Scraping Genius Off The Wheel


  • Gary Suarez


Last night, I was among the privileged few permitted to attend the Nine Inch Nails show at Webster Hall, the second of four sold-out NYC club shows from the arena-filling industrial rock act. The setlist from the previous night at Bowery Ballroom appeared heavy with newer songs, which admittedly had me pretty skeptical walking into one of my least favorite venues in this city. That fat stinking sweaty territorial assholes had commandeered spots on the balcony railings to bootleg the show only added to my sense of dread that the show would disappoint. I found a halfway decent spot on the upper level and braced myself for the shitty sight lines and poor ventilation that defines Webster Hall concert experience.

Fortunately, Trent Reznor had something special in store for the crowd that would make up for everything: playing the entire The Downward Spiral LP from start to finish.

1994’s The Downward Spiral was one of the most influential records for this writer. As a young man, it would mark the beginning of my immersion into the murky world of industrial music, one that I would not emerge from for roughly a decade. In my mopey angsty teens, I played it hundreds of times on my Aiwa all-in-one stereo. So when NIN opened last night’s show with “Mr. Self Destruct” and immediately followed it with “Piggy”, I knew that I was about to experience one of the greatest concerts of my life. Sure enough, when the third song in the set was “Heresy”, there wasn’t a fan in the room that didn’t know what was going down.

From that point on, it was all about anticipating the next song much like one would if playing it on a CD player back in the day. “March Of The Pigs” was celebratory and fierce, while “Closer” pulsed with sex and sweat in the steamy venue. Interludes like “A Warm Place” and the title track offered some reprieve from the ferocity and bombast of “Big Man With A Gun” and “Reptile”. Naturally, closing with “Hurt” felt so natural and cathartic that the energetic audience largely settled down to let Reznor softly sing his most perfect ballad. After the applause died down, the band–which featured The Downward Spiral period guitarist Robin Finck–delivered another ten tracks from their discography, including deep cuts from Broken (“Gave Up”, “Physical”, “Suck”) and Pretty Hate Machine (“Head Like A Hole”, “Terrible Lie”) along more recent songs like “1,000,000” and “The Hand That Feeds”.

What made this concert so special is that this is the very first time NIN has played The Downward Spiral in its entirety live. Sure, if you saw the band play back in the mid-nineties, you’d likely have heard most of that album, but probably not every song and certainly not in the original running order. The fifteen year old me would have loved this show almost as much as I did.


[Gary Suarez tried. Gary Suarez gave up. He usually manages the consistently off-topic No Yoko No. Say, why don’t you follow him on Twitter?]

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