To a large population, Nine Inch Nails conjures memories of their destructive 1994 album Downward Spiral, which chronicled a character’s demise. It removed a band-aid guising one’s self-loathing and defined a generation. It’s a profound release, but a mere footnote of lead man Trent Reznor’s career. If that is the only release you’ve followed, you’re at a deep loss. In the thick of their “Cold and Black and Infinite Tour,” two nights of sold-out shows (Oct. 19 + 20) in Boston at the Wang Theatre were vivid proof.
Admiration levels were just as high seeing Reznor belt out extended, distressed notes on saxophone during “God Break Down the Door” from this year’s Bad Witch EP. The track fuses David Bowie vibes with electronic beats and layers of decaying static. Pairing a track like this next to the 1994 hit “Closer” it’s evidently the same mind creating music, but shows an artist unafraid to push their sound. Reznor has been closely paired with Atticus Ross since working on 2004’s With Teeth, and since 2016 Ross has been officially a member of Nine Inch Nails. Their shared creativity has resulted in a venture unlike any of their contemporaries.
Too many of the bands Reznor toured alongside or shared the radio waves with two decades ago have tread bland fields of repetition in their music, or worse, departed the world too young. “Everything” from 2013’s Hesitation Marks reflects on this. Invigorated by a recent release of three EPs, this tour is a band still curious, still hungry, and putting on a lucratively passionate show. Back in May, NIN eschewed online ticket sales in favor of live transactions at venues across the states. Fans waited for hours to nab seats in the intimate (by comparison to usual arenas), historic venues. After holding physical tickets for five months, people are anxious for these events fine-tuned for the biggest fans.
Smoke and strobes swarmed through the gilded arches of Wang Theatre in Boston where performing arts have been heralded since 1925. The space is built with classic, powerful acoustics—likely a reason for choosing the venue as sound quality is paramount to the band. Drummer Ilan Rubin warmed the space with cello for softer instrumental interludes such as “Help Me I Am in Hell.” It was a perfect moment to catch one’s breath amidst tracks like “Copy of A.” During the latter, long shadows copied the band’s movements, strewn across the dinge-white curtain flowing behind them. Reznor danced low, facing his cast demons.
While not an overtly political band, “Afraid of Americans,” “Survivalism,” and “Hand That Feeds” played in order, felt like a rise to the issues of our day. It was as though Reznor was acknowledging the dissident Boston audience with the set flow. My mind raced with how they might be assembling the list until the bombastic lights accompanied the 1990 track “Head Like a Hole.” Guitarist Robin Finck strummed fast to apply a torturous immediacy to the track. It was a sensory explosion of sound and hot, serving as a climactic end to their initial set.
The four song encore ended bittersweet with the reflective Trent howling, “Time is running out” over and over during “Over and Out.” They finished as many Nine Inch Nails set do, with “Hurt.” While everyone would have loved to hear about eight hours more, the set was wildly satisfying with its deep cuts and hits. Having seen the band across two decades in far less formal spaces, this was a night that will not soon be forgotten.
Scottish pioneers of punk, shoegaze noise The Jesus and Mary Chain are opening for the duration the tour, whom they first toured in support of in 1990. Lead Jim Reid opened their set with “Just Like Honey,” the beloved hit from their 1985 debut Psychocandy. Bold caps in a helvetica-like sans serif plastered their speakers, drums and stage—simply with the word “Jesus.” During “Cracking Up” drummer Brian Young incorporated what looked like a mallet to achieve deeper bellows from his kit.
Their distortion-rich show ended appropriately for Boston with “Reverence” as Reid sang of our city’s most famous, “I wanna die just like JFK, I wanna die in the USA.” Again I thought politically … about how as a Scottish man I wouldn’t want to die in the USA right now for fear that my ashes would be sent to Guantanamo. Ughhh. Be sure to get out and vote in a couple of weeks.