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Rarely do I find myself at the end of a gig sobbing uncontrollably, but that's what I was doing at the conclusion of last night's Soundwave festival.
Trent Reznor's announcement earlier in the week that Nine Inch Nails would be taking a break and potentially ending was quite shocking to many NIN fans. There has been no more prolific alternative musician that I know of, and recently, Trent has released some of his best work. I suppose if he wants to end on a high note, this is it.
It was that knowledge that lent last night's performance at the Soundwave Festival in Brisbane's Royal Exhibition grounds a sense of gravity. I was also touched by the juxtaposition of seeing perhaps the final performance from the man whose music I've loved throughout my adulthood while sitting in the stands of the Ekka grounds where, as a child, I squealed out for black fireworks that never came.
This emphasis on NIN isn't meant to take away from the other bands performing at Soundwave. Although not many of the bands I saw really impressed me, their young fans seemed to really enjoy their performances. Perhaps one of the negatives of getting older is that you ask more of live gigs than pure raw energy. The crowd seemed significantly larger than last year's turn out and, despite the numbers, were relatively well behaved and respectful of other punters. Unlike the Big Day Out...
Unfortunately, due to illness and hospitalisation earlier in the week, I was at the event in mind albeit not so much body. A gig I'd been anticipating highly for months resulted in my barest attendance, turning up around 5pm and, sadly, missing The Dillinger Escape Plan. Also getting ill halfway through the set by Alice in Chains, one of my favourite bands. Bummer, huh?
I did see Lacuna Coil and sadly, their set was fairly sub-par. Christina Scabbia -- and sorry, but I don't care how hot she is -- lets the band down with nasal vocals and low energy. I can't help but consider how good the band might be without her; she comes across as the token dark-haired sex bomb a la Amy Lee from Evanescence. A woman to appeal to the male fans and for the female fans to emulate. I'm sure many would argue this point, but their live set was uninspiring and far too 'Korn' to be original. As I quite like many of their recordings, this was disappointing.
Alice in Chains set was brilliant. They played all of the songs I wanted to hear -- having never seen the original line-up prior to Layne Staley's demise -- such as Man in the Box, Would, and Them Bones. New vocalist, William DuVall gave his all, an impressive performance. It must be difficult for people who replace deceased members of very famous bands, but it's great that it gives the rest of the band a new lease on their careers. The rest of the band -- Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez -- were amazing. A great gig that seemed to bring many 'oldies' like myself (I'm not yet 40 and at festivals I feel ancient...what does this mean?) out of their hiding holes.
Back to NIN. It must be said I would not have attended Soundwave had NIN played a side show in Brisbane and, when I think about it now, I should have simply flown to Sydney to see their show there. Well, I've only seen NIN three times in total -- the Big Day Out, a gig at Brisbane's Riverstage in 2007, and this one -- but this was by far the best performance I've experienced. Trent was on fire; his vocals were strong and his energy levels were awe inspiring. The set list -- yes, I should have written it down but a) I don't want to spoil the surprise for people going to future shows this week and b) there are better things to do at a NIN gig than sit there with a jotter -- was the best ever. Seamlessly combining songs from more recent releases Year Zero and The Slip with older albums such as With Teeth, The Downward Spiral, Pretty Hate Machine, the set pulled the audience from pain to release to love to anger. The emotional gamut of NIN's music is astounding.
The line up -- although some people may have experienced doubts following the departure last year of Alessandro Cortini and Josh Freese -- was absolutely fucking incredible! Newcomer Ilan Rubin from the Lost Prophets did an amazing job filling Freese' shoes on drums. Some of those NIN songs demand everything from a drummer, and Ilan rose to the challenge and kicked arse, energy levels through the roof.
Newly shorn Justin Meldal-Johnsen made our booties shake with his funky bass lines and wowed the crowd by playing upright bass on some songs, as well as keys . The irrepressible Robin Fink -- who I'd been wanting to see in NIN for ages -- brought an incredible dynamic to the songs with his guitar playing techniques. So much more emotive and raw than previous guitarist, Aaron North. Robin also displayed his impressive skills on keys, lap steel, and xylophone.
Trent...ah. What can't this man do? Vocals, guitar, keys, and tambourine (I love a man with a tambo, I must admit), with energy and emotion beyond compare. The set list was delivered in a dynamic and seamless fashion, taking the audience on an historical journey through Trent's life, such is the autobiographical nature of many of his songs. I was happy that he didn't play one particular song which is always demanded by the audience at his gigs, as it's never been a favourite of mine. I'll let you all guess which one that is ;)
NIN's performance lifted me out of my seat, on to the field, made me forget how bad I'd been feeling all week. I was thrashing by the end of it, despite being waaaaaaay at the rear, standing in front of the drinking area seating. My photos of the gig, therefore, are mostly out of focus and ridiculously distant. I'll see what I can do to source some decent pics from photographer friends who may have covered the gig. (Thanks again to guy at the entry gate who couldn't be arsed finding my name on the press list -- or even doing anything more than saying "Ah yeah, I don't know where the press list is. Um, yeah." -- otherwise I might have been in with a chance.)
And yes, I was in tears at the end of it all. The concept of this being the final NIN gig that I will see was deeply saddening and more so, that there may be no more new NIN albums to come. But when I distance myself from my own selfishness, I consider this: Trent has been in this industry for 20 years and has been outstandingly the most consistently brilliant musician of my time. A prolific musician and a genius. If he decides to take a break or quit music -- which I can't really see happening for good, as he's so amazing at it -- or frankly, if he decides to sit in his lounge chair playing Guitar Hero for hours on end, that's his decision and something he has more than earned. I think sometimes fans can demand too much of their idols and in Trent's case, I believe many have over the years. But the one thing you can say about NIN fans: we are crazy loyal. Fans of NIN have ridden the waves of different styles and peaks and troughs of Trent's existence with nothing short of die-hard support. Something you would expect from your best friend, but not from complete strangers. So if we seem a little strange sometimes, it's because we feel we know this man through the songs he's given us over 20 years.
Best of luck, Trent, in whatever you decide to do. You can know for certain we'll always be there for you.
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Footnote: If you don't already have a ticket to Soundwave or to see NIN side shows in Sydney and Melbourne -- lucky bastards! -- buy one now! NIN will also be performing final shows throughout the US with Jane's Addiction in the near future.