There I was in the photo pit right in front of the Bud Light stage on the first night at Lollapalooza, tens or hundreds of thousands of people behind me, when Trent Reznor walked out solo in front of a towering white curtain. He began “Copy Of A” rather nonchalant, but as each band member entered stage left and right with their equipment, the song built slowly and steadily from there.

When it finally erupted, the stage turned into an incredible light and effects show unlike anything I’d ever seen. I took pictures as best I could, but I was pretty much won over by being a mere ten to twenty feet away from one of music’s most creative masterminds and witnessing his genius spread across Millennium Park.

Nine Inch Nails at Lollapalooza was hands-down the best concert I’d seen throughout 2013. They produced a special, one-of-a-kind concert for the festival circuit dates leading up to the release of their eighth studio album, Hesitation Marks — an elaborate display of stage and light design meshed together with the amplitudinal intensity that defines the Nails’ sound. They also managed a wholly satisfying 22-song setlist that spanned the band’s discography and included the hits as well as some of Reznor’s solo work as a film composer.

Their enclosed concert circuit, Tension 2013 — the show I saw performed this past Friday at Staples Center — was already bound to be burdened by comparisons to my experience three months prior. I mean, how could they possibly top the best show I’d seen all year?

NIN Tension 2013 Staples Center 1
Photos by Rob Sheridan

Of course, it wasn’t fair of me to judge so quickly. I was looking forward to seeing what Nine Inch Nails had changed this time around, and, for all intents and purposes, this was an entirely new stage set-up, a new setlist, and a new identity. It looked as painstakingly produced as its festival counterpart with the same amount of presence and energy I saw back in Chicago.

Was it the exact same show I saw back in August? Surely not, but it was still quite enjoyable. Viewed from the comfort of the Hyde Lounge, I was able to catch the massive scope of this new production, which included altered lighting schemes, backup singers, and three-dimensional effects. I was well above the heads of most attendees whilst still being amongst some of the most hardcore Nine Inch Nails fans I’ve ever seen.

Even from the distance of the Hyde Lounge, I could still feel the ferocity coming from the stage. Reznor and crew — who’ve been touring in support of Hesitation Marks since late August — didn’t slight their performance whatsoever. Former Blogcast guest Ilan Rubin (current drummer of NIN) was particularly note-for-note spectacular, delivering some of the best live drumming I’ve heard all year.

NIN Tension 2013 Staples Center

The walloping 28 (28!) track setlist left a little to be desired, however. While Nine Inch Nails started off strong with tracks spanning their discography (“Terrible Lie” and “March Of The Pigs” amongst them), they went on to play tracks from Hesitation Marks for what felt like a considerable chunk of time. I’m all for listening to bits of new material from a band, but not necessarily in consecutive order. Seeing as how most of the new album’s material was underwhelming on record and with their live versions not offering any significant changes aside from the visuals, I found myself craving the older stuff.

Interestingly, the band performed quite a few tracks from their most overlooked album, The Fragile, which I’m sure fans have been clamoring to hear live for some time. What most fans (myself included) probably didn’t anticipate was not hearing “Closer,” a grave omission from the setlist that, while ultimately not affecting the overall performance, left myself and I imagine everyone departing the stadium that night a little disappointed.

Aside from the organization of the setlist, the staging was impressive, if not as effective or impacting as back in August. The lighting schemes were pretty interesting, with multi-colored lights blaring into the audience on every hit of the drum snare and video screens coming down in front of the band to portray cool moving images in response to the ones on the back wall.

NIN Tension 2013 Staples Center 3

Call it a “misfortune” that I was able to see Nine Inch Nails at Lollapalooza and witness the best concert of the year. Their performance at Staples Center was probably just as impressive for those who were experiencing the band for the first time, and I’ll bet they were elated immensely.

Fact of the matter is, if you haven’t had a chance to see Nine Inch Nails live, you definitely need to, and if you’ve already seen them, I’m sure you could compare and contrast performances and still enjoy yourself a bit. I probably got more than my fill when I went to Lollapalooza, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Reznor and Co. again.

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