Nine Inch Nails [NIN] @ the Oakland Arena (9/5/08)

Kevin Keating

Trent Reznor's latest incarnation of Nine Inch Nails swung through Oakland last night with a slightly modified roster of artists joining Trent onstage from the last 'With Teeth' tour 2 years ago. Allesandro Cortini (keyboards/synths) and Josh Freese (drums) reprised their roles and Robin Finck returned to lead guitar (replacing Aaron North from the With Teeth tour) after previously playing with the band during the Self Destruct and Fragility tours in the late 90's. Robin took a break to work with Axl Rose (of Guns n Roses) on the upcoming Chinese Democracy album. The newest member, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Beck's long-time bassist and accomplished studio musician and producer, joined the team on bass, replacing Jeordie White who left to rejoin Marilyn Manson.

The show kicked off just about 10 minutes before 9pm and continued for a solid 2 hours with songs taken from nearly 20 years of material. Classics from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine included "Terrible Lie" and "Head Like a Hole". And the radio anthem, "Closer", got the crowd into a frenzy within the first third of the show. With so much material to choose from, Trent strayed from the typical rock concert you might expect to play several arrangements from his instrumental album, Ghosts, that was released earlier this year. The slower interludes gave the crowd a chance to breathe before launching into pounding renditions of "Gave Up", "Survivalism" and the Grammy award winning "Wish".

Also noteworthy was that Trent broke from his traditional vocal, guitar and piano duties and took up the xylophone and some sort of electronic clarinet during the instrumental Ghosts songs.

Throughout the night, a massive curtain of LCD lights would descend and rise in front of the band where the light show seemed to be fairly interactive with the music being played. My clip of "Vessel" below may be the best example I was able to tape last night.

Overall, the light show was impressive but at times the curtain of lights seemed to distance the band from those of us in the audience who came to be a part of the show. And at other times, it came across as more of a performance art/concept show compared to a more traditional rock concert.

I can't help to think that I would have been blown away if the show was more focused on either Trent's rock-infused songs OR the slower tempo, semi-jazzy instrumentals. Don't get me wrong, the visuals were stunning... And if you haven't seen NIN live before, you'll still be impressed with the show. But it seemed that the combination of high/fast-tempo, balls-to-the-wall rock songs just didn't work as they were mixed up against the slower instrumentals. Don't get me wrong, it was a good show, but I've definitely seen better performances from Trent & co.

Here's somewhat of a good example with Trent playing piano on "The Frail" that leads into "Closer"... Not as drastic of a segue as other examples during the show...

Trent's performance at the Bridge School Benefit, Neil Young's all-acoustic annual festival, a couple of years ago still stands out in my memory for the complete re-interpretation of his electronic songs mixed into an avante garde performance that will go down as one of his greatest. As he tried to slip some of that inspiration into last night's set-list, it seemed to me, that it would be better off as a honed experience separate from the walls of amps found in this tour.

Here's some video I found on YouTube of the Bridge School performance:

Back to last night...

Other songs that stood out last night include the timeless "Head Like a Hole":

And the show closer, "In This Twilight", which you can possibly make out the apocalyptic city burning in the background:

The last thing I'll mention is that the crowd was mainly made up of young teenagers through people in their late 30's or so. There was also an odd smell that could have been made-up of a combination of bad pot, extremely bad body order, and beer or puke (or both) -- keep in mind I was back towards the main soundboard on the floor, well behind the pit. So I think the crowd around me were those who had escaped the pit and wanted to enjoy the lightshow with some cheap pot -- definitely not a pleasant smell for those just trying to enjoy the music!

Finally, here's the setlist from last night (thanks to the forums for keeping track of the specifics):

Letting You
March of the Pigs
Head Down
The Frail
Gave Up
Corona Radiata
The Warning
5 Ghosts I
17 Ghosts II
19 Ghosts III
Ghosts Piggy
The Greater Good
Terrible Lie
The Big Come Down
31 Ghosts IV
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole


God Given
In This Twilight

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