Thursday, August 14, 2008

NIN/Deerhunter 8/13/08-Gwinnett Arena

Note:  Updated Info & Additional Links Written on 9/19/10.

It’s been two years since I last saw Nine Inch Nails for the very first time live after years of missed opportunities and such. The last time I saw them, they were touring with Bauhaus in their farewell tour along with TV on the Radio. It was a great show that featured one new band emerging into the consciousness of music fans while one legendary band gets a chance to show everyone how it’s done. At the same time, Trent Reznor and company reveal why NIN is one of the most beloved and acclaimed live bands around. It was one of the best nights of my life and now it’s time to experience them live once again.

This time around, a new line-up of sorts for NIN with Reznor, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, and drummer Josh Freese returning from the last tour while adding former Beck bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass, guitar, and keyboards. Another addition to the line-up who returns from his stint in Guns N’ Roses is Robin Finck from the era of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile live line-up. Considered by fans and Reznor himself as the strongest NIN live line-up to date, it’s also due to the experience and musical range of the band members as they play material ranging from early albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral to more recent yet complex records as Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV, and The Slip.

Joining them in this portion of the tour is another band I’ve seen two years ago who have now become favorites of my own and the best part is that they’re one of the few local bands that are really good is Deerhunter. Deerhunter is also sporting a different line-up sorts with singer Bradford Cox, guitarist Locket Pundt, bassist Josh Fauver, drummer Moses Archuleta, and new guitarist Whitney Petty. This time around, the band is currently riding a wave of acclaim for their 2007 release Cryptograms along with the Fluorescent Grey EP as their upcoming release Microcastle is already out on the Internet.

At the Gwinnett Arena on 8/13/08, anticipation arrives as I arrived at the show around 3:45 PM after departing around 3PM from Smyrna to Duluth. I hung around for two hours checking out a nearby shopping center, chatting around with fellow NIN fans and such. After eating a chicken nuggets meal at a nearby Wendys at around five and chilling out. I returned to the NIN with the last tour t-shirt I bought two years ago at the last NIN show I went. At around 6:15-6:25, the doors opened as I arrived but I realized that the seat I bought wasn’t at floor level. It was the side of the stage. Closer than I’ve been to reach the band on the last tour but having the lights and seeing the visual stuff on the side is annoying. That’s the one negative I have about that show. (See pic 2)

Deerhunter played at around 7:40 with an eight-song set that included an intro and a song I don’t recognize. With the band dressed like normal while guitarist Whitney Petty wearing a cheerleader uniform. The band practically put on a noisy show with swirling lights and such while singer Bradford Cox wanted to thank the guy that flipped him off. The second song is Never Stand from Microcastle that came blistering through the set as the band blazed through. After a song from Cryptograms that I didn’t recognize nor could I figure which one, the rest of the set ended up faring fine.

First came Never Ever Happened that was played through such fury from the triple-guitar attack of Cox, Petty, and Locket Pundt along with the thundering rhythm section of bassist Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta. Strange Lights and Hazel St. were next in the performance as the crowd was starting to be won over as the last two tracks from the Fluorescent Grey EP in its title track and Dr. Glass where the finale had Bradford Cox standing on Whitney Petty’s shoulders. The show ended in chaos with waves of noise while Petty did handstands and high kicks (See pic 4).

The response from audience was fairly well-received as audiences thought they were good. After seeing them two years ago opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs back in October 2006, I felt they improved their live performance with proper mics, a better sound system, and everything sounding right. Plus, I saw a couple of Deerhunter CDs for Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP being sold for $15 while a vinyl version of Cryptograms was sold for $20. I ended up getting a set of Year Zero pins for $12. The t-shirts at $35 and me being short on cash was too-much.

