Meltdown Festival: Nine Inch Nails at the Royal Festival Hall
Tonight’s Meltdown Festival stages two rock bands, Pittsburgh’s Black Moth Super Rainbow (BMSR) and headline act, Nine Inch Nails (NIN)
The experimental electronic rockers, BMSR, bring tracks from a selection of their albums. Starting with Tooth Decay, the five-piece are obscured by the blue stage lighting, drummer Iffernaut’s face covered in a black balaclava, while singer-songwriter Tobacco’s vocals are auto-tuned with a vocoder. Surprisingly switching to a more synth pop and lo-fi vibe with Dreamsicle Bomb – not unlike that of fellow American Com Truise – the American support act sound indistinguishable to other electronic acts, and it doesn’t help that Tobacco’s vocals are all but drowned by the instruments. BMSR are good on record but, unfortunately, the nuances in production do not carry over to the live performance on this occasion, the band leaving without any rapport or introduction of themselves.
Industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails take to the stage to deafening cheers. Even before the lights turn on, you can surmise there will be a visually electric show: as Haunted When the Minutes Drag by Love and Rockets plays over the speakers, the atmosphere is buzzing, fans dressed in black gothic style clothes everywhere you turn; Trent Reznor himself appears in grey trousers, dark T-shirt and combat boots, rocking the army look. Bright white stage lights surround the band, turning on and off rhythmically. NIN don’t waste time in setting the mood, diving right into the heavy tone of Somewhat Damaged, Reznor screaming vocals “too fucked up to carry on” from their influential 1990s album, The Fragile. With the Day the World Went Away leading gently in, it soon burgeons into darker territory, with synthesisers and electric guitars producing a sound that shrouds the entire venue. The Frail again shows NIN at their softer side, Reznor playing sensitively at the piano, with beautiful lighting depicting the aurora borealis.
So far, the headliners have traversed through The Fragile in formulaic fashion; their lyrics fit into the emo genre, the material is a blend of cynical lyrics and grating instrumentals, perfect for feelings of rebelliousness. Terrible Lie sees the act execute with a little more melody, the music still very current, not sounding more than two decades old, Reznor throwing his guitar passionately, every bit the rock star, while March of the Pigs, from their other influential album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral, is a thrashing cornucopia of guitars and heavy drumming, with alternating verses of calm.
The subtler Me, I’m Not sounds relaxed, less heavy in comparison to previous tracks, Reznor following this with a humble gratitude to “our hero and friend Robert Smith”. Performing Ahead of Ourselves and God Break Down the Door, both from their latest LP, Bad Witch, NIN aren’t scared to break sonic boundaries in their own style. Trump’s words echo hauntingly, which conveniently runs into a rendition of David Bowie’s I’m Afraid of Americans, a crowd pleaser no doubt: political and current, it’s a highlight of the set.
NIN are undoubtedly virtuosos who have been performing for decades, and they know how to put on a good show. Reznor states his appreciation saying: “We’re grateful that people still care” and how the band are trying to “make sense of the world” with their music. Playing many tracks from The Fragile, he confronts the history behind the record, having gone through a bleak period in his life, but tonight’s performance shows the frontman at his peak.
A cover of Gary Numan’s Metal sets the start to the encore; after some technical difficulties, fog machines blow dry ice over the stage atmospherically, and the band complete tonight’s intimate gig with Hurt, the soft acoustic electric guitar creeping steadily, stunning and fragile.
Photos: Victor Frankowski
For further information and future events visit Nine Inch Nails’ website here.
Listen to Nine Inch Nail’s new single God Break Down the Door here: