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Non-Prog Concert Reviews

Nine Inch Nails

Live in Los Angeles, September 10th, 2009

Review by Rick Damigella

I’m starting this article with a disclaimer. This is not so much a review, as it is the story of one person’s point of view of Nine Inch Nails “final” live performance and the events leading up to it, because reviewing it as just another concert would be an insult to what this night was…

The Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, September 10th, 2009: The day the world went away. Ok, maybe that’s overstating it. It is nevertheless the day that Nine Inch Nails, as a live touring act, played its final concert, “for a while.” After announcing his plans to leave the road (but not from making music) earlier this year, Trent Reznor played a number of concerts and then went out with Jane’s Addiction and the Street Sweeper Social Club for the NIN|JA tour. It didn’t really seem like a proper conclusion to a farewell tour though. Then, on July 7th came Reznor’s announcement that Nine Inch Nails would play a short series of shows, informal and in smaller venues; the aptly named Wave Goodbye tour.

I have been a fan of Nine Inch Nails since 1993, prior to The Downward Spiral, but had never seen Reznor play live. On the day the tickets went on sale, after a frenetic half hour spent trying to score tickets, any tickets, to one of the Los Angeles concerts, I managed to get a pair to the penultimate concert, scheduled for the Wiltern Theater on September 5th. I had tried to get into the very last show, scheduled for the next day at the much smaller Echoplex, but that show, for obvious reasons, sold out first.

Flash forward several weeks later. Anticipation was building for the concerts to come to Los Angeles, Reznor played The Downward Spiral live, in its entirety, for the first time ever at New York’s Webster Hall on August 23rd. Peter Murphy joined the band on stage in New York and Chicago. What would he do similar in Los Angeles? The feeling I had was these concerts were going to be something more than special - perhaps approaching legendary performances.

The Wave Goodbye tour arrived in Los Angeles. Gary Numan appeared with the band at the Hollywood Palladium. The Downward Spiral was played top to tail again, and my understanding is it was professionally filmed. And seemingly mere minutes after that concert ended came an announcement via that Reznor was sick and the next night’s show at the Henry Fonda Theater was “cancelled.” A good friend of mine named Scott, managed to get tickets to both this concert and the one I was going to at the Wiltern. Suffice it to say, we were both shocked at this turn of events. We spent the better part of a day discussing it, wondering if the show was really cancelled or would it be rescheduled. In our wildest dreams I don’t think we imagined what would happen next. Word came via that not only would the Fonda concert be rescheduled, but the Wiltern show would be as well, becoming the final concert.

The day of the concert arrived on September 10th. Word on the Internet was people had camped out in line the night before and by mid-day the line was well around the building. I arrived around 6:00pm to get in the first line, to obtain my tickets. I have to say, for all the efforts by artists to control scalping over the years, this seemed like the most organized and successful effort yet. The person who bought the tickets had to show ID and if you had a guest they had to be with you, as you received wristbands required for entry along with the tickets. I only saw one scalper while in line, offering a guy $500 a piece for his pair before he picked them up. He was a true fan, and refused. The line to get in the theater wrapped around the four blocks surrounding it, the end nearly reaching the beginning.

Once inside, the merch line was, to put it bluntly, insane. There were limited edition posters and shirts commemorating the concerts. The shirts sold out quick - too quick. I unfortunately was in line for the entire performance of opening act io echo, but I liked what I could hear as doors to the floor section opened sporadically during the set.

Once in my seat, my continued thoughts that this was going to be more than just a farewell performance were becoming stronger. My wife attended the concert with me, and despite never getting into NIN before, a crash course in their music leading up to the show had turned her into a fan. We sat in the second row of the balcony on the stage right side of the theater. This turned out to be a great spot to play “Spot the Celebrity.” Eddie Van Halen took a photo with a fan right in front of us. Tony Hawk, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal and Ron Jeremy all walked past us. Penn Jillette was also spotted in the crowd by my wife. I read somewhere David Bowie was seen watching the concert from the side of the stage but I can’t confirm that.

When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage all of my feelings that this was going to be something more than special were confirmed. This was no ordinary concert. Reznor played and sang with an unbridled energy. The audience wasn’t a stereotypical group of hipsters. They were NIN fans. The energy coming from the stage and from the crowd coalesced into something tangible in the air. The stage was bare, save for the instruments. Simple rigs held the most powerful strobe lights I have ever seen. I had to shield my eyes from them many times throughout the performance because of their intensity. They weren’t so much lights either, as they were visual extensions of the sound, that is how powerful they were. Stage crew could be seen throughout the concert, moving equipment, setting things up, with no attempt to hide them from the audience.

At many concerts I have been to, including by some of my most favorite artists, I have been known to check my watch, wondering what time it is. Not this time. I was utterly taken in by the music. I didn’t realize it till it was over, but as the concert went on, song after song, I and likely many of the attendees there, were utterly swept up and carried away by the sonic assault coming from the stage. Band members Robin Finck (guitar, keyboards), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass, keyboards) and Ilan Rubin (drums, keyboards) gave top-notch, intense performances and never missed a beat over the course of the concert. I was exceedingly surprised to hear how clean the sound was. For such a loud performance, the people at the desk did one of the most amazing mixes I have ever heard. Each instrument was discreet and obvious where it stood in the sound spectrum. Reznor’s vocals were at the perfect level. The distortion of guitar, bass and synth never bled into each other. They managed to create live what Reznor does in the studio - incredible.

“Incredible” is also the only way to describe the set list. 38 songs, over three hours in length, spanning the entire 20 year recording career of Nine Inch Nails. Gary Numan came on stage for three songs. Mike Garson played piano on five numbers. Atticus Ross and Dave Navarro played on several songs. Dillinger Escape Plan came on stage, for a two drum-two bass-two guitar-two vocalists-destruction of the stage-performance of “Wish” (no, really, they trashed the stage. Bass drums were thrown, amps were knocked over, a keyboard fell into the gap between the stage and the pit. And the concert wasn’t over yet).

Following this display of wanton abandon, the concert was nearing the three hour mark, and several key songs had yet to be played. “Closer” wouldn’t be, having been performed for the last time at the Palladium. Back to back covers of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and “Dead Souls” were truly stunning. Once “Dead Souls” was played, I was set. The concert could end by way of the power failing and I would have been ok with it. But the hits kept coming. The rendition of “Hurt” was particularly chilling, but I knew Reznor would end on something else so there had to be one more still to come. The last song played was the appropriate “In This Twilight” from Year Zero. As the song neared its conclusion, each member of the band took a solitary bow and quietly departed the stage.

Standing alone in a fading spot light was Trent Reznor. Just the man and his keyboard, playing the final notes of the song. And then, a wave goodbye. Pause. House lights up.

It was in this moment I realized what this concert truly was: A life-altering moment in music-time. There are concerts that go down in history as legendary. To say you were there is truly something special. This was one of those moments. I can honestly declare without reservation or hesitation, that this was the greatest concert I have ever seen, and perhaps ever will.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at
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