As an experiment, Reznor gave away a pair of tickets for the tour's dress rehearsal by hiding an envelope under a rock in Burbank. Using a Google Earth link on his Website, Reznor indicated the tickets' location with a question mark. Fans quickly found the envelope. "Well, we couldn't leave that alone," Reznor says. "We hid another 30, in places from Watts Towers to behind a mirror in a strip-club restroom to a Home Depot." One envelope was hidden in a graveyard; the location was announced after it had closed for the day: "We wanted to see if anyone would break in, because I would've. And someone did." Reznor contemplated providing the location of Axl Rose's house and encouraging people to dig in his yard for tickets, "just to see how many people got arrested on his front lawn."
On opening night at Seattle's Key Arena on July 26th, Reznor delivers on his head-exploding ambitions. After an opening half-hour played under bright white lights, the band is sandwiched between video screens upstage and downstage. The screens create optical illusions, assault the audience with strobes and even deliberately hide the musicians' images behind a wall of static. The two-hour show careens through Reznor's catalog, including a set of chilled-out Ghosts material featuring Reznor on marimba. "Hurt" is apocalyptic, and during his savage attack on "March of the Pigs," Reznor throws his mike stand like a javelin. There are still a few technical glitches, including one point where the show grinds to a halt. "Somebody's supposed to press a button to turn on the lights," Reznor tells the crowd. "Things fuck up."
Reznor is girding himself for the rest of the tour, which crisscrosses the U.S. through September before moving on to South America and Mexico. A lot of the Nineties are a blur to Reznor, who was an alcoholic and a heroin addict; he's been sober since 2001. "I've learned how to stay sane on the road," he says. "One of the great things about being fucked up on the road is that it's not as boring. There's a lot of hours in the day. 'Have I jacked off to that movie yet?' Yes, I have. Again. Finally, I realized I can get work done – I've got three hours before soundcheck, let's see if I can get a song written in that time."
He still relishes the moment when he hits the stage. "That's the ultimate – you walk out, and you feel cool. Having good lighting and a cool stage is like having a nice outfit on." Has he ever wished he had that lighting offstage? Reznor laughs. "Yeah, and have it follow me around, playing 'Closer' the whole time." He beatboxes his song's famous rhythm and adopts a faux-smug expression: "That's me."
This story is from the August 21st, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.
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