Standing center stage in his signature black boots, shirt and pants, Trent Reznor tightly gripped the microphone with both hands. It’s a rocker pose he’s mastered for more than 25 years.
On Saturday, the long-time leader of Nine Inch Nails guided his group through a set of 24 arena-shaking industrial-rock anthems that spanned two and a half decades.
Blue smoke filled the Bryce Jordan Center at the show’s start; a few thousand fans were there to see one of the 1990s biggest rock bands — and biggest personalities in Reznor.
The Tension 2013 tour supports “Hesitation Marks,” the newest album from the band in five years. It features the single “Came Back Haunted,” which has been receiving airplay on rock radio.
After a giant curtain fell from the ceiling, more smoke poured onto the lively crowd bouncing on the Jordan Center floor. Innards-shaking bass and electronica tickled each person’s insides, and the group launched into “Copy of A,” another single from the new record. The track showcases NIN’s trademark genre-bending repertoire. With driving drum beats, sweeping electronic soundscapes and rock guitar, Reznor sang, “I am just a copy of a copy of a copy/Everything I say has come before.”
It’s a fairly ironic statement for the mastermind of the band. Reznor writes the lyrics and produces and composes the music. He recruits a new backing band with each album, and over the years has certainly transcended from standard metal front man to rock and roll legend.
There was very little down time between songs, and the band held a consistent energy that eliminated any ups and downs during the set. Mid-tempo head-bobbers were constant throughout and were accentuated by light shows that featured a transparent cage flashing designs, video and lasers around the band members. Each song was like its own live music video.
Midway through the show, the band left the stage. The front end of the arena filled with blue smoke again. After several minutes, the musicians returned with a new energy and their volume knobs turned to 12. The guitars sounded crunchier. The drums were heavier.
The second set exploded with “Wish,” a track that was many fans’ introduction to the group 20 years ago. The tempo did not slow down and continued with classics like “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole.” The audience roared and echoed the thumping bass and drums. The group strolled off the stage with a shining emblem of their iconic NIN logo high above the stage.
Other than a few “thank yous” and a run through the band member names, Reznor had little interaction with the audience. But he decided to slow it down for the encore, which created a visceral atmosphere in the cavernous Jordan Center.
The moody “Sanctified” opened the encore. Each thumping dirge faded into the next and peaked on “While I’m Still Here,” which featured a woman’s soulful vocals in a background solo reminiscent of the one in Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.”
The evening ended with crowd favorite “Hurt,” a painful ballad. Perhaps exhausted after a raucous show, the finale appeared to affect Reznor, as he gripped his microphone, swayed back and forth and bellowed the final words, “It I could start again/ A million miles away/ I would keep myself/ I would find a way.”
Jonathan F. McVerry can be reached at email@example.com.