So this review is only slightly delayed due to the holiday and the debilitating bout of bronchitis and a sinus infection that I endured in true martyred, moaning-and-groaning-and-leaving-used-kleenex-everywhere fashion. But I am still excited to tell you all about this show because it ranks very near the top of all-time favorite NIN performances, and I've seen quite a few at this point. It is not only worth seeing when the tour rolls into your town, but it was definitely worth crossing state lines and driving on VERY long stretches of I-80, surrounded by cows and cornfields.
We reported to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, IA, at the appointed time. I don't know if Iowa crowds are particularly tough, but to be admitted, we had to experience the most thorough and gruelling personal search for contraband outside of being arrested. We were subjected to the typical patdown and purse search, of course, but I wasn't expecting the strict, but otherwise friendly, staff members to insist on inspecting my beltline and the tops of my shoes. Cameras were verboten, but Iris managed to sneak hers in under a layer of used, diseased kleenex.
Sadly, tragically, heartbreakingly...the batteries in her camera as well as her spare batteries were on the verge of an untimely death. So we do not have as many A/V goodies for you this time, but Mr. Iris saw our dejected faces and came to the rescue...acting as the Battery Whisperer and somehow keeping the camera going far longer than we would have expected. Apparently you can keep dying batteries charged up just a little by warming them in your hand! That's our science lesson for today, kids. Seriously, though, we are extremely grateful to Mr. Iris for keeping hope alive, and he's the whole reason we do have some video clips to present to you.
Other than the arduous strip- and full-body-cavity searches, I think U.S. Cellular is a great concert arena. It's large enough that tickets will be readily available for most shows, but you don't feel miles away from the band. They have a General Admission area on the floor, of course, but I also appreciated the General Admission concourse area overlooking the floor, but with arena-style seating. From this perspective, we were actually able to see the stage and the terrific production, which really makes all the difference if you're going to see the Lights in the Sky tour.
Our opening band that evening was Japanese experimental trio, Boris. Now, Trent picks opening bands that either become my favorite bands (Saul Williams, Ladytron, The Dresden Dolls) or bands that I tolerate at best (Queens of the Stone Age, Moving Units). This time he outdid himself with Boris. I don't have words to convey my hatred for this dull, overly loud, tuneless, droning jam band, so here's a picture of my dog:
Ahhhh, that's better. Now I feel my blood pressure going down. On to the main act!
The setlist we had was very similar to that we heard at Lollapalooza. But what a difference the change in venue makes! Not having to compete with Kanye West for volume is a definite plus. But indoors, the music can envelop you, mesmerize you, and speaking of mesmerizing...oh my God, those screens!
Trent obviously spared no expense on these toys, and it really enhances the entire show. Even songs that rabid NIN fans have heard 7,000,000 times in concert are greatly enhanced by the stunning visuals. Take the obligatory "Closer," for example. The ladies will appreciate that when Trent sings the chorus, he snarls into the unblinking eye of a camera, and projected 100 times larger than life onto the screen is what I can only refer to as the "Trent fucks you cam." He also employs this camera during "The Greater Good," as I recall. I could only reflect on how much I miss Wearing These Chains' Dierdre as I looked upon all the super-close-up shots of Trent's ferocious teeth. But it's not just all admiring Trent's tortured visage...for "Only," a large screen in front of the band flickers static that is broken up whenever Trent approaches the screen. Unearthly landscapes shimmer during the "Ghosts" instrumentals.
Here are some brief clips of some of the songs I mentioned. Unfortunately, zooming in strained the camera's batteries to the breaking point, so this is the best we can do. Better than nothing, right? Besides, I really think you need to experience this show for yourself...videoclips don't quite capture the saturated colors and the special effects in all their glory:
Trent did a nice mix of the old and the new...and as controversial as Year Zero was as an album and a concept around these parts, all of those songs sound great live. He's really putting so much energy into "Survivalism," it's one of the songs that I really look forward to hearing.
When you go see this show, and you really must go, you can expect to hear most of your old favorites: "Gave Up," "March of the Pigs," "Wish," "Head Like a Hole," etc. But Trent and co. do not shortchange the new songs, even though we all got The Slip for free. Here they are, playing "Echoplex":
Not sure what the deal is with Josh Freese playing Vanna White at the beginning of that song. But anyway.
Trent was in a pretty good mood--no microphone-throwing tantrums, although I suspect those days have largely passed him by. I think all of the bandmembers are starting to get a little tired of being on the road, if this speech is any indication:
Immediately after that, Trent introduced the lineup by saying, "And now I'd like to introduce you to the guys I'm sick of...just kidding," he halfheartedly added. Here's hoping that they all get a nice holiday break because I really like this lineup. Sure, the ever-competent and amazing Josh Freese is, as Fleetwood Mac would say, going his own way. But oh my God, is Robin Finck ever an improvement over the showboat-y Aaron North!
The show ended on a poignant note with "In this Twilight." As the screen projected scenes of explosions above an evening cityscape, each band member got a moment to take a bow and walk offstage.
Now, you all know that I'm Trent's ultimate cheerleader (and some would probably say "apologist" or "sychophant,"--WHATEVS!), but as I said before, this is really one of my all-time favorite NIN shows, and I'm really hoping that he can make one more stop in Chicago before sequestering himself to create the next album. (Or at least make a DVD out of this tour, asap.) Although it was a pretty awesome birthday present to see him in Cedar Rapids.
And, as always, more pics to be found here.
You know, I'm not sure how I feel about the adequacy of this concert review, but that's because I'm STRESSED OUT. Do you know why I'm STRESSED OUT? Because tonight, I need to slave over a hot stove so that tomorrow evening I can feed The Danger Ensemble and AMANDA PALMER when she plays a solo show at the Metro. No, seriously. Iris is making the long drive yet again, and we will be documenting as much as humanly possible. With lots of brand-new batteries this time! Stay tuned...