What’s to be said that hasn’t already been written, spoken or thought by the thousands of people crammed into London’s 02 Arena last Wednesday? It’s rare to see the countless faceless entities of the internet almost be in harmony about something, but a miracle seems to have occurred – the internet seems to have completely agreed on just one word to describe Nine Inch Nail’s final UK headlining show – wow.
First, a few words on Jane’s Addiction. Those who don’t know the relationship NIN share with JA would be forgiven for wondering why they are supporting tonight, given their indulgence in flamboyance and a highly sexually charged performance, seemingly at total odds with the ice cold frustration of NIN. Well, years ago it was Jane’s Addiction who went out on a limb to give the fledgling band a slot on the first 1991 Lollapalooza tour, and now ten years later it is Trent offering Perry Farrel and his cohorts a lifeline.
It is one that they seemingly struggle to take hold of. Whilst the performance is never short of enthusiasm and energy, betraying the band’s advancing years, the music itself is a constant effort. Brash, bold and in your face, at times I’m left feeling that I’ve entered a time warp and I’m watching a remnant of some smoky, drug fuelled and sex crazed seventies stage show. With the two bands seemingly worlds apart, alienated NIN fans seem to struggle with Farrel’s high pitched wailing whilst disparate pockets of Jane’s Addiction supporters seem to be lapping up every ridiculous moment of it all.
As mentioned earlier, there is no such polarization of reaction for Nine Inch Nails. Despite playing a sold out show in one of the UK’s biggest arenas, Trent Reznor still knows how to surprise everyone here. With the house lights still shining, revellers drinking exuberantly overpriced alcohol and the unbeatable sound of enthusiastic chatter reverberating all around the room, a man walks out on to the stage totally unannounced, and starts screaming the words to ‘Now I’m Nothing’. Trent Reznor has just snuck up upon an audience of around 20,000 people.
Reznor’s performance is laced with violent urges. Whilst he might be planning on putting the live show on rest after these final dates, that doesn’t mean he’s going out with a pathetic whimper. If anything, the impending conclusion of Nine Inch Nails as a live act has injected him with a formidable fury, exuding an impassioned performance that even the back of the arena are being buffeted by. Just one song in and Reznor’s unlucky synth keyboard has already been hurled off the stage in a fit of rage, and by the end of the show it’s a wonder the machine is still functioning.
Those who have been with the band since the beginning are treated well, with a set heavy on material from Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. Having a whole crowd scream the words “God is dead, and no-one cares” is just one of the powerful moments that Reznor’s set creates, but nowhere is there more of an electric reaction when his special guest strolls out onto the stage. Gary Numan is lavished with praise as Trent introduces him to the stage, and with their blistering covers of ‘Metal’ and ‘Cars’ it’s little wonder why. Numan’s voice is spectacular, and ‘Cars’, despite being the song that threw Numan into the limelight still sounds as edgy now as it ever did.
The band continue to ratchet up the rapturous applause. Drummer Ilan Rubin is mesmerizing to watch, switching from his drumkit to keyboards in a matter of seconds. But it’s all about that man at the front of the stage, who towers above everyone else here tonight in every sense of the word. And as the lights dim, and the audience are hushed the final moment of magic for tonight begins, as the lonely riff of ‘Hurt’ carries across the stadium. Reznor’s performance is just as tearjerking now as it must have been when he first committed the words to record, but this is who he is. Throughout his career he has been honest, open and vulnerable to the world, and it’s that which has endeared him to this vast audience tonight.
If this is the conclusion of a chapter in Nine Inch Nails’ history, then it has been a triumphant ending.