Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor told Rolling Stone during last year’s Grammy weekend that he was “coming back to combat all the shitty music out there.” Well, it took thirteen months, but, last night, Reznor brought the fight back to his most effective battleground, returning to the stage at the William Saroyan Theatre in Fresno, California.
Backed by the newest incarnation of his ever-evolving band, Reznor debuted material from the group’s long-awaited, With Teeth, due May 3rd, and delved liberally into his back catalogue for a ferocious eighty-minute set.
A buffed-up and black-clad Reznor took the stage at nine to a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, most of whom were also in black and wearing NIN shirts from past tours. He opened with a one-two punch of two new tracks: “Love Is Not Enough” and the brutal “You Know What You Are,” a song whose venom recalls John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep.” Despite the fact the majority of the crowd hadn’t heard the new material, they quickly picked up on the latter track’s refrain of, “Don’t you fucking know what you are,” turning it into one of the many of the night’s sing-alongs.
The energy in the theater mounted with a savage “March of the Pigs” — although Reznor, performing for the first time in more than four years, wore a huge grin as he sang the line, “Doesn’t it make you feel better.” Reznor acknowledged his absence from the stage simply by saying, “It’s been a long fucking time,” to a roar of cheers. He added, “This is an old favorite — of mine, that is,” before launching into “Burn,” from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.
Before the new album’s title track, a scathing look at a relationship’s broken promises, Reznor approached the microphone like a prize fighter, psyching himself out with a yell and jumping up and down as the four musicians behind him began the opening notes. The song moves from a booming rock beat to a tender keyboard interlude, with Reznor singing repeatedly, “I can’t go through this again.”
Among the other new songs debuted were “The Hand That Feeds,” which mixed Reznor’s snarl with an infectious pop beat that even prompted a few women in the audience to start dancing, and the distortion-laden “The Lines Begin to Blur.” As for classic material, NIN offered up “Closer,” “Terrible Lie,” “Piggy,” “Wish” and “Starfuckers, Inc.,” among other hits.
The crowd stayed with Reznor and mates in the softer moments as well, breaking out lighters old-school style for a sing-along rendition of “Hurt,” which found the frontman behind a keyboard at center stage.
The night ended at 10:30, surprisingly sans encore, with a raucous performance of “Head Like a Hole.” Actually, no encore was necessary, as Reznor and band had made their point: Nine Inch Nails are back.