Bowie’s original song, released two days before his death in 2016, is warm and pretty, with swelling strings, turbocharged bass and bright saxophone. Nine Inch Nails made the song spookier by cutting away layers of instrumentation to focus on keyboard and voice. Trent Reznor sang the title phrase over and over, leaving long, poignant pauses between “everything” and “away.”
Introducing the performance in Bakersfield, CA on Wednesday, Reznor called Bowie “a hero of all of ours.” “We were in the studio kind of messing around and when [the news of Bowie’s death] hit, it felt like we needed to do something … to process it in some way,” Reznor explained. “So we worked a song of his that gave us some sort of closure. We didn’t release it, but we will play it for you now tonight.”
Following Bowie’s death in 2016, Reznor penned a letter about the star’s importance for Rolling Stone. “His music really helped me relate to myself and figure out who I was,” Reznor wrote. “He was a tremendous inspiration in terms of what was possible, what the role of an entertainer could be, that there are no rules.”
As Stereogum points out, Nine Inch Nails anonymously uploaded a studio version of their “I Can’t Give Everything Away” cover last December. While there was some speculation at the time that Reznor was behind the track, it wasn’t confirmed until Nine Inch Nails performed it live with the same arrangement.
On Friday, the band will release a new EP titled Add Violence, and on Sunday, they will headline the FYF Fest in Los Angeles.