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Coachella Week: How to Destroy Angels’ live show emphasizes art over rock

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Trent Reznor’s latest project played its third-ever show at the Pearl on April 13.
Photo: Bryan Steffy/Wire Image

The Details

Three stars
How To Destroy Angels
April 13, The Pearl

It makes sense that a band whose art director is credited as a full member would have a live show focused as much on visuals as on music. The third-ever live performance from How to Destroy Angels featured a truly mesmerizing light show, but often felt more like watching a video installation than attending a concert. The five band members (including Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and his wife, singer Mariqueen Maandig) performed nearly half the show behind a series of opaque mesh curtains that shimmered with projected images, and even when the curtains parted, the musicians were shrouded in various levels of darkness.

It certainly made for a striking visual experience, nearly on par with the amazing imagery of NIN’s 2008 Lights in the Sky tour. But the musical performance was sedate and aloof, with the band members dutifully re-creating the songs’ studio sound and seldom interacting with each other or the audience. Unlike at a NIN show, there were no live drums, and at certain points four of the five band members could be seen noodling with keyboards and/or laptops. Reznor occasionally rocked out on guitar, but even he was subdued, remaining in the background and rarely taking the focus away from Maandig (although eager NIN fans in the audience cheered whenever he stepped up to the mic for backing vocals).

The Pearl installed extra speakers for surround sound, and it was a little odd at first to hear parts of the music coming from behind, but it ended up adding to the immersive sensory experience. Maandig’s voice was the musical highlight, especially on the spare, haunting “Ice Age,” even if it too sometimes sounded a little too processed and antiseptic. How to Destroy Angels may never be an energetic live act, but they proved to be a pretty impressive art project.

Set list:

“The Wake-Up”

“Keep It Together”

“Parasite”

“And the Sky Began to Scream”

“Ice Age”

“The Believers”

“How Long?”

“Welcome Oblivion”

“BBB”

“The Space in Between”

“Fur Lined”

“The Loop Closes”

“A Drowning”

Encore:

“On the Wing”

“Strings and Attractors”

“We Fade Away”

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