Last night, Nine Inch Nails played the last show of their “Wave Goodbye” tour, after which the band intends never to tour again. As every 90s rock band still alive (as well as some that are not so much) are reuniting, one after another, to try and rekindle old brushfires, it’s hard to take the word “never” very seriously. Regardless, we knew they’d be playing like it was their last, and a band like Nine Inch Nails operating at 1,000% is not something you want to miss. They’re arguably the best live act in the hard rock business even when they’re only at their usual 100%.
We’re not going to get sucked into the message board bickering undoubtedly raging amongst the superfans comparing all of these last shows’ setlists, in attempt to crown the “best” show evar, or at least among the four final crazy Los Angeles area shows. But we will say that while the Palladium got The Downward Spiral in its entirety, the Echoplex had the most intimate setting, and the Fonda got the crazy rarities and special guests, the Wiltern show was, in every imaginable way, a perfect goodbye, and a little bit of everything. Reznor and company played thirty-eight songs, in four sets spanning over 3 hours, the longest show the band has ever played.
The setlist played out like a best-of compilation, though done Nine Inch Nails style- for the real fans, rather than the casual listeners nodding their heads to the radio singles. Closer was absent, but the band barreled through generous cross sections of all of their eight studio albums, spanning twenty years. And along with at least a couple true rarities, there were some guests t’boot; in addition to The Fragile collaborator Mike Garson on piano, goth icon Gary Numan, The Dillinger Escape plan as well as engineer extraordinaire and 12 Rounds mastermind Atticus Ross, Dave Navarro joined the band to shred up the stage with Robin Finck for three songs, easily the coolest versions of The Warning and Piggy I’ve heard to date, and a Gave Up at least on par with the video version, which remains one of my favorite live performances of all time, despite being filmed in Trent’s studio in the old Sharon Tate house.
Opening with the slow-burning With Teeth B-side Home, and following it up with the fan-coveted Fragile opener Somewhat Damaged, Nine Inch Nails made it clear that they were in it for the long haul, that it was going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. But the band did not shy away from the mortar shells, blasting through The Collector, Discipline, and March Of The Pigs in the evening’s first assault.
After going back to 1989 for the brooding Pretty Hate Machine track Something I Can Never Have, Nails played The Frail and The Wretched back to back as they are on 1999’s The Fragile. Ruiner followed, then Head Down- bringing me a new appreciation personally for the Slip track, as some live performances can do- and then came a crushing performance of the all-killer Downward Spiral-era rarity Burn.
Mike Garson then joined the band for Just Like You Imagined and La Mer from The Fragile, followed by Eraser, and then The Becoming, a consistent set highlight. To close the first set, Gary Numan took the mic for performances of his songs Down In The Park, Metal, and I Die: You Die.
The feeling at the first break was that while the performance was an immaculate one, the band wasn’t going to be doing anything that would be amazing on paper, such as bringing on an unimaginable deity of a special guest, or playing a bunch of insane, legendary rarities. There were fans hoping for full-circle type appearances by Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, or Richard Patrick, and I even found myself musing that it’d be pretty fucking cool if they whipped out Supernaut. But when the band returned to the stage for the second set, they made it clear that it just wasn’t that kind of party.
The pit exploded for 1,000,000- the reaction was even more violent than the one for definitive ass-kicker March Of The Pigs. The entire second set was a dense block of unrelenting rage, peaking in the middle with Suck, which young drummer Ilan Rubin seemed born to play. His performance outshined those of his bandmates’ and firmly anchored one of the show’s highlights.
After tilting a spotlight towards a fan sporting an obscure Ministry t-shirt Trent claimed he used to own, the band “took it back to the beginning” and played Down In It, before closing the second set with The Hand That Feeds and Head Like A Hole.
The third set wound up being the one that everyone who wasn’t there were talking about this morning- the one that actually was pretty amazing on paper. Two figures approached a pair of keyboards, both shrouded in smoke lit with green lights, and as we strained our eyes to recognize Trent and Atticus Ross, the duo played the super-rare Me, I’m Not. Then Dave Navarro walked onto the stage for the aforementioned trio of key performances.
Before the fourth set, Trent introduced the band members, stating that it has been an “honor” to play with them, and that he was going to miss them despite much time spent together cramped in a bus “smelling each others’ farts, and all that kinda shit.” He then said “to be clear,” that while this show marked the end of touring as Nine Inch Nails, that he and all of the other members will definitely be continuing to make music. To which the crowd went wild.
Trent said he’s got “lots of stuff” he wants to work on, but he just doesn’t want to be touring, saying he’s “gonna die” if he keeps it up. Finally, he thanked all of the fans for the support over the years, promising “not to let you down.” To which the crowd reacted even more enthusiastically.
The final pummeling the band dealt was not only the craziest of the night, but one of the craziest I’ve ever witnessed by any band. First, the stage filled with smoke. Figures were vaguely visible, some familiar, and some not. They were pushing each other around as they scrambled for their instruments, starting a riot even before sounding the opening notes of Mr. Self Destruct, which featured members of the Dillinger Escape Plan wreaking total mayhem with Nine Inch Nails across an open battlefield of a stage. During Wish, Dillinger frontman Greg Puciato dove into the crowd. By the end of the performance, instruments had been smashed, and a giant kick drum had been flung nearly off the stage.
The crew scrambled to reassemble the stage in time for the band to continue with two Joy Division covers; Atmosphere and Dead Souls, followed by The Good Soldier from Year Zero. The band then closed with a trio of goodbye songs- standard outro Hurt, bookended by The Day The World Went Away, and an emotional performance of In This Twilight to end the night.
As a live band, Nine Inch Nails has been peerless, at least since 1994 or so. Between growing up with their music and touring with them while following A Perfect Circle on the 2000 Fragility tour, we’ve seen this band dozens of times, and not one of them was a disappointment in any way. Again, it’s hard not to cynically joke about inevitable reunion tours, but in all seriousness, this band will be sorely missed. As always, we’re looking forward to hearing what Trent is going to work on next, but we can’t help but be afraid that there might not be a band out there worthy of picking up this mantle.
Here’s hoping that live shows like this can somehow find a way to live on, through the efforts of the most outstanding of the many, many musicians Nine Inch Nails has surely inspired and influenced over the past twenty years.
Nine Inch Nails
September 10th, 2009
Los Angeles, CA
2. Somewhat Damaged
3. The Collector
5. March Of The Pigs
6. Something I Can Never Have
7. The Frail
8. The Wretched
10. Head Down
12. Just Like You Imagined (w/ Mike Garson)
13. La Mer (w/ Mike Garson)
14. Eraser (w/ Mike Garson)
15. The Becoming (w/ Mike Garson)
16. Mike Garson Piano Solo
17. Down In The Park (w/ Gary Numan & Mike Garson)
18. Metal (w/ Gary Numan)
19. I Die: You Die (w/ Gary Numan)
21. Letting You
24. Down In It
25. The Hand That Feeds
26. Head Like A Hole
27. Me, I’m Not (Trent & Atticus Ross)
28. The Warning (w/ Atticus Ross & Dave Navarro)
29. Piggy (w/ Dave Navarro)
30. Gave Up (w/ Dave Navarro)
31. Mr. Self Destruct (w/ The Dillinger Escape Plan)
32. Wish (w/ The Dillinger Escape Plan)
33. Atmosphere (Joy Division Cover)
34. Dead Souls (Joy Division Cover)
35. The Good Soldier
36. The Day The World Went Away
38. In This Twilight