Trent Reznor likes to raise his right arm whenever he performs. It rises quickly and furiously, penetrating the still air with a curled up fist before slowly descending back to Reznor’s waist. I saw Reznor’s arm more than I did his face during his Nine Inch Nails performance at the ACL Moody Theater, which led to a rather convoluted epiphany: Reznor’s music is like his raised arm–it’s abrasive and dissonant but once the tension is resolved you’re left wanting more.
As a part of the Austin City Limits (ACL) live music television series, Nine Inch Nails played a lengthy but enjoyable set on a Monday night (Nov. 4), giving us all a reason to cherish the day of the week that’s almost unanimously disliked.
The group primarily played music from their latest release, Hesitation Marks, and only played one “hit” (The Downward Spiral’s “Hurt”) which came at the end of their set. There were some complaints about this from someone standing beside me, but it is a Nine Inch Nails show after all. Anti-ness and disregard are what drew people to the band in the first place since their inception in 1988, and anyone surprised that Reznor didn’t budge on playing new material have obviously forgotten about the guy’s uncompromising demeanor.
Nonetheless, the performance was nothing short of entertaining. In an age where electronic sounds and templates have become more prevalent in popular music (and music in general), Nine Inch Nails continue to create the ominous soundtracks that led to their critical and mainstream success while remaining relevant. Throughout most of their set, which included songs “Copy Of A,” “Came Back Haunted” and “Find My Way,” the group blended bubbly electronic loops with mechanical guitar, the result being the dance-tinged industrial rock sound that Nine Inch Nails popularized.
Guitarist Robin Finck owned the stage which, considering he’s been touring on and off with Nine Inch Nails since 1994, made sense. It’s obvious that he’s comfortable in Reznor’s dark and moody soundscapes, running around the rest of the band and letting his fox tail-esque hair swing wildly. The rest of the band is much more tame: co-guitarist Joshua Eustis stood still most of the time, providing backing vocals and guitar licks; bassist Pino Palladino kept the band intact with his smooth yet declarative playing; drummer Ilan Rubin’s dynamic playing drove the entire set; keyboardist Alessandro Cortini triggered crucial electronic loops and melodies; and backing vocalists Lisa Fischer and Sharlotte Gibson added some soulful, powerhouse vocals to each song.
Speaking of Fischer and Gibson, their inclusion on the rest of Nine Inch Nails’s 2013 and upcoming 2014 tour dates was the best decision Reznor could’ve made. Fischer, who has sung for Luther Vandross, Tina Turner and The Rolling Stones (you may know her as the singer that frequently duets with Mick Jagger), and Gibson, who has sung for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, complimented Reznor well. For every scream and silent murmur that came from Reznor, led to a luscious vocal harmony from Fischer and Gibson.
The ACL television series aesthetic (artists playing against a backdrop of Austin-y buildings) was new to Reznor (which he brought up a couple of times during the band’s set), but by the end of the performance he and the rest of band were one with the rest of us: sweaty and exhausted but absolutely satisfied.
* Photos by Scott Newton, courtesy of KLRU.