Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? You just have to attend a gig to see it in action. All those hands raised, voices singing along, the rapture … the occasional tool jumping on people around him.
So it was a few hours ago when we staked our claim to a path of grass five from the front row at Soundwave, awaiting headliners Nine Inch Nails to bring the festival at Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds to its close. Us and a few thousand others.
I’ve lost my taste for festivals, I have to admit. The crowds, the heat, the chaos, my unhealthy appetite for dagwood dogs … but this was NIN, and in the absence of a sideshow, what’s a fan to do?
Some bands are worth the discomfort. Some songwriters have a knack for hitting that spot deep inside, just so. For me, it’s Ian Curtis, Jeff Martin (touring Oz in Feb and May), Trent Reznor. Add a dollop of Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration album and you’ve pretty much got the Nahrung soundtrack, right there. Or at least, my therapy.
Because that’s what music can do, right? It takes us away, it holds up a mirror, it provides insight and catharsis and, at worst, pleasant distraction.
At Soundwave, there were little bits of Nahrung therapy session all over the place. The Joy Division t-shirts in a market stall (2 for $55, cheers for that — Unknown Pleasures and Love Will Tear Us Apart, thanks for asking), a lone Tea Party T-shirt on a punter (Interzone Mantras, a curious choice), Italian soft-metal outfit Lacuna Coil providing a pretty darn good cover of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence (was Cristina the only rock chick on stage today? Anyone?), and of course — NIN.
NIN. Main man Trent Reznor, helped create the industrial genre with his mix of rock, metal, angst and electronica. Brilliant lyricist, musician, performer. And tonight, he was at the top of his game.
The rock pigs might have been disappointed. We got a good dose of latest album The Slip, then head-banging fave March of the Pigs, and then a divergence into somewhat unfamiliar terrain: music NOT to mosh to. Music to think about, to feel, without a fist raised in the air. Reznor said it had been a hard week, that the band had drawn up a set list of songs they wanted to play. It was NIN as therapy for NIN. Wicked. And we all got the treatment.
I didn’t recognise all the tunes, the instrumental might have been off the Slip or Ghosts, some songs might have been b-sides or from Broken or The Fragile with which I’m only passingly familiar — Bad Fan Boy.
There were hard rockin’ classics — Terrible Lie, Hand that Feeds, Head Like A Hole — and more recent rip-snorters from Year Zero.
The lighting was superb, of course, we expect nothing less from NIN, and the recently constituted live band (NIN being Reznor) — guitarist Robin Finck, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Ilan Rubin — were more than up to the task. (I interviewed Johnsen, best known for playing with Beck and helping Macy Gray pen some hits, ahead of the tour; you can read it here.)
Johnsen, for instance, got to play cello, guitar and sampler thingy; Finck backed up on keys and xylophone thingy; Rubin had two drum kits to play with, one with electric pads.
And Reznor was impassioned, feeling his words, humble before the crowd, grateful. Buffed, black shirt and jeans saturated on a humid Brisbane night under the dizzying array of stage lights, he put his heart into it and we gave ours back.
I was particularly impressed at his decision to close the evening with Hurt. People called for an encore but I disagreed; it was the perfect end to a remarkable session.
Ah, Trent. Doesn’t it make you feel better?