Before I get too deep into this, let me just say that while both bands were great, Nine Inch Nails put on one of the top five performance I have ever seen. This was my first NIN show, and I am so mad at myself for never having shelled out the money for a ticket (which ain’t cheap) to one of their shows before. The group takes the concert experience to the next level of showmanship and intensity, and with Soundgarden sharing the stage, last night was one epic evening of rock at the Hollywood Bowl.
Soundgarden started the show off right with “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” off their 1991 album Badmotorfinger, followed by my favorite SG song, “Spoonman.” This one-two punch was a blazing reminder why Soundgarden is one of the better rock and roll bands to come out of the grunge era. Their music just hits so hard and bears such technical integrity.
Chris Cornell’s voice did seem a bit hit or miss to me, with his screams not as sustained live as on record, but who can blame the guy for not sounding exactly the same as he did when recording the tracks 20 years ago? Regardless, his vocals have always blown me away and hearing them live was a treat.
As a drummer, I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to see Matt Cameron play with Soundgarden, but finally seeing Matt Chamberlin play in person exceeded any expectations I had from listening to him play with Pearl Jam growing up. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil isn’t much to look at on stage — he doesn’t move around much and his billowy white beard is a reminder of how long it’s been since the group’s heyday — but he delivered musically.
Of course, the crowd went nuts when Soundgarden played “Black Hole Sun,” and I hate it when everyone sits and waits for a band’s “big song,” but that was definitely a highlight. When the solo hit, the place went berzerk. Overall, Soundgarden rocked it, and their performance was the perfect way to start off an incredible rock show.
With the house lights still up, Trent Reznor walked up to a sampler on stage by himself and started “Copy of a” while rocking back and forth on the machine. After waiting a minute or so, he kicked into the lyrics, igniting the crowd. The other musicians in Nine Inch Nails joined him one by one, building the intensity until the first drop in the song, at which point the lights went out. When they came back on moments later, only the stage was lit. It was a simple but really effective way to build the lighting from nothing.
The show continued with “Sanctified” and “Came Back Haunted.” The crew (of which there must have been more than a dozen members) brought out four screens, placing one behind each band member as they stood evenly in a row across the stage. A light shining in front of each musician projected their shadow onto the screen behind them, and at this point, the instrumentation was vocals/sampler, keys, bass, and guitar, but it changed nearly every song with each band member playing several instruments throughout the set.
As the show moved along, so did the visuals, which got more intense song by song. The visuals included everything from simple vertical lines and strobes to complex red and black dots projecting the live image of Reznor’s face as he sang “Closer.” No matter how long I try to explain it, words and pictures fail to fully encompass the stunning visual experience that is a Nine Inch Nails concert. The screens constantly move around the musicians from song to song, displaying their shadows, pixel-shifting versions of their images, and any number of unique videos projections. At one point everyone in the band was in front of a wall of screens except for the drummer, who was behind them, his silhouette blending into a desert scene.
The most memorable and intense moment of the night came during “The Great Destroyer” off 2007’s Year Zero. By this point 7-8 screens were all lined up and two band members had left the stage while Reznor took over the DJ equipment and proceeded to make the most brain-melting noises imaginable. I don’t want to call it dubstep, because it definitely wasn’t, but the same kinds of intense and obscure noises found within that genre rhythmically shook the Hollywood Bowl. During this portion of the show, projections of US presidents and images of war appeared on the screens. It was one of the most intense moments I have ever experienced at a rock show.
The night began to wrap up as Nine Inch Nails finished with three of their more popular songs: “The Hand That Feeds,” “Head Like a Hole,” and closer “Hurt.” By this point, no one in the audience was still in their seat. The band’s energy combined with the lighting and screens had everyone sweating and screaming. I have never seen a performance like it, and I will not miss another.
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