Deerhunter’s set ended around 8:15 while around 8:30-8:40, I was in the bathroom washing my hands as I suddenly heard the noise of 999,999 intro as the house lights went out and everyone was cheering. The band suddenly arrived as it lead to the ferocious 1,000,000 with Robin Finck in a mohawk/dreadlocks kind of look that is full of power with Trent Reznor wearing a blue shirt. Yet, it’s Justin Meldal-Johnsen that stands out with his big fro and stage presence as he moves around while he, Finck, and Alessandro Cortini doing backing vocals. With lights flashing around for each song, the staging has three different backdrops. One in the way back, another that’s behind the band and one that’s in front of the stage and band. Yet, the one in the middle has most of the screen work. Then comes the fierce, industrial-charge of Letting You (see pic 5) that just gets everyone into a frenzy with strobe lights and such.

Next is the industrial-disco of Discipline that definitely got everyone dancing with lights moving along to the music which then leads to the fury of March Of The Pigs. With blinding, fast lights playing along and the energy at a high, it’s easily one of the best songs largely due to its energy. The grinding Head Down arrives with its album sleeve symbol in the background at the far screen in display as it’s led by Josh Freese’s thundering yet pounding downbeats and Finck’s grinding guitars with Cortini accompanying on guitar in his placement of keyboards, an Ondes Martenot, and other gadgets. Reznor also had a tambourine during the song’s coda that he later threw at the fans.

Then the lights dimmer for the intimate yet piano instrumental The Frail that serves as an intro for the song The Wretched. The slow yet haunting ballad is another highlight with its low lights and performances from Reznor in his vocals as well as the chemistry between Finck and Meldal-Johnsen, who also plays guitar as it’s clear that these two skilled musicians work well with each other. Then everything goes red in its lights and two backdrop screens for the song Closer that’s performed in the same style as it was in recent tours that includes an instrumental break of The Only Time. Yet, the only small difference is Robin Finck whose guitar playing clearly outshines the punk style of Aaron North as Finck acts like Godzilla compared to North. Next comes the frenetic Gave Up that is full of fast lights and lots of energy that included crowd surfing and such. Once the song ends. The front backdrop screen comes down thus ending the first set.

It’s around that time, background music that is essentially an instrumental played in the background which is Another Version Of The Truth. Behind the first screen backdrop, roadies and crew members take away the drum and keyboards set-ups for another instrumental set-up while another group of crew members put in another set of instruments in the front. With the band minus Josh Freese in front of the screen comes a mini-set devoted to Year Zero. First is The Warning that had Justin Meldal-Johnsen on guitar, Cortini on a mini-synthesizer or programmer (I couldn’t see what he was playing), Reznor on a mini-synthesizer, and Finck on a synthesizer or a lap-steel guitar. Yet, the backdrop that the band is playing amazing (which I can’t remember) as it leads to Vessel. Played by blurbs of red-like colors and huge splashes, it’s one of the best performances with Finck going nuts on his instrument.

The next set features all three screens on simultaneously with a forest-like backdrop for the Ghosts set. While often the one that most fans have difficult to figure which track is which. The first set is intimate with Reznor on the xylophone, Finck on an acoustic instrument, Meldal-Johnsen on bass, Cortini on keyboards, and Freese on an array of percussions. While 21 Ghosts III of the set definitely set the mood quite nicely with fans sitting down and mostly everyone chilling except for a few people. Then when 28 Ghosts IV appeared, everyone but Reznor is playing as he appears later on for this somber yet intimate track with rain dropping around. Yet, the screen backdrop in the second screen had an error of static that was later resolved. 19 Ghosts III becomes a highlight due to Josh Freese intense drumming on the array of percussions with Finck helping as it’s one of the intense moments.

The last track of the set is a stripped-down version of Piggy with Meldal-Johnsen on an upright standing bass and Finck on a mandolin until going to guitar as the screen starts to create shatter images. The fourth set segues with the crew setting things up as it remains still with The Greater Good being played in the background to blue images of cells bubbling with a body part in gray showing until a crew member erases the images on the screen with a flashlight. Then once the instruments and such got back, the screen rises up with the instrumental intro Pinion playing as it’s back to business with the industrial-metal of Wish. With flashing white lights playing to its intensity, it’s the NIN of old as it brought everyone back to a frenzy. Then came Terrible Lie that featured the three screens in red capturing the movement of each band member. It’s one of the best moments of the use of screen as it’s an old classic that every one loves.

