It may come as a surprise to some, but I've never been a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and have never bought any of their releases. Of course, I was familiar with their stuff. No-one seriously into alternative music since the 1980s could fail to have heard of them. Most everyone at least knows early hit Head Like A Hole and I know them enough to know that The Downward Spiral was about their best album from my perspective. My wife on the other hand was something of an enthusiast and was paying for the ticket - so I was happy to go. And I'm glad I did.
Not least because although neither of us knew who the support act were, when we discovered it was Ladytron (a band that has equal appeal to my wife and I), we were well chuffed. It had been some years since either of us had seen them. Not only had I forgotten just how great they were as songwriters but also the impact they can have live. It wasn't until midway through the first song that I actually realised just who it was. The recognition delay was partly due to their sound tonight. Never exactly a stadium act, Ladytron can now fill a decent sized venue like the Brixton Academy with sound aplenty; and man was this heavy! It sounded like Ladytron on steroids.
Songs once best suited to glamorous lounges or club bars like He Took Her To A Movie now boomed out an aural onslaught. (In an extended outro this song for example built relentlessly into a cacophony of white noise, screaming synthesizers and frenetic strobe lights. It was like being caught in the blast of some electro bomb. Yet, impressively, this was never at the expense of the songs. Their original style remained intact but every one had been beefed up. Recent lineup changes clearly haven't had a negative impact on their abilities and the newer material stood up well. Sadly, the support slot was a very limited 30 minutes so it was definitely over all too quickly. Time to dig out those Ladytron CDs me thinks.
Nine Inch Nails got underway just half an hour later whipping up the charge that Ladytron had sent out among us and putting it to good use. This was to be a solid, nonstop, one and a half hour set with no encore. That may have been in part due to Trent Reznor's voice problems. He sounded fine when singing, but when he paused between songs to point out his troubles he did sound rough! It clearly must have been bad as they were forced to cancel a show in Birmingham earlier that week. The set was varied taking in all stages of their near 20 year career, from their 1989's debut Pretty Hate Machine (last song of the night was [not amazingly] Head Like A Hole) right up to previews of material from their forthcoming album Year Zero (in new single Survivalism). Whilst I wasn't converted to the NIN cause any more than the passing interest I'd always had, I did enjoy some some of their preaching. Reznor and co. are undeniably good at writing imaginative alt-rock tunes and their use of electronics on certain songs remains, for a band essentially built around the rock guitar concept, still pretty unique.
As a band with song titles over the years including Fist Fuck, March of The Fuckheads, and Starfuckers, Inc. I guess I should have anticipated tonight's performance would come with a "Parental Advisory" warning. What I can say without any doubt, is I have never heard the word "fuck" so many times in 90 minutes (though David Lynch's Blue Velvet comes close). Yet this fact could create a misleading impression of Nine Inch Nails - whose range is far broader than those three titles would imply. It certainly wasn't wall-to-wall self harming (although I think what popular American culture considers 'shocking' does seem somewhat tamer outside the US). Unquestionably one of the key moments was a downtempo one: a moving performance of Hurt. Made famous in more recent years after Johnny Cash surprisingly recorded it and (remarkably) gave it an even deeper emotional treatment. Stripped back to just Reznor and a piano keyboard, the strength of Nine Inch Nails was laid bare for anyone to see. That Reznor's voice was breaking up slightly due to his illness only gave the song an even more chilling dimension. The Academy fell silent (the only time tonight) as several thousand fans felt the hair stand up all over their body. It was a gig going moment in a lifetime of gig going that I will always remember, and for that moment alone I'm glad I went and thank my wife for the ticket. 7/10