Nine Inch Nails had played just once in the last three years before arriving at FYF Fest to headline the final night, but the show delivered by Trent Reznor and his band felt like the kind of finely tuned, road-tested set that might well have been perfected over dozens of shows before landing in Los Angeles on Sunday.
That it hadn’t, and Nine Inch Nails had only played a show in Bakersfield on Wednesday before coming to FYF Fest, is a testament Reznor’s perfectionism as a performer but also to the power of these songs, new and old, which balance rage with beauty, corruption with catharsis.
The night kicked off once peak smoke had been reached, thick, billowing clouds of artificial fog pumped out to obscure the stage just before Nine Inch Nails walked on, launching into “Branches/Bones,” one of four new songs in the set.
It, like “Wish,” which followed, raced along, anxious and frantic, Reznor singing at the microphone center stage as walls of warm lights alternated with blindingly white ones that almost left you nightblind when they went off.
“March of the Pigs,” from the band’s sophomore release, 1994’s “The Downward Spiral,” which broke the band as a hit-making act, drew a big response from the crowd. A pair of early NIN songs, “Something I Can Never Have” and “The Wretched,” worked from similar template, starting softly with a keyboard part before bursting into the aggressive hard edges of its industrial rock heart.
“Closer,” one of the band’s biggest singles, and a signature track from “The Downward Spiral” provided a mid-set peak, and by now we should note how tightly Reznor and the rest of the band played all night long, with a particular tip of the hat to lead guitarist Robin Finck, whose on-and-off tenure dates back to 1994, and bassist Atticus Ross, the only official member other than Reznor, with whom he won an Oscar for their work on the score to “The Social Network.”
In addition to the four new Nine Inch Nails songs Reznor also introduced a new cover into the set, a version of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” by his late friend David Bowie. “I asked if we could take on his songs and rework it off his ‘Blackstar’ album,” Reznor said in introducing the number. “It’s helped us with the loss.”
The end of the main set wrapped up with the new “Burning Bright (Field On Fire),” which saw Reznor singing through a megaphone, the stage bathed in red light, and “Head Like A Hole,” like “Closer” an early single and fan favorite that saw Reznor singing the verses and Finck shrieking the choruses, a balanced delivery once again.
The encore offered but a single song, but when that song is “Hurt,” the sorrowful hymn later famously covered by the late Johnny Cash, what better way to end a night, a day, a weekend of music than with this poignant classic, a number that touches the heart and the mind, leaving you something to think about on the long ride home?
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