Last night, the unthinkable happened.
When Trent Reznor told us that there would be special guests and surprises on this final mini-tour, I don’t think any of us guessed this. I’ve been hearing Bowie rumors, making rare song wishlists….but The Downward Spiral in it’s entirety??? It’s as if TR reads what we guess and goes with the craziest thing no one has thought of.
Well…to be honest, I had thought of it. I started a thread on the very subject in the forums last year.
I may have had a little too much fun at the Bowery show, because I was not feeling 100% on Sunday. So, once again, we waltzed in right as The Horrors were taking the stage. This time we stopped for posters and were luckily able to coat check them.
Walking into the actual hall was like walking into a NIN sauna. The heat was stifling and the dampness of everyone’s sweat that early on in the evening did not bode well of things to come. Once again, I was surprised to be able to waltz up fairly close to Robin’s side. There were a lot of professional cameras around me.
As Faris sang The Horrors tunes, I started mentally preparing myself for not being able to physically make it through this set. I was already starting out feeling crappy, but the heat factor was making it worse. Plus, I was getting some bad vibes from loud people behind me- marginal squeaky wheel type fans (people who won’t know all the songs and will bitch about everything). To me, these shows should be filled with the most hardcore fans- like Bowery was the night before. The Horrors dreamy songs were helping soothe my worries….though I missed Faris’ Hawaiian shirt. It would have fit better in tonight’s heat.
When the band hit the stage, the surge was crazy. But, it pushed me up a bit further and next to a big guy who ended up protecting me from harm most of the night. ‘Mr. Self Destruct’….hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this as an opener. I’m doing my usual mouthing the words and dancing, but trying to be mindful of the filmers all around me. It’s annoying to a certain extent, but I know I’ll want to see their footage after, so I somewhat restrain myself.
‘Piggy’…Trent is practically in the faces of those in the front row. I thought I sensed it during MSD, but it was really during the vengeance underlying the performance of the quietish Piggy that confirmed that the heat from the room was because the band was on fire. I’ve seen NIN enough times to know when something different is going on, and there was a certain intensity present that I have only witnessed at a few shows. And when I say that NIN was more intense than normal, that says a lot.
‘Heresy’…huh. I think this is when Robin went to the other side of the stage and dove into the crowd. “If there is a hell, I’ll see you there”. That quote kind of summed up the moment. The floor had become slippery with sweat; everyone looked like they had been caught in a rainstorm. People were getting pulled out of the pit. However, it was at this point that I realized that my migraine was gone, my body aches from the night before were gone. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do to you.
‘March of the Pigs’….interesting. Did I take one too many vicodin? Because a thought is creeping into my head. MotP is license to be unruly. Sorry, camera people.
‘Closer’….yep. It’s really fucking happening. The first five songs on tonight’s setlist synch up to the first five songs of ‘The Downward Spiral’. I’m looking around at people to see if anyone else is catching on to this. I’m by myself at this point…I’ve never missed my NIN friends more in my life! Someone get excited with me, please. Someone share the moment with me, and confirm this is real. But it was somehow appropriate to experience this set alone in a sea of strangers, which is just how I felt when I listened to the album when I was 14.
‘Ruiner’…I’ll be honest, it’s not my favorite live. It was at this point that I began to notice that Robin was having to take breaks on the side of the stage where I was standing. For the rest of the night, he would walk off stage and throw his guitar to the tech, and crouch down to catch his breath. The heat, the intensity, was weighing heavily on him.
‘The Becoming’…this emerged as one of my favorite live songs after the NIN/JA tour. Tonight it was even better. At the end of the song, Trent stood there at his keys, eyes closed, definitely having a moment. He raised his head and took a deep breath.
‘I Do Not Want This’….the band started and Trent missed the first line as he was late walking up from his keys. I realized that, as I’m standing here thinking about how hearing this album live is making us feel; holy fuck, how is it making him feel!? We’ve all read and heard stories about what was going on with him at the point in his life when he wrote this. Playing this record in its entirety has to be the closest thing to reliving those years that he’s had to do in a while.
‘Big Man With A Gun’…finger pistol in the air!
‘A Warm Place’….had never been played live until tonight. It was simply beautiful…I can’t even try to explain it. Go Ilan.
‘Eraser’ was probably my favorite of the night. I don’t know what instrument Trent was playing, but I had heard of his sax solos back in the nineties, and this is probably as close as I’ll get to witnessing that. The song is so fucking intense, and this was mirrored by a particular woman in the audience. I caught out of the corner of my eye a girl on someone’s shoulders. My first thought was, “if some dumb ho is about to tit flash during eraser, I may be forced to kill her”. But as I looked at her, dripping in sweat, arms extended towards the band in this state of desperate ecstasy, I was brought to tears.
‘Reptile’…I really can’t say any more than I already have about how much I love this song. And ‘A Warm Place’ into ‘Eraser’ into ‘Reptile’ is truly an auditory orgasm.
‘The Downward Spiral’…the title track. It was almost as if some people around me finally ‘got it’ at that point.
‘Hurt’…could only have been made more powerful in this context.
I thought it would end there, but they launched into ‘1,000,000’, which was like hitting a reset button. Now onto ‘Terrible Lie’, another all time favorite live song. This was like melding two worlds together- Nineties TDS into a very LITS/NIN/JA tour setlist. Trent took a moment to say that he’d “always wanted to play that album live”.
And then came ‘Lights in the Sky’. I had never heard it live, and those that have heard it had mixed things to say. Well, on this particular evening, it sounded better than the record. Absolutely beautiful. Except for when the security guard’s walkie talkie went off during it.
For the rest of the set, people were starting to have to duck out. I continued my forward plight a bit more. ‘Burn’ and ‘Suck’ were the highlights for the rest of the set for me. The heat and sweat continued to infect everyone- at one point Trent had to hike up his pants because the water was weighing them down so much.
One thing I forgot to mention about the Bowery show that was also happening at Webster was the ‘thank you’s and ‘we love you’s being shouted at Trent and the band between songs. Everyone knows this is really it, and these shows are a display of our mutual appreciation for each other as we wave goodbye.
After HLAH, the lights came up, and no one wanted to leave. We were all confused- not that the setlist needed an encore, but because mics were placed on the stage. Plus, security wasn’t telling us to leave like they did at Bowery. Perhaps our minds really were blown- there wasn’t a lot of clapping; we all just stood there and stared at the stage….for like 10 minutes.
When people started to leave, some of my twitter followers and readers immediately started coming up to me or tweeting me and asking which show I thought was better. I know everyone wants and expects me to say Webster…it was NIN history….but making me choose between Bowery and Webster is like asking me to pick my favorite kid, if I had kids. Bowery was a truly unique and intimate experience with great personal stories surrounding the show; Webster will be legendary in NIN history. I’m just glad I was able to be at both.
After almost exactly 48 hours in NYC, I boarded a flight home to SF. It’s amazing the things that can happen within that short span of time.
When I’m old, alone, and childless, I’ll think back to weekends like this to keep me going.
Setlist (from nin.com)
1. “Mr. Self Destruct”
4. “March of the Pigs”
7. “The Becoming”
8. “I Do Not Want This”
9. “Big Man with a Gun”
10. “A Warm Place”
13. “The Downward Spiral”
16. Terrible Lie
18. Lights In the Sky
20. Gave Up
23. The Hand That Feeds
24. Head Like A Hole