In our feature +1, The Grid’s Liisa Ladouceur reviews a concert in tandem with a local musician to get a pro’s perspective on the performance. In this edition: Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck and Dusted joined Liisa at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 4 for the live return of Nine Inch Nails.
The pre-game show:
Liisa: Brian, you just told me that you’ve never seen Nine Inch Nails play before because, growing up in Nova Scotia, bands like that just didn’t tour out there. I am coming with the opposite experience: I think I’ve seen NIN about 20 times. So I’m pretty sure I know what we’re going to get: high-tech visuals, loud guitars, ambient interludes, and “Hurt” for the encore. You?
Brian: I expect strobes, and fog, and/or haze.
Liisa: You’re just reading off the warming sign they posted at the entrance.
Brian: [Laughs] Maybe. But I did expect that already. Strobes for sure. And didn’t Trent used to have those keyboard stands with hydraulics in them, so they could be abused? I guess I expect a kind of controlled abuse. I imagine things cost too much to be totally destroyed, but there will be that aesthetic. The idea of pushing technological limits.
Liisa: It’s been a while since Trent Reznor has spent a good portion of the show trashing gear. And I do imagine this production is pretty expensive. With all the visuals, it’s almost like theatre. Industrial Cirque du Soleil. But it is a new band. He’s got Robin Finck, his old right-hand man, but I heard there are back-up singers. I anticipate he’ll play a fair bit from the new album, Hesitation Marks. Have you heard it?
Brian: No. I think the last NIN record I heard was The Downward Spiral.
Liisa: Really? He’s put out many, many records since then. Even though the dream of the ’90s is alive in many of the outfits here, most of his discography is actually relatively new. He’s outlasted most of the Lollapalooza bands, that’s for sure.
Brian: I definitely always liked them, and listened to them, but I also perceived them with a bit of caution. They were good at showing me the possibilities of what you could do with technology. I think I used them as a benchmark. I don’t want to get too philosophical about it. Let’s just say I was on acid in my teenage years, listening to music, and I would think a lot. [The lights go down.]
Liisa: Well, that was long. Two full hours. Did you like it?
Brian: Yes, I did. It ended on a really good note because of “Hurt.” Can you even think of another song like that? I don’t just mean a Nine Inch Nails song, I mean any song? It brought back memories for me of walking around with that on my headphones, being sad. “Hurt” is The Song—you know, the one that will be remembered. [The show] did feel a little long for me, because I don’t go to see a lot of big stadium shows where you’re such a captive audience. At some point at shows, I usually think, “I have a will of my own. I can leave. I can catch up with my friends. I could go have a drink, or go home and play my own songs.” I have a hard time subscribing to the whole fandom thing where you are glad to sit and sing along to every memorized lyric for that long. So, tonight, I needed something to tell me how I felt about it, and that was that last song. If it was anything else, I would have felt like I should have left earlier.
Liisa: What did you think of the material you were hearing for the first time? It was about 75 per cent songs from the 2000s or later. And even some of the earlier stuff was rearranged quite a bit. I wasn’t sure about what they did with “The Wretched,” which is my favourite NIN song. It seemed a bit watered down. But how they switched up “Survivalism” and “Somewhat Damaged” was intense and satisfying. The way the two female back-up singers were incorporated, in particular, I felt was really strong. When they played those, it really felt like a “band” to me.
Brian: A lot of it had a sexy kind of groove. I feel you can’t be funky and angry at the same time—those are opposite forces. So I was glad they, for the most part, just made a groove and let it run. Except that one song [“All Time Low”] with the weird guitar line that was like something out of a 1970s Rolling Stones song. That wasn’t necessary.
Liisa: For me, the highlight is the whole package: the presentation both sonic and visual. You never know what lighting trick they are going to pull out next. I also liked how, with “Hurt,” they brought back images from the same video they used to project in the ’90s—it’s like acknowledging that is actually part of what that song is.
Brian: I was surprised how elegant it was. The light show, the whole performance was really put together. But the way I feel about technology in general, the way human beings project themselves through it, is an extension of our greatest foibles. We so readily embrace technology, but I think there’s something telling in that, and not in the way that you want it to be. If you always try to stay on the cutting edge, it won’t age very well. I don’t come to concerts to feel like I’m in a cellphone ad. Are they trying to sell me LED strips? I’m there for the songs. It was a bit of a thrill ride and I know that, with our band, people are always try to sell us on these production things they can do and after a while I’m like, “sure, but I don’t want to be an example of what was limiting about today.”
Liisa: Musically, what do you think was the high point?
Brian: Trent is a great singer, that’s what I really realized. I would say that he is the kind of singer that everyone should want to be like, in that he sounds only like himself. And as he ages, he continues to sound like nobody else, and as he applies that idiosyncratic style that he has to everything he does, it automatically becomes Nine Inch Nails. You listen to the radio now and everyone has such affected voices. He is pure him. Obviously, he’s got a lot of anger and he’s a moody singer, which is very much a ’90s thing, but it still sounds like Trent Reznor. I can’t think of anyone who sounds like him.
Photos: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star
Were you at the Nine Inch Nails show last Friday? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.