Live review: NIN, Soundgarden, PNC Music Pavilion (8/7/2014)


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Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden
PNC Music Pavilion
Aug. 7, 2014

Nine Inch Nails

In 2009, I watched the most incredible Nine Inch Nails show at Bonnaroo. At the time, it was scheduled to be the band's last U.S. performance - ever. An emotional Trent Reznor thanked the crowd for all their support after the band tore through a 27-song set, smashed their instruments and left a lasting impression on everyone who witnessed it.

That didn't end up being the band's final performance. After a brief club "farewell tour, Reznor reconvened NIN into something a bit more electronic and revived the band for a new era. Last year, the group performed at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit in Asheville and I walked away with mixed emotions.

Last night, at PNC Music Pavilion, I soaked in the band's nearly 90-minute set with a newfound appreciation for Reznor's artistry and music. I knew that the band wouldn't put on a performance like 'Roo, but I didn't expect them to. Reznor ended that era of Nine Inch Nails and has modernized it. Instead of pounding bass drums, there's pounding bass. Electronic backdrops form the song textures instead of churning distortion-filled guitar riffs as Reznor's emotion-fueled lyrics drive forth.

Nine Inch Nails

For years, I've avoided the latest NIN albums because I wanted the old style to remain intact. After last night's spectacle, I can't wait to listen to The Slip and Hesitation Marks in their entirety again.

Trent Reznor, 49, could have easily rehashed the same old sound as he entered his late 40s, but he had to restyle his songs to make them fun again. And fun is what they are. "Sanctified" is now driven by clicks and bass rhythms instead of by a drumbeat. Reznor has slowed his vocals on the song, too. The band made the most of a series of movable LED screens to transform the stage into different looks — either as a solid backdrop, or angled sections.

That's not to say everything has changed. Reznor and Co. still hammer the hell out of "March of the Pigs," "Wish" and set closer "Head Like a Hole." So while Nine Inch Nails can give tastes of the past, they're definitely focused on the future. It may have taken me a few years to get used to it, but I'm definitely looking forward to what the band has to offer down the road.

In the meantime, co-headliner Soundgarden is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Not much has changed for the Seattle grunge kings, but that's quite alright. I said it in 2007, in 2013 and I'll say it again now — Chris Cornell has one of the strongest voices in rock 'n' roll today and he hasn't lost a single step. He belts out every note he needs to hit and tears through song after song in outstanding fashion.

If you were in attendance at his 2013 solo show at the Knight Theatre, you could hear that well enough, but last night, with the help of his Soundgarden mates, all the band's songs got extra weight behind them. Guitarist Kim Thayil soared through riffs, bassist Ben Shepherd looked relaxed while holding down the low end and drummer Matt Chamberlain filled in nicely for Matt Cameron, who is touring with Pearl Jam.

It's no surprise the band's setlist was heavy on the fan favorites from Badmotorfinger and Superunkown while paying little attention to the 2012 reunion album, King Animal. Aside from still relishing the idea that the band is back together, they've also been touring to support Superunkown's 20th anniversary.

While both bands sounded stellar, it was an interesting dichotomy of one act that is looking to the future and another that is still doing just fine reliving its past. After all, Soundgarden was on hiatus for 12 years, so it's just going to take them some time to catch up. They already sound better than their 2010 Lollapalooza performance, one of their first reunion shows.

Thankfully, neither band is just cruising through a greatest hits set, or simply cashing in a paycheck. They're both relevant, and needed, on a musical landscape that's ready to welcome rock 'n' roll with open arms.

Nine Inch Nails

NIN Setlist
Copy of A
Came Back Haunted
March of the Pigs
Gave Up
Find My Way
The Great Destroyer
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole


Soundgarden setlist
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
The Day I Tried to Live
Black Hole Sun
Jesus Christ Pose
Fell on Black Days
A Thousand Days Before
Rusty Cage
Beyond the Wheel


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