Nine Inch Nails in Concert
R and I went to see Nine Inch Nails on their “Lights in the Sky” tour last night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. It was a phenomenal show. R has been to a lot more concerts over the last twenty or so years than I have but this one topped any that either of us have seen for presentation. As science fiction author, Peter Watts, reported a month ago, the light show that they did with the show was amazing. The engineer in me wanted to know what it was made out of but they had a screen behind the band and one that lowered in front of the band (and was moved away at times) that seemed to be a fully addressable light emitting array of some sort. When it wasn’t on, it was translucent, which allowed them to do all sorts of combination effects if the band was between the screens, in front of one only, or in front of both. It is pretty hard to describe but the combination effects for creating, at one point, landscapes around the band and, another, shimmering curtains of static with holes where band members were (all moving in real time) was really overwhelming.
You can see some bad handheld footage of this from the Seattle date of the tour on Youtube. The quality is low but it gives you an idea of the effects. One example of the screen in front is pretty clear about 35 seconds into it but it is worth watching the whole thing as the creator cuts between various effects (turn the scratchy sound down a bit though…). Youtube seems to have a higher quality version of the video available if you go to the page for it and select the link.
Trent Reznor played a lot of music from the last couple of albums and I was surprised (and happy) to hear some of the much more ambient stuff from Ghosts I - IV as well. The crowd seemed perfectly happy with the more danceable songs mixed in with the much more meditative. He threw in a couple of old tokens, like Head Like a Hole and Closer, but he clearly was more interested in playing the more recent material.
During the 1990s, those of us who were huge NIN fans despaired that Trent Reznor was just going to disappear musically. He had very little output and clearly, as has been stated in places, was fighting drug issues during that time. This has all completely turned around in the last five years where he’s producing music almost faster than people can take it in. Pretty Hate Machine, NIN’s first album, came out the first year that I was in college after I dropped out of high school. The band has been the musical backdrop to my adult life and, with little exaggeration, NIN has been my favorite band for this entire period. It was nice to finally get to see Trent live on stage and with such an incredible show.
Update: I found this comment on a review of another show in this tour online:
"NIN’s stage technology and advanced graphical display was spectacular. The band employed two mesh LED screens on stage coupled with a normal video screen in the rear. This innovative display allowed the band to appear in front of graphics or immersed within them. I was very close to the stage, and I was continually attempting to figure out how the special effects were performed. It must have taken quite a bit of computer programming and enormous amounts of cash to design the show’s visuals.
So, it appears that they were LED-based, as I suspected.