NIN – M.E.N Arena 14.07.09 Review

So here we are, twenty years in, and it’s time to wave goodbye. It seems a long way from when I first heard Broken (my first introduction to the twisted power of nails) to this vast cattle shed in Manchester, and it is with something of a heavy heart that I join the crowd to witness one of the last shows that this incarnation of the band will play.

Due to some horrible traffic and distressingly unseasonable weather, BigDistraction arrived late into the arena, and thus half way into Jane’s addiction’s set. Always reliable on record, JA are one of those bands who truly excel in the live arena, and Perry Farrell has the crowd eating out of his hand by the time he introduces ‘Been caught stealing’. Dave Navarro still looks every inch the rock god, and the sound is immense as the band bash out ‘Mountain size’ and ‘Ocean song’ much to the general appreciation of the crowd. Of course, there’s only one band the audience is truly waiting for, and while JA went down well, NIN are the stars of the show and anticipation is high.

Trent has openly acknowledged that he is playing an unusual set list on this tour, and true to his word the band slam into ‘Somewhat damaged’ from the fragile. Shorn of one member (the band are now a four-piece) the sound is immense and far tighter than the chaotic live NIN of yore, and yet something seems a little lost. Perhaps it is the sheer size of this vast cattle shed, or the fact that there seems to be a security presence more suitable to a terrorist convention than to a rock gig, but it is difficult to fully engage with the band giving it their all on the stage. This is a shame, because the set list is truly a fan’s dream, with rare songs such as ‘I’m afraid of Americans’ (originally a David Bowie track, although Reznor later remixed the song for the single and starred in the creepy video), ‘Metal’ (a Gary Numan cover from ‘Things Falling apart’) as well as a whole host of highlights from ‘The Fragile’ rubbing shoulders with bigger numbers such as ‘Wish’ and the ubiquitous closer ‘Hurt’.

However, despite the clear ability on display from the band, there are times when one yearns for the scary unpredictability of the former line-ups. It’s a consummate show, form one of rock’s greatest talents, but the element of danger that surrounded NIN, even during the last (drug-free) tour, is notably absent and the band seem slightly cut-off from the audience despite Trent leaping into the crowd during ‘Piggy’ to let an ecstatic fan roar out “nothing can stop me now” inducing jealous rage in anyone further back from the stage. That said, a slightly-less-than-stunning NIN show is still miles ahead of many other artists on top form, and the set-list made up, in many ways, for what the performance might have lacked. A worthy final showing from an artist whose live shows will be sorely missed.

Setlist:

Somewhat Damaged
Terrible Lie
Heresy
March of the Pigs
Piggy (album version, with bonus vocals from random crowd guy)
Metal
The Becoming
I’m Afraid Of Americans
Burn
Gave Up
Short piano improv into La Mer
The Fragile
Gone, Still
The Way Out Is Through
Wish
Survivalism
Suck
The Day The World Went Away
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole
Encore break
Hurt

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