Nine Inch Nails: “Lights in the Sky” (Credit Union Centre; Saskatoon)

sliprez1I wondered how he’d get away with it.

I’d heard that Trent Reznor had included a couple of mood/ambient pieces from his Ghosts I-IV album in his live show.  How would that go over with the banger crowd?

To their credit, the youngish (compared to me) audience listened in respectful, if not exactly rapt silence, as Reznor slowed things right down about a third of the way through the concert.  During the spacey instrumentals, the lighters came out and most of the of the people around us sat down; even the mosh pit subsided into good-natured jostling.

It was a courageous move on the musician’s part.  Rather than play a standard greatest hits package, he touched on all aspects of his career, from the commercial highlights to his experimental side.

The new material stood up well:  The Slip is a fine, accomplished album.

The stagecraft was topnotch: the layout fairly standard, providing good line of sight.  Metal partitions descended at various points, serving as screens for projected visual effects like rain, shapeless abstractions, things on the verge of coming in to focus…

The musicianship was unbelievable.  These are guys Reznor hand-picked to help spread his misanthropic gospel to the great, brainwashed masses.  The chosen ones.  Guitarist Robin Finck is a wonder and Josh Freese provides thunderous accompaniment on drums…and then there’s Reznor himself, stomping about, whirling, howling; a ferocious performance.  It was a form of shamanism, there’s no other way to describe it.

Professional, polished?  Yes. Carefully considered, manipulative, rehearsed to the nth degree?  Undoubtedly.

maynardBut you can’t choreograph stage presence, sheer magnetism.  Reznor has it, baby.  So does Maynard Keenan (in spades).  An unmistakable aura, almost otherworldly in its vibe.  It radiates from them and electrifies a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands.  How much power does that take?

Reznor has his critics, of course, those who are unimpressed by his music or persona.  They call him a phony or a poser–my buddy Chris King had one of the best lines ever:

Trent,” he snorted.  “What sort of fuckin’ name is that for a metal guy?”

“So what’s a better one?” I challenged him.

Glenn Danzig,” he replied without hesitation and with that we both collapsed into a fit of laughter.  Because he was right, of course.  Glenn fuckin’ Danzig.

But I think even ol’ Chris would have been impressed by the show T.R. and his lads put on last night.  No effort or expense was spared to present Reznor’s fatal, poisonous vision of the world to a very receptive audience.

We were off to the side, terrific seats overlooking the stage–and we could also see the incredible computer control centre the stage crew monitored and operated to keep everything in synch.  It looked like something out of a science fiction movie or a missile tracking station at fucking NORAD.

Trent Reznor is at the top of his game right now, his artistry evident in every track on The Slip.  He is a man thoroughly in control of every aspect of his music and, clearly, thriving in that environment.

His aesthetic has expanded in the past few years especially and with it his range and depth. Whereas someone like Al Jourgensen (Ministry) will go to his grave shrieking and raging, Reznor’s psyche and sensibilities allow for far more variation, subtlety and virtuosity.

His bleak worldview is enticing, alarming, convincing; all the more so because the soundtrack is constantly changing as the skies darken and the wind begins to rise…



  1. Pat Bertram

    Sounds awesome. I’m so out of it, I’d never heard of Nine Inch Nails until I saw the video of Johnny Cash singing “Hurt.” When I found out it was someone else’s song, I had to go find the original version.

  2. librarianmule


    I love this guy.

    I went to the concert when he rolled into my town a while back. A friend of mine asked me what it was like and I stood there for a while trying to find the words. What I finally came back with was that it was like really good sex. The kind where you almost can’t take it because it’s just too good.

    Well rehearsed? Yes. Manipulative and all the rest, I agree… But even if all that is true there’s still a massive amount of pure energy and I never got the feeling they were just going through the motions to get their pay check at the end of the day.

    The shiny, happy people should definitely get off the bus long before they hit Trents bleak dystopia. And if you don’t get it you don’t – hey, it’s not for everyone.


  3. Matt McCormick

    What I’m really struck by with Reznor (I saw him in Oakland recently) is the control and restraint he has over the song writing process. It’s really clear that he’s controlling the mood of the song, the build up of the drama, and the trajectory of it with every single note or lack thereof. He resists the urge to overplay or fill it all up with sound, but he also knows when to turn it up and let it all go. Even when he was young he could do this, but now that he has so many years experience making music, it’s just scary how tight he is on it.

    I too, was completely psyched about this show and this record.

    BTW, I got here from Peter Watts’ blog.


  4. Karl

    Saw NIN in Milwaukee after “Year Zero” came out. It was sweet. He was in full rage mode, targeting Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for his wrath. Sensenbrenner voted against a Hurricane Katrina Relief bill, in tune with the rest of the “Kill the poor” Republicans who wear their patriotism and Christianity on their sleeves like pious patriotic pimps.

    But NIN was great. Had to get out of the mosh pit, but otherwise had an enjoyable night.

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