Lollapalooza 2008 Day 3: NIN
There’s a palpable excitement in the air as thousands of festivalgoers at the Bud Light stage, and beyond, anticipate Cleveland industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails headlining set.
A very chiseled and short-haired Trent Reznor appears with his touring band, all dressed in black and surrounded by smoke. Rehab has been good to him. Thundering drums, grinding guitars and Reznor’s screams are usurped by the muddy sound. For a rock show of this grandeur, it should be as epic as Rage, but it isn’t. Hell, even Iron and Wine sounded louder earlier in the day.
Despite the sound issue, NIN draws from a discography of eight albums spanning almost 20 years including last year’s Year Zero and the bonafide classic, The Downward Spiral. The stunning visual show gives Radiohead a run for its money, alternating between red lights and swirling backgrounds, and enough strobe lights to give an epileptic a seizure.
For the fourth song, Reznor heads to the piano and plays “Closer.” The audience sings the infamous chorus complete with expletives, but it just doesn’t seem as inspired as it should. Soon after, the band hits a pensive mood playing an experimental and instrumental song from its Ghost I-IV record. Sure, it sounds pretty cool, but it destroys the momentum, and some of the crowd dissipates. Hmm, what’s Kanye up to? After over 10 minutes of this, NIN return to the hardcore with “Piggy.” Continuing with the awe-inspiring visuals, a digital panel comes down with the band playing behind it for a couple of songs. Occasionally, Reznor pushes his head into the screen creating a 3-D Freddy Krueger effect.
Near the end of an almost two-hour set, Reznor and the group almost redeem themselves with an excellent “Terrible Lies” and “Head Like a Hole.” It’s during the latter when the crowd finally perks up and sings along wholeheartedly. An obese goth girl stands next to me, rocking out so hard on the platform we’re sharing that it shakes so viciously, I imagine myself plunging to my death. Luckily, the song ends and so does the rattling.
Reznor comes back for a three-song encore, including the mesmerizing “Hurt.” I get chills and can’t stop thinking about Johnny Cash. The audience eschews technology and actually uses their lighters instead of cell phones to light up the area. For the first time all night, Reznor speaks. He discusses how NIN played the first Lolla 17 years ago and how he can’t believe they are headlining so many years later. It’s a touching moment, but a lot of the kids in the audience were barely zygotes when the band first started out and have no concept of this timeline. NIN used to be notorious for decimating its instruments, but a more mature band simply ends its set and drifts quietly into the night.