Seeing Nine Inch Nails live is a pretty momentous event for most. Unless you're quick with your ticket hunting, chances are you won't get the chance. Besides, you probably won't ever get the chance now anyway, because if buff old Trent Reznor is to be believed, this is it for the Nine Inch Nails live experience.
Yeah, I know. It's been said before by a million bands, but let's face facts. He's the wrong side of forty, he's about to get married and he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life being accosted by squat goths. It wouldn't surprise me if this 'was' actually it.
Anyhoo, I was lucky enough to acquire tickets for the event, and let's not mince words, it was a big deal for me. NIN are one of the few bands to have survived my teenage to adult musical transition. Whilst the likes of Amen, Ash, System of a Down and Slipknot are about as relevant to me now as Clearasil and Razzle, I still find myself reaching for _The Downward Spiral_ or _The Fragile_ on a regular basis. It's easy to see why. Reznor's music has a mass appeal that so many fail to grasp. It's angry enough for teenagers to 'relate' to, but it's also sonically interesting enough to survive that phase.
And so here we are. A decade on from that initial obsession, all the angsty turmoil came to a head on Tuesday 14th July, as Nine Inch Nails performed at the Manchester Evening News Arena.
However! Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There were other bands playing too, you know.
Opening the proceedings were Mew, who I have very little knowledge of, save for the odd mention on whatever website I find myself perusing. Mew were... well, I'll be honest, I can't really remember. I remember it sounding a bit like Snow Patrol though, which isn't good. In their defence, my companion and I were late to their performance due to being roaringly drunk, so they could have sounded like Slayer before that or something.
I doubt it though.
Next up were the reformed and rejuvenated Jane's Addiction, and blimey they were good. I must confess, I'd never really bothered with the band before, as I'd relegated them to the same ineffectual funk rock wankery as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. However, it turns out I may have been a little too hasty...
Opening with a video of Kevin Bacon and some little shit gooning about, JA broke out into a churning groove that caused my very bowels to rumble. When they were finally revealed through the screen, we were treated to the sight of the endearingly camp Perry Farrell dancing around the stage, whilst his sexy comrades plundered away. Coming across like the bastard lovechild of James Brown and Larry Grayson, the man was a mesmerising reminder of what a charismatic performer should be like. He flirted coquettishly with the audience, gave props to Manchester's Joy Division and begged playfully for our love.
The band were tight too, especially the sickeningly handsome Dave Navarro, who shreds like a tanned, overly preened bastard. If I'd known any of the songs other than "Been Caught Stealing", I would have been in heaven. Even without knowing the material though, they were highly enjoyable, and I even held off my planned piss break to witness the end of their set. All of a sudden, I'm rather interested in hearing their upcoming Trent Reznor produced new record. I may even get my corrupt uncle to sort me out with their back catalogue. Not that Chronicles of Chaos condones any sort of behaviour involving corrupt uncles. Oh no.
Anyway, they were pretty awesome, but in the end Perry Farrell knew the truth. "We know most of you are here for Nine Inch Nails", he mewled.
He wasn't wrong.
The lights dimmed and the opening motif of "Somewhat Damaged" from _The Fragile_ became audible, which managed to evoke the same feeling of utter joy you get when you stick your hand down a girl's top for the first time. I just about had an orgasm as its pounding, clinical escalating riff shook the foundation of the arena, strobe lights flashing away as if a bomb just hit. It was clear from the off that Reznor meant business. There would be no messing around tonight, no sardonic rants. As soon as they finished with the opener, they fired straight into crowd favourite "Terrible Lie", which sounds as dangerously potent now as it did twenty(!) years ago. Just when you thought things couldn't get any more exciting, they pulled a trio from _The Downward Spiral_ out the bag.
Cue one already very exhausted journalist.
The first ten or so tracks were an absolute onslaught, including excellent covers of Gary Numan's "Metal" and David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans". Reznor had the stage presence of a man half his age, pouncing dynamically around the stage from instrument to instrument.
And then... a quiet interval.
For the next four tracks or so, we were treated to the more gentle side of Nine Inch Nails. Starting with "La Mer" from _The Fragile_ and incorporating the more contemplative tracks from their canon, the next fifteen minutes were devoted solely to giving the audience a delicate breather.
That ended though, as they exploded into "Wish" from the seminal _Broken_ EP, and war broke out again. The closing salvo was a typically violent display of NIN's trademark penchant for industrial aggression, closing off with a rampant airing of "Head Like a Hole". Twenty songs, no nonsense.
The band disappeared from the stage for a while, but they still had one trick up their sleeve. That's right... "Hurt". This song is what lighters were invented for. Whilst Johnny Cash's cover is excellent, the song makes more sense in the hands of its original author, and provided a fitting end to an exhausting, life affirming evening in the North.
What Manchester received was a peerless display of showmanship and raw talent. Reznor eschewed much of his latter day material (perhaps realising himself that his earlier work was more potent) and concentrated on the music that inspired millions in the first place. It says something for a man's body of work when he can afford to leave out his biggest hit ("Closer") and still not disappoint an audience.
Where Reznor goes from here is up in the air. Whilst he may no longer tour, he's promised to keep releasing new Nine Inch Nails music, which is always welcome. He's also managed to squeeze himself into a position of complete artistic control, operating outside the confines of an ever decaying music industry. Recording wise, the future looks bright.
If this is his last live hurrah, then the music world has lost something great indeed. At the very least though, I'm glad to have witnessed it before he retires to a world of marital hagging.
Nine Inch Nails basically put on the best live concert I've ever seen, and reaffirmed the fact that they probably are, as Adam Ant once said, "the best fucking band in the world".
And thank Christ they didn't play "Starfuckers Inc".