NIN Rocks Key Arena

Nine Inch Nails returned to Seattle’s Key Arena last night for their first official show supporting “The Slip,” their latest album that hit stores last week. And not a second of the 2-hour-plus performance last night was a wasted effort.

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(Excuse the crappy cellphone camera pic.)

Simply put, Trent Reznor and his band – now nearing 20 years of existence together – have outdone themselves with the visuals and imagery that accompanies the already-stellar music on this tour. From the opening track selection of “1,000,000,” a giant wall of lights was on cue with every note the band played. It seemed like old hat at first, what with seemingly every huge rock act nowadays dazzling the crowd with as many visual wows as audio ones. But after a few songs, I realized something extremely insane was about to happen.

After three or four more songs – of which “Closer” and “March of the Pigs” were included curiously early on – a giant backdrop came down behind the band, which was to be the setting for all kinds of insanity for the rest of the night. The backdrop was some kind of screen that generated the most outrageously creative effects at a show that I’ve ever seen.

At one point during “The Greater Good,” a particularly creepy and unsettling track from last year’s “Year Zero,” the backdrop displayed a close-up of a face with dark, leering eyes staring into the crowd. It soon became eerily obvious that this face was indeed the face of none other than Trent Reznor, slowly whispering lyrics that were enough to make my flesh crawl. The scene looked like the perfect environment for some kind of terrifying snuff film or low-grade horror flick, but Reznor’s freakish expression more than compensated for any lack of carnage or nudity.

But, I thought to myself, this was Nine Inch Nails. This is what they do. Their music inspires. It gets to you. It leaves an undeniable imprint on the listener’s psyche, and with enough repetition, the music can often become almost like a drug. (Ironically enough, “The Perfect Drug” wasn’t in the set list for the night.)

The rest of the list, however, left no room for disappointment. “Wish,” “Only,” “The Hand that Feeds,” “The Good Soldier,” “Terrible Lie” and “Head Like a Hole” were all definite highlights, with various set changes and equipment switching going on the entire time. Interestingly enough, there was a 10-minute instrumental interlude about halfway through that included a cellist, a xylophone and lots of bizarre programming jamming together. The result was subtle, artistic and perhaps a little too long, but launching back into the furious “Wish” directly after the tranquility was the perfect way to grab the audience’s attention again.

All in all, Reznor’s work is undeniably brilliant, both on stage and in the studio. He’s a rare man who has the brain of a musical genius and backs it all up with an absolute knockout punch of a live performance. Let’s hope they make another run through town, and soon.

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