Survivalism appears with the far screen backdrop displaying several TV-like images of Reznor singing on stage, fans going nuts while a woman is using the bathroom and all sorts of stuff. Yet, it’s intensity makes it one of the highlights. The screens go down again for The Big Comedown as Reznor, Finck, and Meldal-Johnsen are surrounded by dangling lights though in Meldal-Johnsen’s section, the lights don’t work. Yet, its images and everything create one of the memorable moments as a deep cut from The Fragile is played with such intensity. 31 Ghosts IV is then played to such intensity with the screens still down (I don’t remember the images shown in that one as well). Then comes the funk of Only with Reznor playing to the TV static images that’s in front and behind him on the screens. Then comes a big surprise with the classic single Down In It after the screens came back up with the intensity level at an all-time high. The final song of the set is the frenetic Head Like A Hole with all of the lights just being in display as everyone goes nuts.

The screen goes down displaying the famed NIN logo as fans wait around 10:30 as the screen in the front goes back up but the second screen in the middle is still down on stage as Josh Freese touches a bunch of squares to start the song Echoplex. The screens two screens go back up on the roof as Reptile (see pic 3) emerges which is a surprise as it plays to a green light display which leads to one of the show’s finest highlights. Reznor takes a break to thank the fans and everything while giving props to each member of the live band who are all individually cheered with great response, notably Robin Finck who is from Marietta. God Given starts to play as the front screen goes down half-way to display a pistol-like image mixed with a cross as its one of the memorable moments of the show (see pic 1). Next is the ballad Hurt that is played with such intimacy that even fans sing along lighting up their cell phones and lighters. The closer is In This Twilight with the far backdrop screen displaying an image of dystopia with Reznor singing in one of his best moments though not hitting the high notes.

Despite an amazing set list, presentation, and performance as with NIN, they always deliver. The experience however, wasn’t as enjoyable as the show I saw them two years ago. One was the fact that I was sitting in a section at the right side of the stage which was annoying despite the music. Another factor is something that is somewhat reflective of where NIN is at in the moment of their career. Despite an amazing production and the fact that Reznor can still play arenas and afford all of the things and people for this tour amidst the horrible economy. There has been a decline in the band’s fanbase which isn’t surprising since they’ve peaked in the mid-90s. Now, it’s just a bunch of loyal, diehard fans left yet there was only more than half of the arena capacity that showed up.

At the same time, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the more recognizable songs of the old days but response to the Ghosts material was mixed. In the section I was in, people seemed to enjoy it as it gave them a chance to sit down and just enjoy the music. Yet, responses I gathered at the Echoing the Sounds forum revealed that some were not into the set because they were more concerned about wanting to rock. I kind of thought that was insulting since there’s a bunch of people that want to hear the new material and get a chance to experience yet have it ruined by a few assholes. Still, the reaction afterwards was that everyone had a good time and it was great.

Then there’s the live band. Reznor wasn’t lying when he said that they were the strongest line-up he ever had and he was right. I feel like this is the best live line-up of the band that he’s ever had because of the musicianship and range each members can play. There’s nothing new to say about Josh Freese since he’s one of rock’s best drummers and as usual, he delivers. In the Ghosts set where he plays an array of percussions and other things. He truly delivers while doing a different style of drumming proving his versatility. Alessandro Cortini also delivers where he’s given more to do in not just doing all the keyboards but playing an array of instruments including a guitar, Ondes Martenot, and other electronics as he is definitely one of the best members around despite his lack of movement.

New bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen is clearly the best bass player the band has hired since he can move and pound those bass lines with such fury while also playing guitars and synthesizers for several performances including the Year Zero set. In the Ghosts set, Meldal-Johnsen plays an upright, standing bass in Piggy that shows his musicality. For a lot of the new material that’s clearly more complex and intricate, it’s clear that a guitarist with such range and is more prolific has to play this material. Yet, it’s clear that as far as guitarists are concerned, none of them can hold a candle to what Robin Finck can do as on a guitar, he’s a monster with such an amazing stage presence that it’s hard not to watch him. In the more album-oriented sets, Finck can definitely add an intensity to the Year Zero set while on Ghosts, that’s where he truly shines in doing the percussions and playing things like a banjo or a mandolin that shows how amazing he is as a musician.

