the past week. The musicians I’ve seen are all very talented – exceptionally talented – and they deserve more than an uninspired review from me.
In some ways NIN has f*cked up music by being so good. If you don’t think so, spend some time with their albums. The songs are layered, large, intense, spacious, melodic, unpredictable, calming, and frenetic. They are true compositions. The stories and lyrics are timeless, allowing the meaning of the songs to evolve as we do. That’s why songs written 20 years ago maintain the impact they would have if they were written today. Making music of this magnitude allows the band to launch innovative extensions of the songs – full-blown characters and story-lines, a potential TV series, DRM-free video files for infinite fan-created remixes. It also allows them to refrain from lyrics altogether and to release strictly instrumental compositions and projects such as Ghosts.
So, when I walked into a store this weekend and they were playing some diluted pop-hip-hop “song” I had to leave. I don’t know what song it was – I didn’t recognize it and I certainly wasn’t going to hang out in the store to find out. I actually found the “music” insulting. It was manufactured, meaningless, and lacking soul. Summer camp songs have more depth than some of the stuff that’s currently on the radio.
Perhaps part of the reason people aren’t buying music the way they used to is because much of it just isn’t that good. It was crafted quickly and in a formulaic fashion to be a “radio hit”. It lacks depth and therefore timeless endurance. Which means people are paying for songs that they may like for a couple months to a year, until they themselves outgrow it or it gets overplayed on the radio. What makes it even harder to sell music like that is that some of the best bands of our time – Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails – give their music away for free. Why pay for crap when you can get the good stuff for free? By the way, I think Radiohead and NIN are genius for doing this.
Last night the VMAs were on. I didn’t watch them. I didn’t have to. Every trending topic on Twitter was VMA-related. Friends, colleagues, and musicians were updating their Facebook status with commentary about the VMAs. And what I learned from reading enough sub-140 character descriptions of the show is that I didn’t miss a thing. The people who were ranting about the show for hours, they’re the ones who missed something. . .
Taking it a step further – hopefully you’ve seen Nine Inch Nails live. They’re now taking an indefinite break from touring and while it’s understandable and admirable, it still feels like a loss. The band will continue to make music in some form together and as individuals with other bands, but for the foreseeable future they will not be touring together.
I think what makes them so good is that they’re so real. While there may be light shows and spectacle, the authenticity of each moment is felt by the audience. I’m not sure the crowd even feels like an “audience” – from my perspective, the audience is hugely participatory in creating the experience of Nine Inch Nails shows. This is one example of a consistent energy exchange between musician on stage and fan in the crowd that is felt by all. The set list changes dramatically every night. New songs may be added, without the ideal rehearsal time, keeping the band on their toes so the performances don’t feel like performances. It actually feels like the band is playing the songs and it’s the first time you’re seeing them live (even if you’ve seen them dozens of times).
Trent is also a perfectionist – more for the fans than for himself. If a song isn’t going off right on stage, if there are technical difficulties, if he isn’t authentically feeling his performance in that moment, he’ll bag it. Additionally, NIN has a tendency to make even bad-sounding venues sound good. While the audio quality on some of the live videos I shot isn’t good (due to the technical limitations of the equipment I was using), in-person, at every show, Nine Inch Nails delivers impeccable sound. It’s one of the few concerts I’ve never had to wear earplugs to. And that says a lot when you consider how loud and “noisy” some may consider their music to be. But that goes back to the composition – it’s not really “noisy” – it’s layer upon layer of sound. And Trent wants you to hear all of that, so they present it live with the perfect mix. . . every time.
They are so exceptional live that even seeing another “great band” just doesn’t hold up. I remember seeing NIN at the Santa Barbara Bowl during this Summer’s NIN/JA tour. The first thing that struck me about that show is that they were playing outside, during the daylight. What, no lights? So many people look forward to NIN’s light shows and seem to feel they’re integral to the whole experience. And yet, when you see them without all that spectacle, you’re reminded of their sheer talent. They don’t need lights or visual effects. All they need to do is play.
Nine Inch Nails was “opening” (although, it was billed as “co-headlining”) for Jane’s Addiction. Now, Jane’s Addiction is a really good band. I’ve seen several great Jane’s concerts during the past decade. There are some amazing musicians in that band – Stephen Perkins and Dave Navarro are some of my favorites. Perry Farrell is a wonderful performer. He’s dynamic, energetic, dramatic – a true showman, an amazing front-man. And yet, when Nine Inch Nails finished their opening set, I looked at my friends and said, “I love Jane’s Addiction, but we may need to leave. I don’t know how they’re going to come anywhere close to that!” In the end, we stayed throughout Jane’s set and we had a good time. They were fun. They sounded great. But Nine Inch Nails. . .
One show I did go see this past week was the closing show of the season at The Hollywood Bowl – Seu Jorge and Bebel Gilberto, with the LA Philharmonic. That was nice. It’s outdoors, at one of my favorite venues, and it’s enough of a departure from what I usually see that there was no potential for comparison. I did briefly contemplate the idea of Trent playing Ghosts (perhaps all 4 current volumes, or the new ones that are due to come out) with the LA Philharmonic at some point. Then the fireworks began and brought me back to the present moment.