Nine Inch Nails (with special guests Queen Kwong and Mew)
Wave Goodbye Tour 2009
Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA 09/02/09
Words/Video by Justin/Photos by Justin & Sylvrtail
(Editors Note: I did not take many photos last night, as I used the laxed taping policy to video tape a good chunk of the set. I am going to create a nice DVD of it, stay tuned for details).
November 1994: Somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose on a cold and damp afternoon. I am down on my knees on the cold concrete as my friends are out doing whatever it was we did when we were 15, while I am stuck in my parents back yard cleaning up dead leaves. Angry at my parents, angry at the world there was one saving grace. Playing from an analog tape via my banana yellow Sony Sport Walkman was an album that no matter where I am when I listen to it, it will always take me back to that miserable self loathing afternoon. That album was The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails.
By now it is no secret that Nine Inch Nails are saying goodbye. Knowing that the final shows (till the inevitable reunion tour sometime around 2014) for this one man band were to be held in my neck of the woods, I knew I had to be there. I had originally tried to get a ticket for the show at The Wiltern, but as was expected with such a large demand the ticket system crashed. Despite it being my least favorite venue of the four dates here in Los Angeles, I was blessed enough to obtain tickets to the first night at the Hollywood Palladium. After sitting through opening acts Queen Kwong (not bad, but nothing amazing. Rather average in fact. A pretty girl and her guitar backed by a string heavy band playingg 90’s grrrrrl alt-pop-rock) and Mew (imagine if Sigur Ros tried to rip off Coldplay ripping off Pink Floyd pre Dark Side Of The Moon. Not bad, but I probably would have enjoyed it more knowing their songs going into it) I was ready to Wave Goodbye.
Around 9:25pm, with smoke machines pumping smells that remind some of Halloween, the lights in the oversold venue went down and the audience screamed with joy. Through the PA came a sound that always reminded me of someone hitting a racket ball against a wall at an ever increasing speed. Stage lights went up, I pressed record on my very expensive digital video camera as the main event began. I had heard reports from the NYC shows that the band was playing The Downward Spiral from front to back, but assumed it would be saved for one of the smaller venues still to (hopefully) come. However, someone upstairs was watching out for me, as I was about to have a sonic assault unleashed upon me that would bring me back in time.
Opening with “Mr. Self Destruct”, the Palladium floor erupted into a frenzy only magnified by the large amount of rapidly flashing strobe lights upon the stage. After pushing back a bit from the cozy spot up front (had to make room for all the Tool’s in Affliction shirts to stomp on each other like it was 1994) I settled in just in time for the evening’s first sing along “Piggy”. It was during this moment I noticed something was not right, but I wasn’t so sure what it was. “Heresy”, which I don’t think I have ever heard live, brought me right back to High School. With liberal, yet religious parents, I often skipped this track in fear they would come into my room and hear the infamous line “Your God is dead, and no one cares. If there is a hell, I’ll see you there”. I think even last night I feared my Mother coming in and making NIN mastermind Trent Reznor stop playing the powerful number.
“March of the Pigs” and “Closer” were pretty much standard as they have been a part of just about every NIN show I have seen. “Closer” featured a similar red lighting that the band used during their 2005-06 World Tour. It was at this time I noticed something was wrong with Mr. Reznor’s voice. Was he sick; was it another example of overuse of auto-tune? While far better than it used to be, sound in the Palladium leaves a lot to be desired, and I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on. Despite my suspicion, the show carried on as song after song seamlessly segued into one another. Lead Guitarist Robin Finck, with his neat Mohawk/dreadlock/mullet really was the key to making this album work in a live setting. From his various guitars to his eerie stage presence, he truly helped pull the wait that Reznor could not and sent the performance over the top. His riffs were filled with beefy industrial goodness, and just sound better with him than any other hired gun Reznor has employed over the years.
As the album progressed, memories began to flash back. How could a 15 year old boy not love the abusive potty mouthed lyrics of “Big Man with a Big Gun”? “Eraser” on the other hand made me think of the struggle of my teen years and those rotten days where it would have been easier to simply be erased than struggle with the changes happing at a rapid pace. However, despite my memories, the song took on a different meaning last night, knowing that with the band soon to be no more; Reznor’s screams of “Erase Me” are indeed coming true.
Despite massive drops of sweat dripping down my body, there is one song that stands out from that day of yard work. “Reptile” is that song, and despite the stuffy sweaty dance floor, I felt a brisk autumn chill sweep across my tired body. With its menacing doomy lead riff, I was hypnotized just long enough to truly believe I was back home. Sadly, it wasn’t long before I was brought right back to the dance floor hearing a few douche bags talk through the albums haunting closing number “Hurt”. I never understood the point of talking over a band, especially when you are lucky enough to have a ticket that many would do anything for (whole in line, I met one strung out Goth junkie was offering oral pleasure to either sex in exchange for an extra ticket). While some chose to talk, others helped carry Reznor who was clearly struggling to sing the delicate lyrics. Despite a sharp pain in my upper right arm from supporting a video camera for over an hour, I was so not ready to end The Downward Spiral, yet with three large power chords backing screams of “I will find away”, the album closed, and I was left with my jaw on the floor amongst lost shoes and empty cups.
With hardly a chance to catch my breath (let alone close my mouth), the band went straight into “1,000,000”. An odd choice I felt, but it worked. While most continued to chit chat, they were quickly shut up as Reznor lead his backing band into an angrier than normal version of “Terrible Lie”. I believe it was after this when Reznor admitted to us the truth. He apologized for sucking as he was sick, and was trying his best. I quickly forgave him, and was shocked just how good he had sounded up to that point. Yet, the wheels were quickly about to fall off the wagon, as each song became an increasing struggle for the toned front man. “Burn” from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack was especially hard on the vocals, while “Suck” seemed to have more vocals from Finck and Justin Meldal-Johnsen than Reznor.
After explaining what he wanted Nine Inch Nails to sound like 20+ years ago as a young man, Reznor and company welcomed a very special guest to the stage – Synth Rock pioneer Gary Neuman. While younger crowed members questioned who this old fat Adam Lambert look-a-like was, most gave a thunderous applause as the band launched into Newman’s “Metal” (a song I had never heard, but can name because I am smart enough to google a setlist). However, everyone knew who Newman was as he closed his guest spot with his huge hit “Cars”. With Reznor in the background on keys, Newman hunched over a mic and belted out the classic before gracefully leaving the stage.
Gary Neuman w/ NIN
After the always bouncy “Hand That Feeds” got folks jumping up and down on the spring loaded dance floor, the band launched into “Head Like A Hole”. I knew at that very moment this was it. I simply smiled and stared as Reznor struggled to scream out the church bashing lyrics. This was it I kept saying to myself, enjoy it. I truly did straight through to the last chord. With tonight’s show at the Music Box @ Fonda cancelled per doctor’s orders, who knows if any of the remaining shows will happen? As the house lights came up I walked out of the venue to the tones of various people bitching about how our show was cut short by 45 minutes. I simply chose to ignore their negativity, after all, I got to wave goodbye to a band who been such an intrigal part of the soundtrack of my life. For 15 years now, Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails have evolved as I have grown from a boy to a man. On one magical summer night, I was able to reflect on half a lifetime of memories. From my parents back yard on Walnut St. to my first ever NIN show at the Hollywood Bowl. From high school halls to a cubical in Burbank, Trent has always been there for me. No matter what happens from here on out, nothing will be able to fill the void that will be left in his absence. Thank you Trent, thank you!