Lollapalooza: Nine Inch Nails have their moments amid lower-energy set

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails brought new songs and its first U.S. date in four years to Lollapalooza on Friday. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails brought new songs and its first U.S. date in four years to Lollapalooza on Friday. (Photo by The Associated Press)

To me, there are two versions of Nine Inch Nails.

There is the raging, angry Trent Reznor band that delivers guitar riffs that grind like unoiled gears and beats that ring like an empty metal barrel hit with a pipe.

Then there’s the industrial trip-hop wannabes that go for a sound like Massive Attack if it were cast in steel and then left in the rain to rust.

On Friday at Lollapalooza - where the band performed in America for the first time since 2009 – Reznor and his four fellow bandmates gave us a bit of both in a dynamic performance that spanned the great chasm of NIN material including new songs such as “Find My Way,” which featured a stark electronic beat, an incredibly sparse two-note melody and lyrics such as “I’m just trying to find my way…I have made a great mistake/Pray my Lord my soul to take.”

But for all of its clang and cries from the crowd of “I love you, Trent,” the set was overall a letdown for me.

A lot of it had to do with the band’s new material, which will be released on a new album, “Hesitation Marks,” on Sept. 3. The new stuff, including “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted,” had that industrial trip-hop sound with none of the power that I expect from Nine Inch Nails.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect Reznor to be super-aggro all the time or something. Even “Hurt,” easily the band’s softest song, has a measure of power based on its composition, Reznor’s delivery and, most of all, its words. I just didn’t get that from “Find My Way.”

Thankfully, we did get some of that much-needed energy from the band elsewhere in the set. “1,000,000″ and its clashing guitars came early in the set, but it wasn’t until the end of the nearly two-hour performance. “Wish” was loud, fast, brash and had strobe lights you could probably spot from the moon.

That was followed by songs such as “Only” (great chorus), “The Hand That Feeds” (pretty aggressive chorus) and “Head Like a Hole” (a chorus sung by almost every one of the 40,000-ish in attendance).

Reznor, who didn’t say much other than “Thank you” throughout the set, took a backseat during “Head Like a Hole” and let the audience – with a sea of horns in the air – sing it for him.

It was a strong finish, and it was helped along by the band’s always-crazy production, which began as simple light projections casting silhouettes and ended with white noise and more flashing lights than a KISS concert.

The finale came with “Hurt,” another song where Reznor was joined in singing by countless fans. Though it may have the softest sonic imprint of any NIN song, it’s certainly one of their most powerful.



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