Nine Inch Nails made their way to southern California Friday night, headlining a show at the Staples Center for their tour, Tension 2013.
The night started with post-rock band Explosions in the Sky (most famously known for their song "Your Hand In Mine", which they happened to play, and it was great). It blew me away; I’d never seen an opening act that put that much passion into, well, opening for another band.
Unfortunately, because of their role in the show, people felt it was OK to sit around, eating their food and drinking their beers, discussing the most trivial nonsense anybody could have heard. I mean, this guy behind me was yelling, over the music, to his friend about the long line at Hooters and how he didn’t want to wait around to get in.
Oh, it drove me nuts. Luckily, they quieted down toward the end of Explosions in the Sky’s set and I could finally enjoy the ambient sounds.
Afterwards, the lights re-dimmed and the faint bubbling of a poppy-sounding synthesizer stirred the crowd. Everyone was going wild. No more than 10 seconds later, the show had begun.
Nine Inch Nails began with the second single off their new record Hesitation Marks, “Copy of A”. The whole room was dancing, the lights were flashing, and the quality of everything was amazing. Besides being just a tour of concert after concert, Nine Inch Nails has decided to create quite the spectacle by turning the typical show into an absolutely stunning light display uniquely from song to song.
I’ve been to quite a few concerts and I can honestly say this was the best one I’d been to yet.
I’d gone in without much anticipation for hearing the songs I was hoping for. I understood that the Tension 2013 tour was more about promoting the new album with a dash of older hits. From my research, my favorite tracks off the new record had made themselves scarce, only appearing from time to time on separate occasions. But I was in for quite a treat.
Halfway into the set, I heard a familiar bass and chiming noise, indicating the intro to the track “Various Methods of Escape”. I lost it. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I had to. It was really happening. Just a few tracks down the list, I caught a drone I’d heard a million times before. “In Two” was about to begin, and by now I was about as excited as a kid in a candy store.
And even then, just in between those two songs were at least three more that I wasn’t expecting to catch. But I did. Up until this point, everything was absolutely perfect. Nothing was wrong, and nothing could get better than it already as. But I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.
It wasn’t until I heard my favorite song of all time that I knew this was a special night. You know, one of those nights where the right song comes on at the right time. When something’s going on and there’s just that one track that tugs at your heart string and lets you come back to feeling OK. Yeah, it was that kind of moment.
My favorite song, “A Warm Place”, came seemingly out of nowhere, like the calm of a storm. So peaceful, so serene, so happy, yet so melancholy. The moment had transcended beyond just the band I was listening to performing a song I liked. It was a break. A break from the intensity of the lights before it, the sounds before it, and even as much as the events of my week before it.
The importance of the song had gone beyond the usual listen, seeing as I was standing before the man who’d created it, hearing it being performed right in front of me. It was special.
Following my three-minute, teary-eyed “moment”, the band continued with the hits. The big names, you know, “Wish”, “The Hand That Feeds”, “Head Like a Hole”. The songs that would get the lazy, not-so-big fans back up and dancing. The only way to describe the room was just a giant, collective smile that wanted to scream along to the words that it knew. For songs that are so aligned with angst and anger, everybody was really happy to hear it.
And suddenly, a screen appeared with the band’s logo “NIN”. It appeared as if they’d walked off stage, but we all knew it wasn’t true. The encore was yet to come.
They returned to play a final six songs. Everybody was really surprised to hear the return of two lesser-known songs: "Even Deeper" off The Fragile and “In This Twilight” off Year Zero. The very last song, the traditional song for all Nine Inch Nails shows, the one song that a room full of heavy to casual fans would know, and would sing, began. The haunting sound of an acoustic guitar, and the even more-so haunting lines “I hurt myself today”, resonated through the room as the crowd chanted alongside Trent Reznor to his, arguably, most famous song, “Hurt”.
I can’t describe the emotions going through the room. The show was nearly two hours long, and it had come down to this moment. It was like catching the final episode to a television show you’d been following for a long time. You didn’t want it to end, but there was this level of acceptance that told you it had to.
The room was filled with this sense of sadness emanating from thousands of fans all singing the same words that seemed to bounce back and forth from person to person. You look to your left, somebody’s on the verge of tears; to your right, the same thing. It only intensified the emotions I’d felt, and everybody else around me.
“If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way”. And boom. Dissonance, noise, a fading wail of a guitar, and a wave goodbye from the band. The show was over.
Frisson. A word used to describe that chill of excitement that runs down your spine when you listen to music. That’s all I can really say to describe it. All of it. I laughed, I cried, I danced – I did it all here. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, they will tour again. Or maybe another band will come along and surpass it. Who knows?
I can only say that I have never been so blown away by a group of musicians than I was Friday night.
Neil Kristjansson's "Menifee Plugged In" column appears each Monday. He writes about two things of interest to most of the younger generation -- music and electronic gaming. He welcomes your comments here or though email at firstname.lastname@example.org.