Farewell tours often give off the scent of mercenary desperation — the unrepentant need to go to the well one final time (final, that is, until the comeback announcement). There’s been a palpable difference, however, in the swan song orchestrated by Trent Reznor, who for all intents and purposes, is Nine Inch Nails.
When he announced that he was retiring NIN as a touring brand, Reznor put together a trek dominated by small-scale, intimate shows like this Gotham gig, held at a venue that the band could’ve sold out 20 times over. That decision was the latest in a series of seemingly counter-intuitive moves on Reznor’s part — like giving away music for free, while also offering said tunes to diehards in ornate packages selling for hundreds of dollars. So far, he hasn’t made many missteps.
Reznor went to great pains to showcase all facets of Nine Inch Nails at this exhaustive two houer perf, offering up the band’s best known material – highlighted by a tense rendition of “March of the Pigs” and an incendiary set-closing take on “Head Like a Hole” – as well as a goodly number of seldom-performed fan favorites. The most surprising of those was a mid-encore version of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” – a song Reznor originally contributed to the soundtrack of “The Crow” — which has proven to be the Nails devotee’s answer to Ahab’s great white whale.
The often volatile frontman exuded genuine appreciation throughout the set without breaking character enough to offer outright sappy thanks. But he did seem energized by the rare chance to perform within touching distance of an aud willing to mosh wildly, then calmly appreciate something like the bucolic “La Mer,” which was buoyed by Reznor’s delicate, focused keyboard playing.
Neither outright nostalgic nor consciously celebratory, the perf — which was filmed for an upcoming DVD (according to one of the cameramen) — offered a vivid picture of what made Nine Inch Nails tick. It also brought across the image of a frontman who’s well aware that youthful angst and existential gnashing doesn’t play as well when conjured by an artist in his forties — and whetted the appetite for what might come next.
Reznor will bring the farewell tour to Los Angeles for four dates: Sept. 2 at the Palladium, Sept. 3 at the Music Box, Sept. 5 at the Wiltern and the Sept. 6 at the EchoPlex.