Happiness is a heavy burden, especially when you're the Emperor of Dirt. But maybe happiness is an overstatement. If sobriety and age have somehow softened Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, it was unapparent on May 30 as Reznor and Co. got their angry, alienated freak on for the first of two sold-out shows at Soma.
NIN's new album, With Teeth, shows a kinder, gentler (and definitely more muscular) side of Reznor, perhaps a byproduct of aging-between the album's release on May 3 and the San Diego concerts, the industrial icon turned 40. It had been six long years since a new NIN album, dating back to 1999's critically maligned Fragile. His new single, "The Hand That Feeds," sounds like Reznor's reclaiming the dance-oriented rock throne, to which he ascended in the early '90s with "Head Like a Hole."
After such a long hiatus, fans were jonesing for a Reznor fix, and the band's set at Soma included lots of old-school NIN, plus some new material. Fans had to have been pleased by the mix, even if Dave Grohl wasn't in the house (he handled drums masterfully on the new album but isn't on the tour).
The show kicked off with a full-blown sensory assault that sounded like a nails on a chalkboard, animal torture and artillery fire inside a gas chamber; a brutal version of "March of the Pigs" stoked the surging mosh pit. "The Hand That Feeds," a political commentary on the Bush agenda, was appropriately followed by "Terrible Lie." The pornographic anthem "Closer" felt slightly obligatory, but necessary. "Head Like a Hole," which finished up the show, seemed inspired by comparison.
Also worth mentioning is a wounded rendition of "Even Deeper" and the eviscerating guitar work in "The Day the World Went Away." During "Hurt" the audience sung every one of the lonesome lyrics.
But that tender moment was completely annihilated as the band launched into "Starfuckers, Inc." A sweaty Reznor (so goddamn hot) chanted the line, "Don't you, don't you, don't you..." stopping to say, "I could do this all night."And it seemed almost everyone at the show that night would agree.