Nine Inch Nails @ the Echoplex in LA (9/6/09)

A few weeks ago, this was one of the toughest tickets to come by. The September 6th show at the Echoplex club in Los Angeles, a club that only holds between 450-600 people, was meant to be the very last Nine Inch Nails concert for the foreseeable future due to Trent Reznor's previously announced plans to take a long break from touring. This from a guy who has spent the better part of the last 20 years either on the road around the world or holed up in a recording studio religiously tweaking every disparate bleep and scream that he could generate through his mountain of music gear. By this point, I don't blame the guy one bit. Presumably, he's seen friends and family settle down, start families and do all the things 'normal' people do while he's toiled away -- all to the benefit of us! He's put his life on hold to focus on the music that's hopefully meant so much to him, and that's also affected his fans possibly so much more. Lucky for me though, I've been fortunate enough to catch NIN play about 20 times over the past 15 or so years. For a few reviews of their more recent shows, click here.

Anyway, back to the Echoplex gig... Unfortunately, I wasn't able to buy tickets for this show when they went on sale. I got tickets to the show scheduled the night before at the Wiltern Theater -- a venue that holds about 2200 people -- but no dice for the Echoplex. And if you read my previous review of the LA Philharmonic concert, you would have already known that Trent came down with the flu a few days before the Wiltern show and was forced to cancel and reschedule the show. Suddenly, the Echoplex show was no longer the last Nine Inch Nails show ever. And as luck would have it, I suddenly found myself holding a ticket to the 'new' very last show! I just needed to arrange my travel plans and get back down to LA from the Bay Area!

Not to get off-topic, but forget about the Federal stimulus proposals and California budget crisis that have each been focused on so much over the past several months in the news, the state of California should issue a personal note of thanks for Trent unintentionally coming down with the flu and rescheduling his shows. The NIN forums are filled with fans making additional arrangements so they can either extend their LA-stay or travel back to LA for the two shows that were canceled and rescheduled (ie. the Henry Fonda and Wiltern Theaters on 9/8 and 9/10, respectively.) Obviously, I fall into that camp as well. That's not meant to come across as a complaint either. Sure, it's a little inconvenient, but luckily, my personal and professional situation at the moment allows for the travel flexibility. And considering I've been listening to NIN since the 1991 Lollapalooza tour and remember staying up late to watch and hope for 'Down In It' to be played on Dave Kendall's 120 Minutes on MTV, there wasn't any chance I was going to pass this up! For those of you who don't remember 120 Minutes either, the show was on at something like Midnight to 2am on Sunday nights. It was cool in that it played videos from all the alternative bands at the time when hair-metal was the only thing shown during the day alongside Boyz II Men and New Kids On the Block videos. The thing that sucked about it, was that the show would play one, or maybe two, industrial videos during the entire 2-hour block. So at the time, you'd be lucky to catch a NIN video, or Front 242, or KMFDM, or Ministry... But generally only one of the above during any given show. And this was pre-internet days, so you couldn't pull up YouTube for your fix either. I'm rambling again, sorry...

The Echoplex, where was I?

So because I was already in LA for the now canceled Wiltern show, I decided to take a leap of faith and swing by the Echoplex on the afternoon of the show. I kept my expectations low that I would be lucky enough to get a ticket, and indeed I did! By 3.30 or 4pm in the afternoon, there was already a line of at least a few hundred people outside the venue. And it may be hard to describe here, but there are actually two entrances to the Echo/Echoplex. The upstairs 'The Echo' has an entrance on Sunset and is more of a dance club, whereas the entrance downstairs on Glendale ave is to the Echoplex concert venue/club. The line of people were stretched out on Glendale ave, and what I found is that the VIP/Guestlist entrance was up on the Sunset entrance... And when I arrived, there were only a handful of people at this entrance, so I figured my chances of somehow getting in the door were exponentially higher outside this door instead of fighting the crowds down below.

