Nailed It: Nine Inch Nails and Health Live

Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH, USA; Saturday, November 8th, 2008

by Bruce Rusk

Nine Inch Nails -- aka Trent Reznor -- has a lot to sing about. Literally, with four albums released in the past two years, which is a truly unprecedented blast of activity from a guy known for lingering obsessively over an album for four to five years. Having not seen them live for several years, I was excited to hear gobs of new material along with the venerable faves, and I was not disappointed.

The VWA was a cozy little venue, with about 2,500 souls on hand. Opening act Health was a completely unknown quantity prior to the lights going up. My son Googled them and they were described as “noise rock.” Then when the lights went up, there was what appeared to be a drummer in place at his kit, and what looked like three roadies on their knees hunched over and fidgeting with banks of cables and effects pedals on the floor of the stage.


All of a sudden, all four, (Jake Duzsik, John Famigletta, BJ Miller and Jupiter Keyes) exploded to life with an eruption of noise. The set that followed was both enjoyable and unique. Health doesn't play traditional music or traditional instruments. They create a constantly shifting palate of sounds laid over a powerful and hypnotic beat. Guitars and bass were present, but both were so processed and modulated that they sounded very little like what you would expect. The primary source of their sound was the aforementioned apparatus sprawled over the stage. Analog keyboards, dozens of effects pedals, drum machines, drum touch pads, mics pumped through distortion effects,  and who knows what else. At times, one or two of the four members would get up and sing (sort of) and play an instrument (sort of), but most of the time they hunched over their banks of electronics with drummer Miller keeping it all connected with his hypnotic tribal beats. The feeling was like watching four kids experimenting in Dad's garage. Health was one of the more original acts I've ever seen, and they managed to rein in the weirdness and keep the music listenable and captivating.

NIN hit the stage with “999,999” and “1,000,000” from their latest release The Slip. The show was segmented into three distinct sections. The first section was loud and aggressive, featuring mostly tracks from The Slip, which sounded great. (By the way, kids, you can still download The Slip free right here). Reznor iced the cake with “March Of The Pigs” a charming little crowd singalong to “Closer,” and finished up with the raging “Gave Up” from the Broken EP.



The second section was largely instrumental. After a short stage reconfiguration, the band came back with a whole slew of instruments and risers pushed up to the front of the stage. Two set of Vibes and a xylophone, a stand up bass, ukulele, and a lap steel guitar were brought out, among others -- not the stuff a typical NIN show is made of.  The band jammed away to a selection of tracks from the instrumental four-disc release Ghosts, while a couple of tracks from Year Zero brought the tempo down and gave the moshers a break.

Their stage on the Lights In The Sky 2008 tour features three huge screens that raised and lowered: one behind the band, one in front of the key and drum risers, and one in front of the band. Besides the usual video snippets, the screens were interactive and they changed and shifted, interacting with the band members when they came close or touched the screen.



The final segment featured mostly classics from the NIN songbook. “Head Like A Hole,” “Wish,” and “The Hand That Feeds” all got the crowd going. A five song encore followed, highlighted by the excellent “Hurt” from The Downward Spiral. Reznor does a great job of encompassing his extensive catalog, and managed to touch every album with a perfect selection of both old and new.

Along with Reznor, the band features longtime NIN collaborator Robin Finck on guitar, drummer Josh Freese (who also plays with A Perfect Circle), longtime Beck collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass and guitar, and Alessandro Cortini on keys an guitar. I was completely enthralled by the two hours of searing power, masterful musicianship and unbridled musical aggression. Not for the faint of heart (or ear), but hugely recommended.

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