1. Trent Reznor, you bewilder us sometimes. You confuse fans by calling a hiatus in 2009, but that year’s trek is dubbed the Wave Goodbye Tour, which implies it’s your last. And yet, here you are, four years later, on a new tour. That’s annoying for music fans—but also a relief, because once we got over being annoyed, we relished in having one of the best touring arena-oriented acts in the world back. You earned that distinction during local shows as legendary as 2000’s undersold Fragility date at the Thomas & Mack, and 2008’s mindblowing Lights in the Sky stop at the former Theatre for the Performing Arts inside Planet Hollywood—and now, at last night’s hyperstimulating Tension show, the first of two at the Joint, where you didn’t fake a single moment of your confident, no-nonsense, two-hour performance. Though you jumping up and down to start a crowd pogo a la Michael Franti definitely felt like nonsense. Please stop that—and waving goodbye unless you mean it.
2. The visual presentation of the Tension show is in keeping with the artistic and production marvel displayed on previous NIN tours. Thirteen levitating platforms (somewhat like those at Haze nightclub) of tic-tac-toing light squares illuminated the sextet in numerous ways. The umpteen additional lights behind the band occasionally burned full-power and felt like a near-death experience (in a good, if retina-searing way). And the fog machine could shame a Bay Area morning. Each of these elements probably look fantastic in an arena, but in the more intimate Joint, the resulting experience created an immersive atmosphere. It wasn’t as technically innovative as the setup for the Lights In the Sky show, but easily trumped that of any other tour production this year.
3. Reznor isn’t ready for the greatest-hits tours, per last night’s setlist (which varied very little from other recent shows, likely due to the heavy incorporation of visual effects). Eight songs hailed from this year’s Hesitation Marks, half of them striking the right chord—especially single “Copy A”—and the other half failing to live up to the strength of the older NIN songs. Thankfully, the lighting and the band’s execution of those weaker newbies compensated, as was also the case during the suites of mellower material. Balancing those moments were welcome inclusions of industrial thrash and adolescent nostalgia, including “March of the Pigs” and the back-to-back “Survivalism”/“Wish” espresso shot, the latter sounding as visceral as ever.
4. Speaking of new songs, one surprise standout last night was the funky, even sassy performance for “All Time Low,” which unearthed two other shocks: two backup singers—you could hear members of the crowd saying, “At a Nine Inch Nails show?!”—and a lyrical tease of 1994 megahit “Closer,” which nonetheless never surfaced later in whole form (and didn’t that dominate conversations during the post-show exodus from the venue—whatever, guys). More unexpected moments: One of the two touring vocalists, Lisa Fischer, gave a remarkable solo at the end of The Fragile nugget, “Even Deeper,” that recalled Clare Torry’s legendary wails at the end of Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”; the group covered David Bowie’s 1997 radio hit “I’m Afraid of Americans,” on which Reznor famously collaborated; and for all of you wondering, that was an erhu multi-instrumentalist Josh Eustis was playing with bow during “Disappointed.”
5. Listen: I’m not entirely button-lipped through a whole performance. But I try to keep my yammer shut as much as possible, especially during an act as ethereal—and instrumental—as post-rock opener Explosions in the Sky, which made its Las Vegas debut last night. And if you could drown out the numerous audience discussions, you were taken on a journey that, had you not been intimately familiar with the quintet’s songs—and clearly, many weren’t, despite their inclusion throughout the five seasons of TV show Friday Night Lights—always kept you guessing, and was always beautifully, dynamically (and precisely) rendered. The musicians would begin to build up a song, only to suddenly drop it back down to near-silence, or extend the ascension to painstaking effect, or spike the arpeggio or solo through the roof. One such crescendo, at the end of “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” actually seemed to shut everyone up, mostly because it grew so loud and thrashy. If only the volume (and the bass) for the rest of the set had been higher. Still, the complaints ought to end there. EITS’ gorgeous guitar tapestries—and NIN’s own digi-rock dynamism, for that matter—will rank high among this writer’s favorite local performances of 2013.