Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Long Wave Goodbye--Overdue Review of NIN at the Aragon, 8/29/09

So I have to admit, for what should be obvious reasons to regular readers, I've been dreading writing this review. Here are some things, in no particular order, that I'd rather do than write up this overdue review:

--Go back in time to 8th grade and play a game of volleyball with the bitchy popular girls and their mile-high bangs
--Have braces installed on my teeth and continually tightened for no good reason
--Go to Walmart at 4:30 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving
--Drive a great distance with my husband while a scoreless baseball game is being announced on the radio
--Actually do the office work that has been assigned to me

Some of you may be wondering why I'm so hesitant to revisit this experience, which at the time was an enjoyable one. It's not that it's the last NIN show I'll be writing about for the foreseeable future. I've written thousands upon thousands of words with regard to Mr. Reznor and his bandmates. I'm more than ready to move on and discuss other things. I suppose if I say that it's because I'm not looking forward to all the malicious, psychotic bullshit that is sure to follow, then I guess the terrorists will win.

Trent was right, though...the haters do suck the fun out of everything, even if you try your best to ignore them. However, we here at Places Parallel will persevere. We will continue to keep up with Trent and his music, once he's finished with his hiatus, but we also have a LOT of other concerts to discuss, and what's more, I'd like to see more interaction from you, the sane reader, about what's interesting in music and what good shows you've seen. I assure you that I have no intentions of abandoning this site, and I plan to make good use of the "delete" button when necessary to ensure that this is a welcoming place for all.

August 29, 2009 was my ninth NIN show. I figured that if Trent really does put his old hits out to pasture and retire from touring, that would be a nice number to close out that period of my life. (I only wish it could have taken place on 9/9/09. Not even in LA did he do a 9/9/09 show. Lame!) I was accompanied by my dearest friends and favorite concertgoing companions, Ro, Iris, and Mr. Iris. The show took place at precisely the sort of intimate venue at which I have always wanted to see NIN: the Aragon Theater. He may very well have played his first Chicago show at the Aragon, or a place like it (the Metro, the Double Door, the Riviera, etc.). The Aragon has always had a special place in my heart as it is where I saw my very first rock concert in the big, bad city when I was a teenager (the Violent Femmes). When you're young and hemmed in by curfews and rules and small allowances, a real honest-to-God dingy, urban concert hall--poorly lit and with sticky floors--represents danger and real freedom. You feel the tension build before the show even starts in this hot, crowded place with all these strange people. You're slightly nervous that you're going to lose your friends; some creepy guy offers you a beer, and you refuse. You cling to your $20 bill tightly. It's all the money you've got, and you're trying to decide which t-shirt to buy. I can still feel that electricity in the air when I see shows at the Aragon; maybe I steal the spark from all the young kids in the crowd. At any rate, it was the perfect place for a dedicated fan like me to see her favorite band.

I've written so much about the experience of seeing NIN live that it's hard to know what else there is left to say. Regular readers know that the music means a lot to me personally. That's probably true for most NIN fans. The music taps into emotions that can be difficult to express our daily lives--rage, lust, despair--but these emotions must be given voice sometimes, or a person can just lose it. The lyrics are confessional, yet it's easy for the rest of us to project our own feelings and experiences upon them. I could tell you how each and every song on "With Teeth" is about my personal problems circa 2005--forget all that stuff about some guy named Trent and rehab. I went to every show possible so that I could experience a sense of release and a sense of communion with the hundreds or thousands of people around me--all of us shouting out the same words that are so difficult to say at work, to our lovers, to our parents, to our friends, to ourselves. I could tell from the angry, impatient, excited buzz in the air that the audience of this show was hungry for that release.

Experimental indie Danish (more Scandinavians!) rock band Mew was the opener. I can't remember a lot about their set, other than the fact that their songs were accompanied by unsettling imagery. Their music was pleasant enough to listen to; I think they are often compared to Muse by people in the know. But the hungry, angry crowd was not to be satiated by them; plus, it was at this point in the show when we first encountered "Richard" and his unfortunate wife/girlfriend/date, "Amy." Richard was extremely intoxicated and was well on his way to becoming even more intoxicated. He had been at the show the night before; he wanted to make sure that everyone in the venue knew that. You're aware of that, right? Good. He seemed like a fairly knowledgeable fan in his early- to mid-30s, and perhaps if his blood-alcohol level were somewhere below 0.3, he would have been okay to talk to. We stayed in Richard and Amy's vicinity because it provided Iris with a central view of the stage for her video-recording, but we were soon to regret it.

Finally...the moment we've all been waiting for! NIN took the stage beginning with "Home," which is kind of a "meh" opening. They probably could have skipped it and gone straight to "The Beginning of the End," which would have been appropo.

The setlist, courtesy of Echoing the Sound:

The Beginning of the End
March of the Pigs
I'm Afraid of Americans
Gave Up
La Mer
The Frail
I Do Not Want This
Gone, Still
Right Where it Belongs (v2)
The Way Out is Through
Mr. Self Destruct
The Good Soldier
Dead Souls
Reptile(w/ Peter Murphy)
Strange Kind of Love (with Peter Murphy)
Final Solution (with Peter Murphy)
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

As you can see, it was very heavy on "The Downward Spiral"--no complaints from me on that! It would have been cool had he chosen to do some kind of concept, like "Pretty Hate Machine" from beginning to end, but this was a nice mix of his work spanning his entire career. It wasn't too different from what I have heard at previous NIN shows, but I was particularly happy to hear "I'm Afraid of Americans," "Dead Souls," (which poor Ro had been waiting to hear live for the first time for like seven shows), and "Gone, Still" from "Still," which I've never heard live before. I'm going to be honest and admit that I didn't miss the obligatory "Ghost" instrumentals. Those never felt quite as powerful as, say, "La Mer" or "Just Like You Imagined."

One moment that was especially powerful to me was "Ruiner." I think it may have been the first time that I heard this song live, but what struck me this time was chanting the words, "You didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, you didn't hurt me, nothing can stop me now." I know, I know, it's Trent's oft-recycled "nothing can stop me!" But I happened to reflect on everything I've overcome in the past and personal problems I'm dealing with now, and it helps to be reminded that there is a rock-solid part of me that cannot be touched by these things, that will never be defeated. It kind of has nothing to do with the song, but it's an example of how we can take away different things from the music than perhaps what was originally intended.

So as you see, Peter Murphy was the special guest, as promised. Which was awesome. We have seen Peter and Trent collaborate onstage with these very songs in the past, however, when NIN toured with Bauhaus, so there was kind of a "been there, done that" feel to this portion of the show, although I am always happy to hear "Strange Kind of Love." Perhaps this could have been avoided by bringing Peter to back up Trent for different songs or by begging and pleading with Gary Numan to come to Chicago. I'm really jealous of the LA crowd getting to see that! Also, it would have been awesome if Trent could have brought on some local legend, like uh...I dunno. Cheap Trick? Just kidding! But seriously...I don't know whom Trent has totally pissed off over the years, but Chicago has brought the world Veruca Salt, Liz Phair, Ministry (yes, yes, I KNOW Al hates Trent), Local H, and of course, The Smashing Pumpkins, although the total weight of the egos of Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan on one stage would probably cause a tear in the time-space continuum and end all life as we know it. Any of those would have been mind-blowing. Seeing Peter Murphy is always welcome...just not mind-blowing.

Trent had a nice spoken interlude wherein he thanked all of his fans and talked about how much he loves Chicago. It was very heartfelt and sweet, and I can't remember a word of it, so we just have to wait until Iris returns with the video of his speech. Come back, Iris!

Meanwhile, during all of these proceedings, Richard managed to make an enemy of every single person around him--from the man whom he spilled a beer on, to me and Iris because he was standing in front of my 4'10" self and talking loudly to the embarrassed Amy throughout the ENTIRE show, to Mr. Iris because he had no respect for anyone around him, to the guy who just finally snapped at the end of the show and shouted, "You were here last night? Good for you! The rest of us weren't, and we'd like to experience the show! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" He managed to commit every possible concert foul, and it's amazing that he didn't get involved in a fistfight. With his nonstop drunken chatter, it was hard for me to get in my zone during the show, so that was unfortunate. It was also unfortunate that so many of us had to waste so much time and energy being pissed off at him rather than enjoying the show. He really detracted from the entire experience. So let this be a lesson to all can pre-party, just don't overdo it! And to all enabling girlfriends/wives, please remove your drunken man from an area before someone punches him in the fucking mouth, as he clearly deserved. So that was kind of a sour note on a great evening, but it can't be helped. As we have all learned recently, a lot of NIN "fans" are total assholes.

And that, I think, is that! * know, it was actually kind of cathartic getting through this. I think I'm enjoying catching up on all my overdue reviews as opposed to having that nagging voice running through my brain: "You're ignoring Places're ignoring Places Parallel..."

Stay tuned, more reviews to come!


Isabel said...

Nice review - don't let anonymous people get you down - the more they speak the more ludicrous their theories get, I fully expect someone to find an old class mate of Trent whose hair he pulled in the playground to speak out against his EVIL! Ridiculous.

I've been meaning to get to grips with Torrents once and for all as I'd like to download some of the Light In the Sky projects going on and the final show DVD and a friend is relying on me to do the same for her (although I think a nice person on is doing Blu-Rays of it - check out youtube - there is some great footage of the LA shows)

About other music - I'm going to Alice In Chains next week and really like what I've heard of their new album. VERY HEAVY.

Isabel said...

Just one more thing, did you read the interview with TR when he said he wanted to spend more time practicing on the piano? Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning to him doodling at the piano. I would love to hear his take on 'Moonlight Sonata' - he just always plays piano with such feeling

JR said...

I'll be curious to hear about AIC, Isabel - I loved them in the 90s (saw them at Lolla! and they were great), but without Layne Staley (sp?), I'm not so sure.

Maise, once again - great, well-written review. It's giving me the fuel I need, I think, to polish off a press release that I've been procrastinating on big time.

maise said...

Thanks, JR!

Isabel said...

JR - will let you know how AIC was on Wednesday, it's on Tuesday night. Funny with the whole Layne Stayley thing, we had thought he'd died years ago of an overdose, but then found out he was still alive only a year or so before he actually died. One of those people who you just know is doomed at some point I guess, just a question of when, not if.
I saw them at the Sonisphere festival , and the new singer was really great, but we had to leave their set 10 mins before the end to catch NIN on the other stage so we were really pleased to hear they were doing a proper show