By ANDY LYONS
(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — A multitude of fans gathered at the Sprint Center Monday night to catch the Nine Inch Nails on their first tour in nearly four years. Unsure of when the doors actually opened, concert-goers started amassing around 6 p.m. to be let into the venue just before 7.
It was my first trip to the Sprint Center, and I was fairly impressed with the place. The corridors outside of the stage area were spacey and included very nice areas for sitting, drinking and eating. Once I got to the general admission PIT area I took a scope of the place, and it’s actually a bit smaller than I imagined. It seemed the same size as most of the indoor arenas I’ve visited for concerts but I was expecting it to be the size of the United Center in Chicago or the famed Madison Square Garden.
As show time neared, the PIT area began to fill up. I saw Jai Nitz, one of the creators of the popular comic Dream Thief and a writer for various other Dark Horse comics. The crowd was mixed to say the least. There was a lot of leather. Leather bustiers, leather boots, leather pants, leather vests. Leather. There was an equal amount of women in goth attire as there were yoga pants, so NIN appeals to a wide variety of people. The recent release of their ninth studio album, “Hesitation Marks,” and three singles since June definitely adds to their popularity. “Their,” of course, being a loose term when it comes to NIN, which has singer-songwriter Trent Reznor as its sole permanent member.
Relatively unheard of yet extremely popular, Explosions in the Sky opened the show. I had never heard of them, or so I thought. After hearing them live, I turned to YouTube to continue hearing their amazing music. It turns out I had a couple of their songs in my personal library, referred to me by a friend years ago, and both songs have a lot of plays but I didn’t make the connection until after seeing them.
The band’s live setup includes three guitar players, a bass player and a drummer. No vocalist. Some people near me in the PIT were poking fun at the lack of vocalist before they went on, but one of the things I pride myself on is having an open mind and open heart when listening to a band for the first time. These guys are probably most popular for the soundtrack to “Friday Night Lights,” but their live show was something indescribable.
Each song, which ran between seven and 12 minutes in length, is beautifully composed like a symphony. The different harmonies and melodies masterfully pieced together with ascending and descending rhythms. I was shocked. It’s the type of music that should be the soundtrack to life. The instrumental music allows for a personalization lost with music that has lyrics. By their third song I was lost in my own mind, their sound giving cause to self-reflection and stirring a feeling in my mind that reminded me of an old poster that hangs in my living room. The top has the word “music,” with a guitar in the middle surrounded by sayings such as “makes my soul ache” and “inspires me.” Hearing these guys live and getting lost in their sound made me think of a saying missing from my poster: “is hope.”
While I wouldn’t mind them being the main act at a concert, I’d say they were the quintessential opener. Anyone who goes to a concert for the music would be privileged to have these guys mentally prepare them for what’s to come. One of the members thanked the crowd after they completed their set and the roadies took down their instruments quickly and a curtain was dropped as they set up for NIN.
As a fan of the same music I listened to in the ‘90s, NIN was one of the only bands in my top 10 that I hadn’t seen live. When I caught wind of the Kansas City show I was stoked to finally be able to see them. During the late spring, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters released a documentary about the Sound City recording studio that featured himself, Reznor and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age making a song. Seeing Reznor at work recording got me excited as rumors were swirling of the impending album and tour, so I had been looking forward to this show for months.
And Reznor and company certainly didn’t disappoint. A friend of mine compared the NIN live show to Roger Waters: The Wall, which I had the chance to see with my dad a couple years ago. I didn’t believe it, but was pleasantly surprised by the production of the NIN show.
When they came on, each member on stage had their own set of lights directly above them as they played. Reznor “surprised” the fans when his light came on simultaneous to his singing of the opening track. Throughout the show, Reznor was very active on stage running around, disappearing in the shadows and popping up on beat with the music to pick up the vocals, play the guitar or play the piano without missing a beat.
The light show involved would have been a hippie’s psychedelic dream. Shades of blues, greens, reds, and yellows scrolled from different lights across the set accompanied by a smoke machine that billowed a shroud around the stage throughout the set. A cage was lowered over the band members and used as an extension of the light show. At one point a square was displayed rotating across the cage and behind the band as they played an instrumental part of a song. As the rhythm started building a wave began rippling through the square to the beat of the music, getting faster and faster.
The one annoying part of the show was fans and their cell phones. It was like the commercial for the new phone with the extremely high mega-pixels, the one where the parents are fighting to get the best cell phone shot. Only at the show, it was a line of people about 12 deep right in front of me. As the band played, different beautiful effects would be displayed as part of the light show. Each of these people would pull out their cell phones and then dance the jig trying to get a picture without the 10 people’s cameras in front of them in the shot. I think this is completely obnoxious. Are you there to grab a crappy out of focus shot with your 12-megapixel cell phone camera, or are you there to lose yourself in the music for a night? Leave it in your pocket. Enjoy the show.
Overall, NIN was amazing live. It was a great experience to finally see one of the bands that taught those of us growing up in the ‘90s how to stand up for ourselves, that gave us a voice. It was a visually stunning show to see and one of the most musically visceral shows I’ve ever been to. Openers Explosion in the Sky set the tone and did a wonderful job of prepping the crowd to lose themselves in the music.