In 2005 Nine Inch Nails did a club tour in
support of "With Teeth" that brought them to Kool Haus for a pair of shows in May. I went to both of them with my
friend Death, knowing that each night would offer a different setlist
and a unique show from NIN, and of course the chance to see them in a smaller space was a rare opportunity at that point in their career. It was pretty much the perfect arrangement for a longtime fan.
certain levels The Dresden Dolls were a bit of an odd choice for opener,
in terms of style their stripped down piano and drums theatricality seemed in
contrast to the aggressive energy and guitar driven noise that Trent Reznor
was known for. But despite the differences in sound there was a certain
shared ideal at play that made for an effective pairing, a feeling of
outsider identity that lies at the heart of both bands. Each night the Dolls played a short set,
only about a half hour long, but they poured their hearts into it and
offered brilliantly manic versions of songs from their self-titled debut. And it
worked really well with the band doing a solid job of winning over a new audience, their cover of War Pigs and a wicked fast version of Girl Anachronism being particular highlights. They had a big energy on
stage and while their set may have been a bit different from the
Industrial stomp that most of the crowd was there for, they still
managed to engage and impress each night.
As for the headliners Nine Inch Nails were particularly strong on this tour, playing focused and intense sets each night that were a little more loose and relaxed than previous times I'd seen them live. That loose and relaxed approach let the band stretch out and expand on some of the older tracks in new ways that made for an interesting rediscovery, with newer material from "With Teeth" fitting in nicely with the rest of the setlist even though it wasn't nearly as familiar having only come out a few days before.
The show on May 9th balanced songs from the new album with tracks from "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral", only diving into "The Fragile" for a couple of tracks. They played a haunting version of Something I Can Never Have early in the set, and you can call me an old softie but I still love that song. They played Burn and Suck as well, both tracks sounding really heavy, really solid. They did an encore that included Hurt and Head Like a Hole, and while the sound of each song is completely different there's still a thematic nature that both share at opposite ends of a spectrum. It should also be noted that Trent Reznor channeled his inner Dave Gahan during Head Like a Hole, doing the same kind of pelvic thrust shuffle that Gahan has been doing for years...
The second show on May 10th changed up the set considerably, with a handful of songs like Terrible Lie, Closer, and Burn carrying over from the night before along with a greater emphasis on material from "The Fragile", which I've always admired as an excellent release. I know, everybody loves "The Downward Spiral", but for me "The Fragile" is Nine Inch Nails' creative peak, a high point in their career that perfectly balances light and dark, creation and destruction, and any number of other opposing forces. Head Like a Hole was played as the last encore again, but somebody must have said something about the whole pelvic thrust thing from the night before because it didn't happen again. That's probably for the best...
I have a tremendous respect for Trent Reznor and what he does in the studio and on stage. He's always been a dynamic and exciting performer who's able to breathe a new life into his songs in a live setting, capturing and expanding on the ideas that he weaves into his studio work and bringing them forward in an honest and sincere way that connects and resonates with his audience. Over the years I've seen him live a number of times and he's always impressed and inspired, and the shows he played at Kool Haus in 2005 stand as two of the best I've seen him do. I'll be sharing my thoughts on a few of the other times I've seen him in the weeks and months to come, and I hope that you'll stick around to read those posts as well...