Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails, Brixton, London, 11-03-07

Reviews, like songs, already exist and all they need is to be lured out of your mind. That’s why the morning after a gig I always need to let the words come out of my fingers and onto the page. It’s not that I think, in the matter of a few hours, I’ll forget what’s happened the night before. Plus, I need to get this out in order to make room for the hangover I’m nursing. I find myself in such a position this morning, where I must write, having been sonically assaulted by Nine Inch Nails last night in Brixton, their last of a three night stand there.

I forget how I was introduced to them (I could say him because it really is just Trent but for writing purposes it looks better with a ‘them’) but I do recall that Pretty Hate Machine was one of the first CDs I ever bought, just after it came out 1989. It became the soundtrack to my early teens. I got the follow up EP Broken and then when 1994 turned and I started going out clubbing the album of that era was the Downward Spiral. I wouldn’t say I lost interest in them as the 90s ended but The Fragile never found its way into my playlist, even though I had bought it. They lost me somehow.

Over the years friends saw them live and related wide eyed tales of ‘one of the great nights of my life’ to me but still, I didn’t get it together enough to see them. I had reacquainted myself last week, dragging out my old CDs, and there’s no doubt that the music has dated, in a way. Any music that relies of current technology of the period is bound to. But it hasn’t dated in a bad way, if you know what I mean. And the reason for that is despite NIN being lumped in with Ministry type bands (who were very good in their genre) of the time they were always a big cut above that. They put dance beats into metal clubs, then unheard of. When I was 17 and going out to metal clubs they seemed to be the connecting force between something pretty heavy like Pantera and the what now might be called dance metal of the Prodigy; who were, controversially at the time, being played in rock clubs too.

Last night I had worries – that there’d be many songs I didn’t know, that the sound would be awful in the Brixton Academy (a gorgeous venue which had a dodgy sound system put in a few years ago), that Trent’s voice wouldn’t hold up with so many gigs in a short period (having cancelled a Birmingham gig last week) and so on. It was a good choice to have a couple of drinks before the show, even if I am paying for it now. As such when we arrived, merely minutes before they took the stage, the decision about placement was made for us – the venue was rammed, there was no chance to get anywhere near the front so we found a great little spot at the back, slightly to the right, and kept the drinks coming.

There’s something very simple about the NIN show. No fancy screens or projections, no explosions and daft outfits - just a truckload of dry ice, silver hanging lamps and a beautifully constructed light show. Big flashes and thumping strobes, it doesn’t date. They opened with one I did know, Mr Self Destruct from TDS. My mouth dropped open slightly. Now with my new glasses I could see with crystal clarity, even from the back. And the sound! Shockingly perfect, which proves that if you have great equipment and a shit hot sound guy you can beat the venue’s famously bad sound system. Or perhaps it was the drink that made it sound so good. Who can say? They set up in a certain way and I realised that what dominates is the voice, the collective of guitar and bass and the drums, almost as three separate entities. There must be some sequencing too of course but that’s to be expected. The drums sounded like cracking thunder, one of the best live drum sounds I have ever heard. Imagine the drums, played by in demand session drummer and former GnR (and current A Perfect Circle) member Josh Freese, at the top of a mountain, Trent at the bottom, and all the way up the cacophony of guitar and bass making a huge searing noise. It doesn’t matter who plays behind Trent, he knows what he’s doing and gets the best musicians, for what they have to play. Though the presence of the former Twiggy Ramirez on bass was always going to add some heavy weight to the proceedings.

When Marilyn Manson started getting noticed he was hailed as Trent’s natural successor. Even though I do like Manson, because he has intelligence to the nth degree, that’s way off the mark. Manson has always worked better as an icon than an artist. He might know how to put on the great rock show but all the pantomime dame make up in the world can’t hide that his songs (Mechanical Animals plus a couple of other tunes aside) aren’t that good.

Trent, I now realise, is as close to modern genius as we can see. Live he delivers, he rips every word out as if it’s his last. Wearing a heavy coat, which he never took off, he had command of every person in the venue. I didn’t know half the songs but, incredibly, I felt totally connected to the moment, and each and every song sounded flawless. The show was irresistible, the vibe was joyous and friendly, the music was delivered with power, passion and precision. I felt transported back to my youth as I let Wish and March of the Pigs wash over me. Hurt has taken on a new dimension since the Cash cover and it was greeted like a familiar friend. I did fancy a surprise set list choice, though I wouldn’t have minded if one hadn’t arrived, but I got my wish. The assembled goths worshipping at the shrine must have felt slightly moist when he broke out Dead Souls, the Joy Divison cover done for The Crow soundtrack. Now that was a killer surprise.

No going off and on again, just a hammered at you heavy Head Like a Hole to be dished out and they were gone. Very little chat or breath-catching breaks between songs, this gig was like being strung up in the Closer video and assaulted in the way you want to be.

Pinion (opening music)
Mr. Self Destruct
March of the Pigs
Closer (with The Only Time)
The Becoming
Help Me I Am In Hell
La Mer/Into the Void
No You Don't
Gave Up
Dead Souls
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole