1. Wow, they’re consistent. This was my fifth Nine Inch Nails show—but my first since October 1995, when the band played a co-headlining show with David Bowie at the Thomas & Mack center. (Amazing show, by the way: Bowie and NIN performed five songs together, including “Hurt,” and “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” and “Reptile”.) If I’d stepped into a time machine in 1995 and exited to the Joint last Wednesday night, I wouldn’t have known that NIN had aged 23 years; their energy, fury and musicianship are undiminished from the band’s commercial peak. (Though I might have said, “Hey, he got a haircut” and/or “Somebody’s been working out.”)
2. It was a night for hardcore fans. Meaning: If you showed up expecting “Closer,” “Down In It” or “Hurt,” frontman Trent Reznor sent you home thirsty. “This is our first show for a while,” he said, adding, “We’re gonna play some things we feel like playing.” That meant a night of covers, “deep f*cking cuts” and semi-obscurities including Gary Numan’s “Metal,” David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” and a raft of deep-ish album tracks including “Me, I’m Not,” “Letting You” and “Burn.” Crowd-pleasers like “March of the Pigs,” “Only” and “I Do Not Want This” were scattered randomly throughout the set, bookended by less familiar material, and the night’s two biggest songs—“Wish” and “Head Like a Hole”—were played dead last, with no encore. NIN’s message for the evening seemed to be, “If you love us, you’ll take what we give you.”
3. The crowd took it, with gratitude. The dude-heavy, standing-room only crowd screamed, sweated and thrashed in place to every note, even the tracks that strayed close to Reznor’s ambient and soundtrack work (e.g. “The Lovers,” from 2017's Add Violence) and a new song they didn’t know (“God Break Down the Door,” from the upcoming Bad Witch LP). The band’s two additional shows at the Joint are sold out, as well. There just might be something to the Weekly’s suggestion that NIN parlay these assorted Vegas trysts into a full-blown residency.
4. Don’t expect to see much from the back. I counted on one hand all the times NIN made use of the side screens—and the band's current stage setup heavily favors backlighting and stage fog, reducing the musicians to silhouettes. (That said, Reznor does cut a distinctive figure, hanging on the mic stand, as if he were keeping it from rising into the air. His stance is arguably as iconic as Joey Ramone or Sid Vicious, and the sheer personality of it cuts right through the smoke.)
5. If you liked NIN in the 1990s and 2000s, you’ll like it now. Thing is, I’ve moved on; much as I loved the band back in the day, I’m more likely to listen to one of the excellent film soundtracks Reznor makes with Atticus Ross. But NIN is there for you: still loud, still heavy, still angry about something or other. It hasn't lost a single step over the intervening years, and judging from the live set, they assume you haven’t, either. Good thing, too.