A slight opaque curtain hung from the top of the open sea-shell shape of the seductive Hollywood Bowl stage with dark figures pacing back and forth setting up.
This was what the fans had been waiting for.
A sea of dedicated fans donned their black shirts, black pants and slid past one another to their seats of the sold-out concert.
The lights dimmed and electricity flowed through the veins of each who patiently waited with eyes fixed on the stage.
Nine Inch Nails fans are persistent, patient, loyal and respectful. Waiting in upwards of five years between album releases, and often longer between live performances has that effect on the diverse fan base.
Nothing could ruin this night for the fans. Not the man who came dressed up as an American cowboy, complete with a blue-leather sleeveless shirt with red and white tassels hanging from the waist and arms; not even when the cowboy stood high on a bench and began to gyrate his hips much like Elvis would have in a drunken stupor.
Not the inebriated Queens of the Stone Age who missed so many tempo changes and seemed to decide that by playing sloppier, faster, and louder would make them rock just the way their fans could like them or the beer vendors walking around trying to intoxicate the fans into merchandising oblivion could deter the fans from being there.
The lights seemed to audibly turn off as static began from the stage. The static grew into a beat. The drum beat between a snappy snare and the booming over driven bass drove the audience into a trance. Chunky and gritty guitars joined in cue with the fat analog sounds of the synthesizers. The stage was lit from behind, cast shadow on the screen giving the audience visions of shadows, ghosts, and specters.
Trent Reznor’s familiar guttural plea coaxed the audience to slip into the introspective and analytical world he creates with his song writing ability. He chanted with the audience, “The sooner we realize, we cover ourselves with lies, but underneath we’re not so tough, and love is not enough.”
The band fed off of the energy spat back by the receptive audience as they churned through the chaotic optimism and deprecation of past records and current musical interpretations thereof.
The stage became a living organism with the ingenious lighting done by Reznor’s crew. Jagged square teeth stood 10-feet tall on the stage and hung from the scaffolding, giving a depth to the stage from any vantage point in the Bowl, and providing visual interpretation to the With Teeth Tour 2005 that was printed on everyone’s $30 tour t-shirt. The teeth visually caught fire as a red light slowly engulfed all of them in a culminating crescendo of “The Line Begins to Blur,” and with a powerfully painful scream the lights went out at once.
Reznor and his band mates powered through more than 24 songs with each one flowing seemlessly into the other. A twisted opera of sorts, each song fed into the energy of the previous and drew the audience deeper in with each pulsating light and heavy chord laced with the glorious educated outrage of a multi-talented lyricist and entertainer.
Remember when the kids used to throw up their lighters during the slow songs at rock concerts? Health-conscious L.A. folk now raise their soft glowing blue cell phones screens high during masterpieces like “Hurt,” with a few of the die-hard addicts lifting their orange-flamed lighters. It only added to the elegant lighting of the Bowl Saturday night. The crowd became an illuminated blue sea, dotted with orange stars and a reverence for beauty upon all of the fan’s demeanors.
The most vivid moment of the evening was the recognizable introduction to “Reptile,” which Reznor followed by saying, “Here’s an old favorite.” The crowd could no longer contain themselves after that moment.
The band and fans created a tangible moment of cohesiveness where the moment of the vast and sprawling crowd was transcended and each fan felt the music.
It was a sublime evening that every Nine Inch Nails fan enjoyed. It proved to them why patience is a virtue and how it is rewarded time and again by Trent Reznor and company.
Chris Daines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.