So I waited with a few other pretty cool people, none of which had tickets either, but we were all hoping for a miracle. As the clock got closer to when the doors were supposed to open, more people started to show up to the Sunset entrance. Rumors from down below mentioned that extra tickets were going to be released for sale sometime soon -- at the box office, which was conveniently located at the entrance I had been parked at.

As it turns out, the bouncers organized the others who were without tickets from down below and led them upstairs to form a single file line now at exactly where i was standing. Chaos ensued, one bouncer told me to stay where I was and another was saying that I should go back to the end of the line. Within a matter of seconds, I realized that the crowd had been given wristbands downstairs and I didn't have one, so I decided to head back towards the end of the line and try and blend in with the others. As again luck would have it, a group of 3 behind me were in a frenzy over what they were going to do. It turns out that one of them had a pair of tickets, but she couldn't stay for the show and had to drive back to Sacramento (about 6 hours away) that night to get to work. The other pair of friends were going to try and buy tickets at the box office, or go drinking if they couldn't get in. To make things easier for them, I offered to take her +1 ticket off her hands -- and she accepted! I'm not exactly even sure I understand how this all transpired, but all I knew is that I suddenly had a realistic chance to get into the show. The problem was then that we were in the wrong line. We needed to be back down in the Glendale ave line that was meant for ticket holders...

The two of us, jumped out of the line on Sunset and headed down to Glendale ave and got into the back of a line that was still a couple hundred deep, but was starting to move as people were starting to stream inside.

About 15 minutes later, we made it to the front of the line where she handed over her ID and BAM!!, the tickets were handed over and I had my way in the door.

The club itself is designed in a way where the entrance has you come from behind the right side of the stage and into an opening directly in front of the stage that would comfortably fit about 200 or so people. About 20 feet back from the stage, the ceiling drops from about 30' high, to about 9' high and the room extends further back towards a bar along the back wall of the venue -- maybe another 50-60 feet back from the 'front' room. For those who ventured back into this 'back' room, they couldn't have had the best sound or view considering there were numerous columns, a low ceiling and worst of all, the stage only seemed to be raised by about a foot or two from the floor. Considering the options, I chose to stay towards the back of the 'front' room and over towards the side, near a column and the merch table which was only a few feet behind me.

The opening band (HEALTH) was rocking out with their noise-rock tunes as I settled in next to the column, and to my surprise, standing right beside me was none other than Robin Finck, the guitarist for NIN. He was hanging out catching the show before having to take off to prepare for the main event that was coming up within a matter of minutes.

HEALTH (all-caps is how they spell their name) absolutely kicked ass. I can only describe them as a combination of NIN and Radiohead with more electronic chirps and noise added into the mix. The sheer energy coming from the band as they bounced all over the stage made me tired just watching them. If I wasn't already catching the Thursday night NIN show in LA, I'd definitely head to SF to see these guys play at the Bottom of the Hill. To my SF readers, don't miss these guys tomorrow night! For everyone else, be sure to check out their tour schedule as they're just kicking off what looks to be a national tour! Shortly after Robin left to head backstage, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the NIN bassist, walked right behind me. I turned and said 'you rock' as he gave me a big smile and said a sincere thanks before heading backstage as well.

Shortly thereafter, HEALTH wrapped up their set and the roadies came out to quickly clear the stage for the NIN equipment. As we waited, a group of cameramen started to stake out claims throughout the venue. One guy chose to take his life in his hands by parking himself right in the middle of the pit, just about 10 feet away from the dead center of the stage. Another happened to set-up shop right next to me. And after a few minutes, we struck up a conversation about his impressive camera, which I believe was a Sony HVRZ5U -- certainly orders of magnitude better than my whimpy Sony Cybershot! It turns out that for the Echoplex show, there were no less than 11 professional HD cameras recording the show. Stay tuned for what I'm assuming will be one of Trent and Rob Sheridan's next projects -- either putting together a live DVD compilation of the last 'Wave Goodbye' shows from NYC, Chicago and LA; or releasing all the raw HD footage online for the fans to piece together on their own as they're doing now with the last "Lights In the Sky Tour" and the "This One's On Us" DVD project.

