Nine Inch Nails, with Explosions in the Sky, last night at the Sprint Center

At this point in his life, you might think that Trent Reznor is settling down into middle age. He’s now a father to two young sons, he’s nearing 50, and his most recent release, Hesitation Marks – a decidedly less hard outing – has received some of the most positive feedback of any album in Nine Inch Nails’ career. Judging from last night’s Sprint Center performance, however, Reznor hasn’t lost touch with the intensity and darkness that has defined so much of his 24-year long career with NIN.

Opener Explosions in the Sky is an interesting pairing for Nine Inch Nails. It’s got to be difficult for any act to try to open for Reznor in that his music and audience are fairly specific, but it’s additionally difficult for an instrumental band with essentially no applause breaks to keep the attention of an entire arena. The band sounded great on the Sprint Center’s massive sound system, but the crowd never really aligned with them. It’s more likely that Godspeed, You! Black Emperor (who will be opening the show later in the tour) may be more successful in roping Reznor’s audience.

Reznor and this incarnation of Nine Inch Nails, in their first appearance in Kansas City since 2008 and just their second show of the current Tension Tour, entered the arena to a huge reception and Beijing-level billows of smoke. Reznor immediately threw his entire body into the show, leaning against the mic stand and twisting his face into a variety of grimaces.

The set was heavy on material from Hesitation Marks, which is heavier on atmospherics and electronica than some of Reznor’s older outings. The material works quite well live, particularly with the stage and lights setup and the addition of two female backup singers, which nicely soften some of Reznor’s harder edges (but softened only slightly – NIN will always be a rough, dark project). The stage setup featured a concave LCD screen behind the entire band, and two convex mesh LCD screens that raised and lowered at various times throughout the set. During “All Time Low,” one of Hesitation Marks‘ high points, the two mesh screens flashed white bars in front of the band, which was backlit in dark blue. The white bars melted into a three-dimensional white cube, which floated around the band.

Some of Reznor’s lyrics are a bit on the nose. He is quite fond of the rhyming couplet: Hey! / Ev-ry-thing is not oh-kay! or I said good-bye / I had to try, but none of that matters when “March of the Pigs” or “The Hand that Feeds” whips the audience into a ’90s frenzy, complete with a (small) mosh pit and crowd surfing.

The band closed its nearly two-hour set with a sing-along to “Head Like a Hole,” and returned for a solid 20-minute encore, featuring mostly newer material. It is a safe bet that Reznor will end shows on this tour with “Closer” or “Hurt,” and last night, we were treated to “Hurt,” arguably Nine Inch Nails’ best song. Reznor surely has performed this song hundreds of times in the nearly 20 years since The Downward Spiral was released, but his voice control is still incredibly affecting. That control – of tone, volume and tempo – is one of Reznor’s best attributes as a performer, and last night, it was very strong and evident throughout the performance. He brought the song down to a whisper, just before the lights and final few notes blasted the audience one last time.

Copy of A
Terrible Lie
March of the Pigs
All Time Low
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
Into the Void
The Frail
The Wretched
A Warm Place
Somewhat Damaged
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

Even Deeper
Various Methods of Escape
While I’m Still Here
Black Noise

Categories: Music