“We’re gonna do a mood shift,” Trent Reznor told the audience at Nine Inch Nails‘ gig Friday night in Las Vegas. “Instead of some happy, upbeat songs,” he said, pausing dramatically for laughter, “we’re gonna switch it up and do something melancholy.” His band then cued up the cascading synths it used on a remix of David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” eerily replicating Bowie’s Berlin-era keyboard sound perfectly while Reznor coolly crooned the song’s lyrics as his “hero and friend,” as he called him, did when he recorded the song. It was a somber moment that hung in the air of the smoke-filled room, and it was one of many highlights of a gig that serves as a preview of what’s to come on the group’s fall tour.
The concert was the second show of a three-night Sin City residency, but other than one remarkably Elvis-like “thankyouver’much” after Add Violence’s shimmery “The Background World,” Nine Inch Nails were far from a Vegas act tonight. The band is in town to shake the rust off before they head out on what will be their most ambitious run of dates in four years.
The “Cold and Black and Infinite” trek, as they’re merrily calling it, features many multi-night stops in big cities, and it’s clear that Reznor and company have anticipated that by preparing a large amount of material to play live. Only six of Friday night’s 21 tunes overlapped with the ones they played on the first night, and the band played a mix of fan favorites and newer material with a sense of swagger.
After a short set by Reznor protegee Queen Kwong, the night began in earnest when the roadies revealed the lights that would be facing the band and cranked up the smoke machines to fill the stage. About half an hour later, everything was covered in smoke, and the group kicked things off with “Branches/Bones,” the short, upbeat intro track to Not the Actual Events, an EP Nine Inch Nails released in 2016 that became the first in a trilogy.
Although the group is putting out the final release in that series, Bad Witch, next week, they focused the setlist on the first two EPs, also playing Add Violence’s synth-pop paean “Less Than” (a track that’s so catchy and quintessentially Nine Inch Nails it sat perfectly next to The Downward Spiral’s “March of the Pigs”) and Events’ sludgy “Burning Bright (Field on Fire).”
By and large “heavy” was the order of the evening, as the group doled out a litany of guitar-saturated rockers: “Wish,” “Head Like a Hole” (a tune that sounded gutsier than usual with floor-shaking guitar) and The Fragile’s “The Day the World Went Away” (which Reznor said the group had not rehearsed). In other parts of the night, they played around with the rhythms of “Closer,” giving it a little bit more syncopated funk and sneaking in the synth line from “The Only Time,” and they played a reworked version of Pretty Hate Machine’s “Sanctified” that was overall quieter with some jittery keyboard lines and none of the Atari-style synths of the original. After “Burning Bright,” keyboardist Atticus Ross and guitarist Robin Finck manipulated samples of Trump speaking while a bad TV signal was broadcast on the two screens.
Reznor did not explain his intentions in any of this to the sold-out crowd of about 4,000 – fans who were a mix of black fishnet–clad goths and general T-shirt-wearing hard rockers – but he did look like he was enjoying himself. Throughout the night, he had fun playing around with some of the songs, saying, “You got it, you got it,” he chanted hip-hop style, “you can be closer now” after a particularly funky “I want to fuck you like an animal” recitation in “Closer,” he “oooh’d” way up high during “March of the Pigs” and he generally stalked the stage as he always has, playing various instruments and leaning into his microphone.
During the band’s four-song encore, Reznor, in a rare moment of banter, told the audience he didn’t take it for granted that they came out to see him. Throughout the night, the crowd had hung on his every note and sung along loudly to hits like “Head Like a Hole” and deep cuts like “Piggy” and “The Wretched.” “Thank you for coming,” he said. “It keeps us able to face the ever-horrific world, which seems to be going fucking crazy. Thank you for sending that energy back to us.” And with that, they closed things out with “The Day the World Went Away” and “Hurt,” for which he sang next to Finck on an acoustic guitar. By the time, the song ended with some crushing guitar chords, the crowd looked so elated that you’d almost believe it that the songs were “happy” and “upbeat” as he’d joked.
Nine Inch Nails Set List:
“Copy of A”
“March of the Pigs”
“I Can’t Give Everything Away”
“The Background World”
“The Great Destroyer”
“Burning Bright (Field on Fire)”
“The Hand That Feeds”
“Head Like a Hole”
“The Day the World Went Away”