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Nine Inch Nails Jolts ‘Austin City Limits’

Trent Reznor’s reunited mob go even deeper for PBS
Richard Whittaker, 11:45am, Tue. Nov. 5, 2013

“Perhaps I should consider an alternative antiperspirant,” acknowledged Trent Reznor on Monday night at Nine Inch Nails’ capacity Austin City Limits taping. He’d soaked through his stage clothes in the beginning moments of the band’s arena-worthy 90 minutes onstage.

Trent Reznor leading Nine Inch Nails at its Monday night Austin City Limits taping.
photo by Shelley Hiam

In middle age, Reznor’s traded furious, dangerous flails for channeled aggression – electro-thrash for measured, heavy experimentation. He’s a little less bulky and muscled than in recent years, like a boxer who’s dropped weight to compete at a leaner, speedier level. There’s still the great intensity of yore, but now it’s jacketed into a Mike Patton-esque control.

That’s a big change for a man whose bandmates used to duck for fear of flying keyboards and thrown mics. And anyone expecting a greatest hits set – like the woman on the floor behind me rumbling about “Ring Finger” – was in for a bitter disappointment.

“We didn’t want to turn this into a Nine Inch Nails show,” Reznor explained.

Still, as the man himself conceded, it was a “fucking weird” set list, with only a revamped “Sanctified” resurrecting his Chicago industrial-scene roots. Drawing heavily on the still unfamiliar Hesitation Marks, the intensely focused performance opened to “All Time Low,” which came on as a slow, sultry, NOLA grind reflective of his adopted home. The same Louisiana mud stuck to “I Would for You,” a sludgy dreadnought straight out of the swamp.

There were still traces of the stage-trashing NIN of yesteryear, of course. Starting with a thunderous “Came Back Haunted,” drummer Ilan Rubin’s curly halo of hair swirled into action and rarely stopped. Later, guitarist Robin Fincke thrashed to life for a raucous, ramshackle “Survivalism.” Mick Ronson to Reznor’s Bowie, he played dervish to stock still session bass legend Pino Palladino, a nod to Reznor muse Gary Numan.

Eventually, even the frontman dropped into destructive TVT-era demeanor on “The Big Come Down,” gripping the mic stand with sneering, snarling intensity. That proved more exception than rule as the new NIN has matured, expanded, morphed. Fincke provides the layers that define late-era Nails, while singer Lisa Fischer – she of two decades backing the Rolling Stones – channeled Clare Torry’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” wails into “Even Deeper” for a Pink Floyd cosmic encounter.

And then, of course, there was “Hurt,” the personal trauma made biblical by Johnny Cash, a sing-along paean to suicidal despair and constant closer. For decades, Reznor’s voice live has been engulfed by the crowd. This time it was carried along on a sibilant whisper that finally roared and swelled with him.

ACL set list, 11.4.13, and photo gallery.

“All Time Low”
“Sanctified”
“Disappointed
“Came Back Haunted
“Copy of A”
“The Frail/The Wretched”
“Find My Way”
“Various Methods of Escape”
“Satellite”
“Running”
“I Would for You”
“The Big Come Down”
“Survivalism”
“Even Deeper”
“In This Twilight”
“While I’m Still Here”
”Hurt”

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