DFN Day 1: Nine Inch Nails Nail It Again

Day For Night 2017 has come and past and boy was it something. Taking an old post office building in downtown Houston and converting it into the grounds for a festival turned out to be a killer (and profitable) idea. And in its third year, Day For Night didn’t slow down for anybody. What was there to see you ask? Well a ton of food trucks, bright installation art, and musical acts up the wazooo. On day 1 alone, I saw Pussy Riot, James Blake, and Nine Inch Nails, one after the other on the same stage.

Pussy Riot was cool. Okay, Pussy Riot is cool. They fuse NWA with the Spice Girls and Dostoyevsky and can still kick your ass seven ways from Doom Day. I also totally forgot that they were the band imprisoned in Russia on grounds of “premeditated hooliganism,” which seems like a big deal in Russia. Anyway, they put on a wicked show, doing an impressive job of combining rap, dance, and the occasional episodes of near-public masturbation. They even donned riot gear and masks like that one dude in Slipknot with the long nose.

Photos by Roger Ho

 

Photo by Ismael Quintanilla

Sometime after Pussy Riot but right before Nine Inch Nails, James Blake arrived. I consider Blake an exceptional artist, someone who melds so many desperate styles together in a seamless way. Truly one of a kind. With the occasional bouts of intense build-ups and some tight beats, his set remained chilled and rather ambient. Honestly, Blake and company passed for scientists meticulously operating some real-deal looking equipment. The guitarist literally worked one of those operator boards from the 50s. Overall, they pulled the tortured nerd scene off exceptionally well and I can now cross him off my concert bucket list, which may or may very well not have had him on it.

 

Blake offered a decent set but I could have done without the corny fans aimed at him to make his clothes ripple through wind. Not a good look, especially when the band after you (Nine Inch Nails) ended up playing against actual wind and rain. Speaking of which, fuuuuuuuuuuuuck that rain. More punctual than every band on the bill was the sky, which decided to straddle the fence between a light rain kept in check and Lake Michigan (or whatever the big one is) falling over our heads. And guess when it happened. That’s right, during Ninth Inch freakin’ Nails of all acts. Luckily, it takes more than a little water to stop Trent Reznor from blowing thousands of people’s ear drums out.

 

 Photo by Julian Bajsel

Photo by Julian Bajsel

Now listen here: standing front and center while Nine Inch Nails played through the rain like a class act made for quite possibly the most amazing concert experience ever of all time. The moment the smoke machines started fuming we all knew we was getting the business. It was perfect in more ways than I can count. And here’s the thing about Nine Inch Nails: they’re badass. Nobody synthesizes absolute genius and a command of composition with straight up anger and frustration like Reznor, Atticus Ross, and the gang. They kicked things off with a song from their latest EP (Not the Actual Events, 2017), “Branches/Bones,” which to me recalls the intro track, to NIN’s first EP (Broken, 1992), a hellish little number called “Pinion.”  Except this evolution of the band no longer just engineers musical aggression through industrial inspired sounds and piston rhythms. “Branches/Bones” is really a pop tune, one that proves the band’s new material stands tall with anything else from their extensive catalogue. Good opener.

But if we’re being honest, nothing got things going like the most popular song on Broken itself, a crowd favorite called “Wish.” “Today is the first day of my last days.” With that opening line NIN announced our collective time of death. After playing the always awesome and very new “Less Than,” the group answered all prayers by rattling off “March of the Pigs,” “Piggy,” “The Frail,” “The Wretched,” and “Closer” all in a row. Checkmate. Bingo. Yahtzee. In other words, Nine Inch Nails won Day for Night.

Photos by Roger Ho

 

Do you know how crazy things got with explosive-implosive detonations in “March of the Pigs?” The rabbit punch filled drum solo punctuating “Piggy?” The somber keyboard meditations featured in “The Frail,” which inevitably give rise to the absolutely destructive forces driving the “The Wretched?” All rounding into form with the diabolically insatiable and sensual underpinnings found in “Closer?” Kind of like the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 2000-2002 (three straight titles baby!), this stretch of songs took on dynastic proportions. I don’t actually know what the hell I just wrote but it makes perfect sense if you happened to be there.  

 

Reznor decided to spread out the second unit of songs between new and old. “Copy of a,” “Gave Up,” “The Lovers,” “Reptile,” and “The Background World.” New material like “Copy,” “The Lovers,” and “The Background World” totally got the crowded going. To me, they’re actually better crafted songs than some of Nine Inch Nails’ older stuff. However, humans love anger and proving it. Nothing spurs that process like “Gave Up” and “Reptile,” which made everyone rather happy actually.  The former, another manic punk-industrial fusion and the latter, a slow, heavy, disturbingly comforting dirge. With the rain at its worst and the audience at its best, everything felt like it needed to stay that way. Enter God.   


Nine Inch Nails was quite possibly the greatest show I had ever seen, then the world turned to water and it became the most pain-in-the-ass thing to deal with. Before we knew it, we were no longer at a rock concert, but some sort of splash splash show. By the end of the night, I found myself trying to catch an Uber at the aquarium ironically enough. Still when I think about it, that concert made for something so epic and so wet, that a Free Willy reference seems obligatory here, but I can’t remember whether I’ve even seen the movie. Regardless, Nine Inch Nails put the rocks-the-fuck-out back in the phrase “music that rocks-the-fuck-out,” rain or shine.