Photo by Tom Spray
As Tom and I remark again on the oddity that Nine Inch Nails, one of the biggest names in rock music of any description, somehow can’t fill up Forum in Copenhagen (seriously guys, the main guy on the poster outside the venue is Cliff Richard), we are greeted by the anachronism that is Cold Cave. I sense a common feeling of nostalgia towards the bombastic and cheap-sounding synths, the Robert Smith-inspired vocals, the leather jacked, black shades and shitty hair. If you squint your eyes, and find a way of doing something similar to your ears, you might just be transported back to the not so distant past when everyone on the deathrock.com message board collectively lost their shit over Crystal Castles. But squinting is annoying, and in the end, so are Cold Cave.
By the time Nine Inch Nails are about to begin their set, the venue’s insistence on not opening up the back section means we’re all squeezed together like cockroaches. The screen that spans the entire stage has obscured most of the tech set up, so it’s almost a surprise when the lights suddenly cut out and ‘The Eater of Dreams” starts playing over the PA. The band arrive on stage with little fanfare, apart from the roar greeting Trent Reznor, whose intensity has certainly not diminished in time. Initially the stage looks very minimalist, with nothing but three keyboards and a low-hanging lighting rig. It fits perfectly with opener “Copy of a”, from the band’s latest effort, Hesitation Marks. This is classic NIN dark but danceable minimalism, all drum machines and fast synth arpeggios.
But Trent and co. have fooled us: as “The Beginning of the End” starts up, with its prehistoric drum-beat, a gigantic black curtain falls to the ground, revealing one drum kit, and one giant lighting rig. The rig, together with the projections that from time to time appear on a ascending and descending screen, are by far the best visual show I have witnessed at a concert in a very long time. They are intense, but never bombastic or silly, a perfectly constructed accompaniment to the music.
Tonight NIN are showing off their fastest, heaviest side, and predominantly dipping into their earlier records: “March of the Pigs” rips through neural connections, knocking you off balance with its completely out-of-the-blue switch to major chords on the piano for a chorus. It’s like punching someone repeatedly in the face and then giving them a hug. Scary as hell. It seems like all the time spent on scoring films such as The Social Network and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, together with the How to Destroy Angels side-project, have not only reinvigorated Trent, but also pushed him to rediscover his more guitar-orientated side.
The only negative thing to say about the gig is that it simply didn’t last long enough. An hour and a half for a band that has been around for a quarter of a century is just not enough, and I for one would not have minded hearing some more songs from Hesitation Marks, particularly oddities like the funky “All Time Low” and freakishly uplifting “Everything”. Reznor instead gives us the classics, closing with “Closer” and “Hurt”, which are nothing if not crowd-pleasers. Not great songs to be singing along to on the train home, though.