(CBS SF/RADIO.COM) - While The Killers took what New Order did sprinkled it with more glitter and emotion, on the north side of this year's Lollapalooza in Chicago, Nine Inch Nails recalled what was once known in the '90s as "angst."
Trent Reznor, 48 and apparently no stranger to the gym and mass gainers, led his revolutionary industrial band of revolving musicians through a hale and hearty setlist culling from the big touchpoints in Nine Inch Nails discography. They even played the Atticus Ross and Reznor collaboration "What If We Could," off The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, during a pronounced lull in the middle third of their set, which may have rewarded patient NINophiles at a stadium show, but sent the average festival wayfarer to the bar, or to conversation, or home.
It's not really the band's fault because you sort of expect less of Lollapalooza ticket-holders and I mean that in literally every way possible. In interviews, Reznor had stated that he loosely based his well-rehearsed new live show on the Talking Heads' 1983 tour, where the set pieces would come together throughout the show, and the music would reflect the crescendo of technical/visual elements. You can watch this happen in the famous Jonathan Demme-directed live concert movie Stop Making Sense, but it was hard to see that translate into Nine Inch Nails' setup. Literally, because the jumbo-tron screens were not in use for the duration of their headlining set, making it difficult to stay involved in the spectacle if you didn't have a good sightline.
The first moments of "Copy Of A" incidentally began with a bare beat like the one Byrne used for the opening of "Psycho Killer" in Stop Making Sense. It's one of three songs played from the band's unreleased and forthcoming new album Hesitation Marks, and as the band marched onto the bare stage with Reznor in the very beginning, the set and the music was more or less together and off we went jumping from The Fragile to Broken to Pretty Hate Machine for about 2 hours. The shape of NIN's first US show in over three years was a little more cinematic with peaks and valleys, action and development, not the kind of slow build that the Talking Heads did.
But it's NIN, so the "valleys" and "development" were still heaped with psycho-sexual anger issues, and the band remained more or less full throttle for the duration. Reznor's trademark aggressive mic-stand lunges were highlighted by the constant sheen of sweat on his body reflected out by the harsh white light that filled the stage. The other members flailed about or stood stoically over their keyboards and guitars, all very muscular and intimidating. The band first shined on the new "Came Back Haunted," which the crowd seemed to fully know. It was less broad strokes than early NIN material, which seemed to suit the band and crowd better than the once riot-incitng "March Of The Pigs." I don't know, maybe this was more of an "Ants Marching" crowd.
It's just that festival-goers at Lollapalooza don't seem to have any angst anymore, or any real connection to it. Or at least they've forgot how to react to it when they see it. You watch footage of NIN from Lollapalooza in '90s and there are massive circle pits, furious and shirtless, full of kids purging and venting whatever ails them, to music that you can tell is angry because Reznor always really lands on the word "f**k." In 2013, that kind of connection wasn't there — kids just wanted to dance. They wanted to dance so hard that during back to back songs from the thrashy Broken EP, there were kids lining up in front of me to do the limbo using a pool noodle as a limbo bar.
Reznor's strident, seemingly ageless voice and the band's massive crests of white-noise synths and guitars were met at many times with indifference, a double blow perhaps with Chicago being the spawning ground of industrial music with Ministry and WaxTrax! The NIN fans, sure, were singing along to "The Wretched" and we all pulled it together for "Head Like A Hole" but the mentality of the festival crowd wasn't what it used to be. It used to be a 1:1 connection with an avid fan of heavy music and Reznor. Now It's more of a 5:1 connection between Preston and his college buddies who are mock-singing "Closer" to each other and Reznor whose words are maybe a little too real, and a little too dated for kids who just want something they can ultimately ignore. It's too bad, because Nine Inch Nails demands you pay attention, you little piggies.
Don't miss Nine Inch Nails as they headline the Lands End Stage at Outside Lands inside Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on Friday, August 9.
Read more about Lollapalooza at Radio.com
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