Trent Reznor is ambitious. In the past year, he’s released a new album and toured with his other band How To Destroy Angels, and reactivated Nine Inch Nails for a new album and tour. So, after playing a string of festival dates, including Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Made In America, you might think he’d stick with the same set from those shows for his Tension 2013 tour (which hit Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center on October 15), maybe adding just a couple of extra songs from the new album, Hesitation Marks.
But you’d be wrong. Reznor seems to be going through a creative rebirth lately, and doing the same show that he was doing just a few weeks ago on the festival circuit would just be too easy for the man. In fact, not only has he revamped the set and the production, but even his band. Preeminent ringer Pino Palladino has joined as the new bass player, and Trent has enlisted backing singers Sharlotte Gibson –part of the American Idol backing band– and Lisa Fischer, backing singer to the Rolling Stones who has duetted with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter” on every Stones tour since 1989. The expanded lineup allowed Reznor to stretch out a bit, play less guitar, and focus on being the frontman (and also dancing a bit during the instrumental jams).
The band opened with the new album’s “Copy Of A,” as he did on the festival circuit, but with a totally different presentation. Gone was the Talking Heads Stop Making Sense tribute where Trent stepped out alone to start the song on a sampler, and the Kraftwerk tribute with the band all playing in a straight line. Nine Inch Nails just went right into it. Turns out that Trent doesn’t want a copy of himself.
The show drew from all eras of NIN’s career, giving the old fans enough ’90s classics (although skipping “Closer”), but without becoming a nostalgia act. The new additions to the touring group definitely add to the sound: Palladino’s bass adds a bit of bounce to “March Of The Pigs,” and the backing singers add new dimensions to new songs like “All Time Low” and older ones like “Survivalism” and David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans.”
The power of their light and stage presentation can’t be understated. Rob Sheridan, who handles the band’s visuals and album art is a full-fledged member of How To Destroy Angels and probably should be considered a band member here as well. Nearly every song has its own “design.” Unfortunately, Nine Inch Nails– as with most other major acts– only allow photos for the first three songs, which featured mostly a white wash. Throughout the show, see-through curtains dropped in front of the band, allowing for amazing light effects in front of the band. Watching Sheridan’s work with NIN makes one wonder what bands like Pink Floyd could do today if they were still touring.
The band may not be as popular as they were in their commercial heyday of the ’90s, and that’s probably fine with Reznor. He gave out a few ticket upgrades, so all the closest seats were filled (the general admission floor was also packed), and the show felt like a large club gig that you were lucky to be at. Which is probably how Reznor wants it: The fact that Nine Inch Nails became as successful as they did in the ’90s is still stunning, given their abrasive industrial sound only existed in dank and dirty clubs before them. And the fact that they’re still playing their brazenly uncommercial music to large crowds today is equally impressive. Judging by the power of the band, and the passion of the thousands gathered at the Prudential Center, they’ll be able to do it for years to come.