Finally, there’s Trent Reznor who is definitely one of the best frontmen ever. Though I along with many other fans were worried about his voice due to the fact that two shows were cancelled in recent weeks. He managed to deliver 100% while at the same time, not taking any risks with his voice. Notably in In This Twilight where he sings a high note during the chorus but Reznor instead went for something else that ended up working for the song. Still, he managed to be engaging while being the same, angry man he was in previous tours as he just delivered.

Though my feelings for the show was mixed due to the experience. I had a great time though I wish I had better seats to see the band in a better view. Plus, I was glad some people got into Deerhunter while a lot of NIN fans acted very cool. Of course I’ll see NIN again but maybe next year or two and hopefully with better seats. While I don’t like to admit it but as far as experience is concerned. I think I liked them more when I saw them the first time around because I was watching them in the front with great seats and manage to see the visuals. Still, what set it part from that show two years ago wasn’t just a better line-up filled with great musicians but a set-list that was truly phenomenal and diverse. In the end, NIN and Deerhunter delivered in what is a truly great show and I recommend that audiences go catch NIN in their current incarnation for the Lights in the Sky Over North America Tour.

Deerhunter-5/5: Intro/?, Never Stand, ?, Never Ever Happened, Strange Lights, Hazel St., Fluorescent Grey, and Dr. Glass.


First Set: 999,999/1,000,000, Letting You, Discipline, March Of The Pigs, Head Down, The Frail/The Wretched, Closer (w/ The Only Time break), & Gave Up.

YZ/Ghosts Set: Another Version Of The Truth, The Warning, Vessel, 21 Ghosts III, 28 Ghosts IV, 19 Ghosts III, & Piggy.

Set 3: The Greater Good, Pinion/Wish, Terrible Lie, Survivalism, The Big Comedown, 31 Ghosts IV, Only, Down In It, & Head Like A Hole.

Encore: Echoplex, Reptile, God Given, Hurt, & In This Twilight.

NIN Reviews

Pretty Hate Machine/Broken Era (1989-1992):  (halo 1) - (halo 2) - (halo 3) - (halo 4) - (halo 5) - (halo 6)
The Downward Spiral Era (1994-1997):  (halo 7) - (halo 8) - (halo 8 DE) - (halo 9) - (halo 10) - (halo 11) - (halo 12)
The Fragile Era (1999-2002):  (halo 13) - (halo 14) - (halo 14 DE) - (halo 15) - (halo 16) - (halo 17 DE) - (halo 17 DVD)
With Teeth/Year Zero Era (2005-2007):  (halo 18) - (halo 19) - (halo 20) - (halo 21) - (halo 22) - (halo 23) - (halo 24) - (halo 25)
Ghosts I-IV/The Slip Era (2008): halo 26 - halo 27

Soundtracks/Miscellaneous:  (Broken Movie) - (The Crow OST) - (Natural Born Killers OST) - (Lost Highway OST) - (Nine Inch Nails:  Self-Destruct) - (Tomb Raider OST) - (The Limitless Potential) - (Strobe Light) - (Metal Machine Music:  Nine Inch Nails & the Industrial Uprise) - (Definitive NIN-The Heavy Tracks) - (How to Destroy Angels) - (The Social Network OST)

Promos:  (seed 1) - (seed 2) - (seed 3) - (seed 4) - (seed 5) - (seed 6)

Live Shows:  (NIN/Bauhaus/TV on the Radio-6/7/06 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater) - (Jane's Addiction/NIN/Street Sweeper Social Club-5/10/09 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater)

Bootlegs: (Purest Feeling) - (When the Whip Comes Down) - (Live Hate w/ David Bowie) - (Quake OST) - (The CRC Sessions) - (Where Darkness Doubles, Where Light Pours In) - (Bridge School Concerts)

NIN20:  (Part 1) - (Part 2) - (Part 3) - (Part 4) - (Part 5)

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Fluorescent Grey EP - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP - Halcyon Digest - (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - Deerhunter-10/1/10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

(C) thevoid99 2010