Nine Inch Nails Bring Brawn, Bite to Brooklyn's Barclays Center: Concert Review

Paul Familetti
Trent Reznor and company prove that they've lost none of their sonic power at this galvanizing Tension 2013 tour stop.

Trent Reznor might now be a clean and sober 48-year-old family man, but you wouldn’t know it from the ferocious performance he and his band put on Monday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Delivering an assaultive wall of sound that well justified their current tour’s title, Tension 2013, Nine Inch Nails proved that the years have done little to diminish their trademark intensity.

The band's new album, Hesitation Marks -- one of the year’s best -- was well-showcased throughout the evening, which began with the propulsive, synthesizer-laden “Copy of A.” Performing with a five-piece band that included Pino Palladino on bass as well as the judiciously used back-up singers, Lisa Fischer and Sharlotte Gibson, the band displayed a wider range of styles than it has in the past. Its trademark industrial sound has been supplanted by heavy doses of electronica, punk and funk, the latter exemplified by a sax solo, of all things, on the new “While I’m Still Here” as well as Fischer and Gibson’s soulful vocals on such songs as “All Time Low.”

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The brawny Reznor, clad in a black sleeveless shirt revealing that he’s clearly been hitting the weights, still bellows with a galvanizing forcefulness that barely diminished throughout the two-hour plus show. In a recent interview, he said that he was “trying to be as pure as when I started,” and he lived up to the goal. The 26-song set was unrelentingly intense, with barely a word spoken until shortly before the end, and its ever-shifting musical dynamics were textured for maximum impact.

The barely moving band members were lined up in a row, lighted as if they were performing from inside separate prison cells. There were no video close-ups, but rather a dazzling light show that accentuated the music’s power. At one point a transparent screen was lit to make the musicians look like they were playing behind a metal grate, while later they seemed to be in a giant revolving cube. More often than not they performed in darkness, with harsh lights frequently shining into the crowd as if we were in the process of being interrogated. At other times they settled down, with a simple spotlight on Reznor as he quietly sang the reflective “Find My Way.”

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The energy only increased as the band began seriously delving into its back catalogue with relentless aggression. Classics like “Wish,” “Burn,” “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole” were delivered in quick succession, creating an atmosphere of nihilist brutality that had the people in the mosh-pit propelling themselves into the air like fish jumping out of the sea.

Reznor finally got a bit chatty late in the evening, confessing, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a weird dream … I had no idea that we would survive and make it this far.” But lest he be accused of sentimentality, he quickly added, “I don’t want to get too positive, so now we’re gonna play a song from the saddest record I’ve ever written,” before launching into “Even Deeper” from The Fragile.

The evening ended with “Hurt,” as if to reclaim the haunting song from Johnny Cash’s famous cover version. It began in tender, hushed fashion -- accompanied by chilling video footage of everything from carnivorous insects to concentration camp prisoners --before culminating in a savage burst of sonic power.

Set List:

Copy of A
Terrible Lie
March of the Pigs
All Time Low
Came Back Haunted
Find My Way
The Frail
The Wretched
In Two
A Warm Place
Somewhat Damaged
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole


The Day The World Went Away
Even Deeper
While I’m Still Here
Black Noise