If there was any doubt about who can rightfully claim to be heavyweight champion of industrial music, this Nine Inch Nails show at the packed Palace put that question to rest. Led by the frightening and charismatic Trent Reznor, a caged animal of a frontman who always seemed to be on the verge of a screaming fit, Nine Inch Nails performed a relatively brief concert packed with smoke, light, noise and angst.
Opening with “Terrible Lie” and “Sin,” both from the 1989 TVT debut “Pretty Hate Machine,” Nine Inch Nails used the studio versions of these and other songs as launching pads for the sonic extremes the music ultimately reaches in concert. A caustic mix of synth-fired dance music and industrial heavy metal, the sound was overwhelming in its power and liberating in its unrefined, raw energy.
Nine Inch Nails played a thoughtful mix from the melodic “Pretty Hate Machine” and the more violent “Downward Spiral” (a recent No. 2 album for TVT/Interscope). Reznor, backed by a crack squad of slashing musicians, created an increasing anxiousness and intensity through the course of the 80-minute show.
“Bow down before the one you serve,” the crowd shouted during early band hit “Head Like a Hole,” doing just that. Screams from that song’s chorus rang out while a lighting rig seemingly meant for arena-size venues blanketed the room in mind-bending colorful lights.
This is music born of the same social environment that inspired Nirvana. The difference here is that Nine Inch Nails’ music carries with it a message of individual empowerment and ultimate spiritual survival, of never settling for anything less than personal vindication and triumph. Other song highlights included the intense lyrical spirit of grinder “Something I Can Never Have,” the vicious, animalistic “Closer,” the guitar-powered “Wish,” a tune that sports a most dramatic minor/major chord jump, and a clever, twisted cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love,” which featured a sample of the late Freddie Mercury.
Other than the two boring and self-indulgent numbers that began the show’s encore, this concert came close to liberating musical perfection. After such an overpowering spectacle, it’s hard to imagine where Reznor will take his music next, but it’s only natural to expect that it will make this presentation pale in comparison.