Into the Pit: 078: Nine Inch Nails – Live at Arena Manchester – 14-July 2009

It took bloody ages to get there – two hours from Sheffield to Manchester, via Woodhead, thanks to Snake being closed and awful traffic in Manchester city centre, and I managed my first longer distance drive without any problems – but last night’s gig was worth every single minute and then some.

Nine Inch Nails
Jane’s Addiction
Live @ MEN Arena, Manchester
14 July 2009

Needless to say, our late arrival meant that we had no chance of catching up with anybody – and only ran into some friends by chance – but we did arrive with time to spare (just) to see all of Jane’s Addiction‘s set.

Jane’s Addiction Setlist:
Three Days
Ain’t No Right
Then She Did…
Up The Beach
Mountain Song
Been Caught Stealing
Ocean Size
Ted, Just Admit It

Which was a bloody good thing, as I’ve wanted to see Jane’s Addiction for many, many years, and I’m happy to say they didn’t disappoint. Helped no end by a beautifully set-up sound that was nice and clear and very, very loud (as well as having huge amounts of bass), they made few concessions to casual fans in their song choices. How? Well, opening with the epic Three Days, for starters, which was utterly majestic and provided an early reminder that Dave Navarro is an outstanding guitarist, and the companion epic Then She Did… from Ritual de lo Habitual that was dropped in later, and appeared to be the point where Perry lost at least some of the crowd. Not that he appeared to care – he professed on stage to being well aware that most of the crowd were there purely for NIN, but there was more than enough of a reaction to suggest that a fair proportion of the crowd were also Jane’s fans.

Interestingly there was nothing from post-reformation album Strays, everything being from no later than about 1990, which when you think about it is a little strange. But the power of the band, and the quality of the performance, suggested this was no mere exercise in nostalgia – indeed by the time that the climax to an extraordinary Ted, Just Admit It stopped dead, it was clear that this was a celebration of a band who were never quite appreciated, perhaps, as much as they should have been. That point was then rammed home by raucous Stop! that seemed the perfect point to end it. And, frankly, this set would have been good enough as a headline slot, never mind an albeit lengthy support slot.

At that point I had to say that I was wondering how exactly Nine Inch Nails were going to top this, but any doubts were quickly dispelled by a brutal, breathless opening to the set that had our jaws on the floor. It wasn’t just the steady build and explosion of opener Somewhat Damaged, it was the savage Terrible Lie, and then the first big surprise of the night – a pounding Heresy that sounded absolutely immense. March of the Pigs followed straight on, with no chance to even draw breath, and by the end of it, everyone just had to stop for a moment – those four together were the most intense opening to a live set I’ve ever seen.

Nine Inch Nails Setlist:
Somewhat Damaged
Terrible Lie
March of the Pigs
Metal [Gary Numan]
The Becoming
I’m Afraid Of Americans [David Bowie]
Gave Up
La Mer
The Fragile
Gone, Still
The Way Out Is Through
The Day The World Went Away
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole


Not unsurprisingly the pace slackened somewhat after that – which included a mass-singalong to Piggy (and a video posted live by one of the band a few moments later to Twitter!), a couple of very unexpected covers, and an astounding run through the robot-festishism of The Becoming. The much tighter and powerful band – now stripped to a four piece, including the return of guitarist Robin Finck – even meant that Burn and Gave Up, which didn’t sound too great last time I saw NIN, sounded fantastic this time around.

The following suite of Fragile-era instrumentals and ballads didn’t seem to go down well with everyone, judging on comments I’ve seen on the ‘net since, but to me they were a marvellous showing of the more restrained side of NIN, and a reminder that they have always been capable of so much more than searing industrial rock, and have rarely been afraid to expand their horizons way beyond what their peers ever tried.

By this point, it was onto the final straight in a lengthy set, and it was time for some better-known favourites – although Closer was a surprising omission. To Trent’s credit, though, it appears that every single night of the tour has a different set, with an impressive variety of songs played, so at pretty much every gig people are either going to be disappointed or delighted with what they hear (and again, I’ve seen comments both ways already about last night – the almost total omission, two songs in total, of anything post-Fragile, which brooked no complaints from us).

Particular highlights from this last part – a titanic Wish disappointed no-one, I’m sure, and Suck nearly took the roof off, Head Like A Hole resulted in a mass singalong – and an even bigger moshpit – at which point the stage went black, and a moment or two’s breather was allowed for the band – before spotlights picked out Trent and his bandmates for a chilling Hurt. Lighters came out in the crowd, and the crowd as one pretty much sang every word note-perfect. In recent years I’d been thinking that I’d been getting a little tired of hearing this, but this elegant version did something to redeem it – and was a perfect end to an extraordinary gig.

Is this really it, then? Twenty years of NIN, and it looks to be so – Trent has recently announced “the last” gigs in North America, and while he said nothing of the sort last night, he was certainly saying his goodbyes at T In The Park over the weekend. All good things must come to an end, of course, and it would be difficult to say that he’s not ending the band (if he is) in some style. As one friend noted last night, Al Jourgensen should be watching and noting how to send off your band, after the shambles that was Ministry’s C U La Tour last year.

Either way, this is up there as among the top five gigs I’ve ever seen. And I have up to three more gigs in the next week, that could never be as good as this was.

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