So this was it: Nine Inch Nails’ final live hurrah in the United Kingdom. While the sun slowly set behind stage left, thousands of Reznor devotees held their breath and silently prayed that after twenty years of Nine Inch Nails, this final UK performance at Knebworth wasn’t about to mark their idol’s career as heading in that same dramatic direction.
Usually anything less than thick, oppressive darkness would be anathema to the precisely-planned AV-experience of a NIN live set, but stripped of his light show, Reznor and co instead deliver a set of carefully selected tracks that seem designed to push the buttons of the fanboys – and not the man who wanted a greatest hits set.
But you know what? Fuck Mr Casual. Fuck Mr Greatest Hits. And fuck you too if you attended Sonisphere but couldn’t find the time to give one precious hour to Nine Inch Nails. In just 11 too-short almost anti-crowd-pleasing songs, Nine Inch Nails delivered the performance of the weekend.
The last five years of Nine Inch Nails have been defined by fighting convention; some would argue Reznor’s has been fighting it his entire career. If he were to allow Nine Inch Nails’ live show to become little more than a real-life iTunes playlist of ‘Head Like A Hole’, ’Closer’, and all the rest of their most-overplayed hits, then this would’ve been a failure as a parting gift. With NIN playing tighter than the vein-popping grip Reznor has on his mic stand all set, this evening’s performance is so much more than just a human jukebox.
By skewing the set to highlight the frailty – as much NIN’s ultimate selling point as his hard-faced industrial throb ever was – Reznor’s showed it wasn’t about brute force, or blunt heaviness, or fancy laser shows, but instead always about the songwriting. The sheer lump-in-throat emotion that ‘Something I Can Never Have’ wrought was enough to knock the massed throng into a stunned silence. It even achieved the almost unthinkable feat of making ‘Hurt’ seem indulgent in comparison. It’s just another of the evening’s many indications that we’re seeing genius at work.
Adios, Trent Reznor. Don’t be gone too long.
Nine Inch Nails @ Sonisphere Festival 2009 photos courtesy of Gary Wolstenholme
Nine Inch Nails @ Sonisphere Festival 2009 setlist
The Way Out Is Through
I Do Not Want This
Something I Can Never Have
Lights In The Sky
The Downward Spiral