For a glimpse of the fan-created 'Another Version of the Truth' DVD, check out the trailer below -- all edited and sync'ed by the nin community using HD footage that was released by the band as a free download. Pretty cool stuff.

Finally, the time was near. It was getting close to 9.20pm and the crowd was starting to get restless. At last, the band took to the stage and launched into "Somewhat Damaged":

They continued through what turned out to be a 28-song setlist that I've included below. Now I could go on and say that it was a mind-blowing set and that it was the best show ever, but I'd be lying. It was definitely a great show, don't get me wrong. But this was also the first one back after Trent was sick a few days earlier and it showed. Although his voice started off strong, it seemed to deteriorate as the night went on. There were also a number of mistakes made that just seemed clumsy compared to previous shows. They were definitely not on their A-game that night, but neither was the crowd, and maybe that perpetuated the mistakes by the band?!? By comparison, I was lucky enough to attend the Bowery Ballroom concert, which was a similar sized venue, in NYC a couple of weeks ago and the major difference between the two shows had to be the crowd (and the heat). The Bowery show was just intense and it seemed that the entire crowd sang, shouted and punched the air throughout the entire show. Whereas, the Echoplex crowd seemed sedated. Maybe it was the fact that we all knew that the end was near? Maybe it had to do with the fact that at least 50 people slept outside on the sidewalk the night before to secure their spot against the front of the stage? And as the show wore on, the heat in the building continued to rise. Guys were streaming out of the pit, just soaked in sweat. It reminded me of the days when I was 17 trying to survive in the pit as I was getting crushed by the crowd inching and clawing towards the stage... Now that I'm a bit older, I'm happy staying on the sidelines and taking in the show from a bit further back.

Overall, I'd say the climax of the show hit when Trent introduced one of his early influences, Gary Numan, out to the stage to perform "Metal" with the band. "I Die; You Die" immediately followed, which was another Gary Numan original. After that, Trent reclaimed the mic and launched into yet another cover, Adam Ant's "Physical".

Here's my video of "Metal" with Gary Numan:

As I re-read what I've written above, I want to stress that the show was still fantastic. It was great to have the opportunity to see these guys in such a small intimate space like the Echoplex. But overall, it fell short of the Bowery Ballroom show, and even the fan-only show at the Key Club in Cabazon, CA a few years ago. At both those shows the band seemed to feed off the energy from the crowd, and unfortunately, the Echoplex crowd just wasn't in a giving mood the other night.

Considering I'm a little behind in posting this review, NIN just played their rescheduled Henry Fonda show last night (9/8) and from what I've read, the Fonda show was truly spectacular. Let's hope that tomorrow night (9/10) proves to be a similar night for the rescheduled Wiltern Theater show -- the 'new' last show of the tour! I'll be there and hope to have a review up soon after, so stay tuned.

As I mentioned above, here's the setlist with links to a few of the other videos I shot. Thanks to the NIN forums for the setlist!

"Somewhat Damaged"
"The Beginning Of The End"
"The Collector"
"March Of The Pigs"
"Something I Can Never Have"
"The Frail"
"The Wretched"
"Terrible Lie"
"Head Down"
"Gave Up"
"La Mer"
"Gone, Still"
"The Big Come Down"
"The Way Out Is Through"
"Down In It"
"Metal" (Featuring Gary Numan)
"I Die: You Die" (Featuring Gary Numan)
"Physical (You're So)" (Adam Ant cover)
"The Hand That Feeds"
"Head Like A Hole"
"Atmosphere" (Joy Division cover they screwed up in the beginning and then skipped over to start Dead Souls instead.)
"Dead Souls" (A Joy Division cover)

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