SAN FRANCISCO — Nine Inch Nails’ first night in the City for its Cold and Black and Infinite tour at the sold-out Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was full of teenage angst embodied mostly in 40- and 50-somethings gleefully and loudly reclaiming the songs of their youth.
NIN exploded with the first song, “Mr. Self Destruct,” from 1994’s The Downward Spiral. The band’s energy, including that of vocalist Trent Reznor, didn’t let up for nearly two hours. In fact, though Reznor’s stage demeanor is not as rough around the edges as it was when he played San Francisco in the early ‘90s, his enthusiasm for the music and its presentation was widely apparent.
Nine Inch Nails’ set varied wildly from the one the band played in Las Vegas just a few days earlier. Fans seemed delighted to hear “Last,” off 1992’s Broken, and “Letting You,” off 2008’s The Slip.
When the band started playing “Sin” from its 1989 album, Pretty Hate Machine, a huge roar filled the venue. The song, nearly 30 years old, was just as fresh when Reznor and co. first released it—even though most of the audience has dated a bit since that time. Nine Inch Nails cherrypicked songs from most of their albums Monday night. Twinkling red lights glistened around the stage for the thumping “Closer” and lights reflected the band’s shadow onto the white backdrop during “Happiness in Slavery,” also from Broken.
View this post on Instagram
Reznor said that “Happiness in Slavery” reminded him of the best of San Francisco; the city’s machine-art group Survival Research Labs and “the good old days.”
“I’m grateful you allow us to play music here and keep us sane along the way,” Reznor said.
Another thing that kept Reznor sane throughout the years was his friendship with collaborator David Bowie, who he said “helped me stay alive.” Nine Inch Nails then covered Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Reznor sounds nothing like David Bowie and he didn’t seem to try to. The song was touching and sweet in the Nine Inch Nails style, a departure from the evening of industrial heaviness.
Reznor and his companions in Nine Inch Nails were a force to be reckoned with. After the Bowie tribute, the band played on with “God Break Down the Door,” from their newest release, 2018’s Bad Witch.
Add Violence’s “The Background World” preceded “The Great Destroyer,” from 2007’s Year Zero. Nine Inch Nails’ seemingly never-ending portfolio of music continued with “Wish” and “Head Like a Hole.” Concertgoers of a certain age were also treated to the movie soundtracks of their youth with “Burn” (from 1994 violent love story Natural Born Killers) and to “Dead Souls,” (from cult 1994 goth classic The Crow). The encore include the latter song, as well as Nine Inch Nails’ most famous covered song: “Hurt,” which was made even more successful by Johnny Cash. Reznor hardly had to sing the song at all, his voice strengthened by thousands of people in the room.
Scottish alternative rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain preceded Nine Inch Nails in a hotly anticipated performance. It should be noted that about 30 years ago, in 1990, NIN opened for The Jesus and Mary Chain.
The band has been around since 1983 and they opened its set with 1985 hit “Just Like Honey,” off Psychocandy. The stage was mostly unlit for the majority of the performance and vocalist Jim Reid did not necessarily display the showmanship of his counterparts but offered strong vocals in a tight presentation.
The set included “April Skies,” “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s once-controversial “Reverence.” The guitar playing on “Some Candy Talking” was particularly outstanding, especially when it lingered delightfully at the end of the song.
London post-punk band HMLTD opened the show. This tour marked the first time the band, formed in 2015, played in the United States. Vocalist Henry Spychalski was a showman, dancing and strutting on stage while singing the band’s hits like “Stained.” HMLTD had the highest energy of the three acts, kicking off the night on an upbeat note.
Follow writer Laura Casey at Twitter.com/