In recent years, London’s Royal Albert Hall has increased in popularity with alternative musicians and artists. Host to almost every mainstream televised music event, you’d associate the venue more with the Queen’s birthday celebrations than the pioneers of industrial rock. But with second-to-none acoustics, this is a genuinely stunning venue for the occasion.
Tonight we’ve bought tickets for the VIP experience provided by the Royal Albert Hall. We’re greeted by our hosts for the evening who couldn’t be more helpful if they tried. It’s everything you’d
expect from an ‘executive’ experience. Upon arrival we’re taken into a quiet bar filled with other guests who, luckily, have also ditched the usual suit and tie this room is probably saved for, and
are all donning black t-shirts, distinct only by the guest passes around their necks. We’re given access to a free bar before and after bands with a selection of canapés. It’s all very nice but just
doesn’t seem like the right occasion for it – it’s all a bit too civilized. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant experience for the very short time we’re not in the main hall. With a ‘West End Theatre’
style announcement over the tannoy we head down to take our seats on the lowest tier, right next to the standing area for tonight’s support act Black Moth Super Rainbow.
With one of the least suggestive names I’ve ever come across, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the Pittsburgh based band. With more laptops on-stage than instruments they play a really chilled-out set of experimental electronica. With all vocals being sung through a vocoder there’s no crowd interaction throughout the set but it’s really not required, the music speaks for itself.
Utilising two backdrops, there’s a small screen directly behind the band for all primary visuals and a much larger screen further back for all secondary visuals. This creates a brilliant almost 3D effect where the primary image, for example a forest scene, is then layered by the secondary image, for example snow falling down. The visual and audio performance tonight are intrinsically linked to one another. Whilst a lot more chilled out and down tempo than the remainder of the evening, it sets the stage nicely ahead of tonight’s headline act.
Black Moth Super Rainbow are:
Tobacco (Thomas Fec) – Lead vocals/Vocoder
The Seven Fields of Aphelion (Maux Boyle) – Synthesisers
Pony Diver – Synth Player
Iffernaut – Drums
STV SLV – Bass
You can find them at:
The stage is setup with a huge backdrop very reminiscent of ‘The Downward Spiral’ album cover and, as the set time approaches, the stage begins to fill with smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. As the lights drop and the band walk out, the music starts and Trent Reznor leans into the microphone with his trademark stance. Goosebumps…we’re about to witness something very, very special…
Through the incredible amount of smoke they’ve pumped out onto the stage, shine a series of lights through set opener ‘Branches / Bones’ which has everyone on the dance floor moving. A short and sweet start to proceedings, the lights drop momentarily and the unmistakable intro to ‘Wish’ starts. The smoke continues to fill the stage so that you can barely make out the band save for their shadows until two huge banks of lights strobe out through the band over the audience. The Royal Albert Hall is known for its incredible acoustics but this sound is like nothing I’ve ever heard. It’s so loud yet so clear at the same time, you can easily latch on to each instrument, it’s almost as if you can see the sound filling the huge auditorium. This is never more prevalent than when they play ‘March of the Pigs’ the raw, visceral energy emanating from the band straight into the audience who, understandably, simultaneously lose the plot.
So effortlessly, almost expectantly, they transition seamlessly into ‘Piggy’. That’s something that’s really prevalent tonight, something that makes NIN a truly incredible live band – the
completely different feel of these songs live compared to the record. The draw to the record is the unique electronic twist Trent Reznor has applied to the archetypal rock band format since he came
over to London in 1989 to record Pretty Hate Machine. The dissonant, uncomfortable feeling so many of the tracks give you in the way that they’re recorded, all of that is withdrawn but, at the same
time, perfectly encapsulated in this performance. Frankly, it’s a fucking work of art. The pure, raw honesty of the songs is thrown all over the audience unapologetically by Reznor but the music is
so eloquently translated from studio to stage by the band. Most notably at the end of ‘Piggy’ when drummer Ilan Rubin plays the most incredible drum outro, perfectly capturing the feel of the
original ending to the song which was simply Reznor sound-checking the microphones in the studio. In addition to all of this, a member of the crew follows Reznor around the stage with an orange
spotlight on him throughout the song which creates a fantastic high contrast with the deep, black-light blues that emanate across the audience. I could honestly write pages and pages about this one
song along, it was mesmerising.
Another really stand out performance from the set both visually and audibly is ‘Copy of A’. Quite possibly the most NIN song Reznor has written to date, the lighting somehow manages to almost blackout the band completely whilst projecting their shadows on the huge screen behind them. It looks more like a music video than a light show, the shadows all spinning around the screen, seemingly endlessly repeating as Reznor’s vocals echo around the room.
“How are we today?” – It’s almost exactly an hour into the set and we’re treated to our first crowd interaction of the evening.
“This is the last time we’re going to play this next song, we want to say goodbye tonight”. He’s referring to a cover of ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ off the last record to be released by David Bowie. It’s abundantly clear just how much Bowie meant to Trent, not only musically but as a friend. He goes on to say how NIN would never have existed if it hadn’t been for David Bowie and he leaves everything out there on the stage as his voice trembles through the chorus, a truly awe-inspiring tribute.
Rather fittingly, for ‘Burning Bright (Field on Fire)’ the entire stage and most of the auditorium fills up with smoke, blown all over the stage with bright, hot red lights shining up through the smoke and it looks like the band are stood on the top of a volcano, almost goading it to erupt. The song builds up and up throughout the performance, getting bigger, somehow taller, and all of the pillars that line the top tier of this incredible building flicker with red spot lights just to remind you that you are completely inside this performance, you’re not just watching it, you’re part of it. It’s moments like this that make this a truly immersive performance.
Followed by a cover of Joy Divison’s ‘Digital’ and ‘The Hand That Feeds’ the audience don their dancing shoes once more and the energy levels peak as they close the set with ‘Head Like a Hole’. During the encore, everyone except Atticus Ross picks up a guitar and they form a small circle on the stage. With absolutely no idea what to expect, you can hear Trent say to his bandmates “1, 2, 3, 4” and just like that, they play an incredible rendition of ‘The Day The World Went Away’. Followed by the similarly excellent ‘Hurt’, Reznor clutches onto his forearm throughout the song, most poignantly when singing “The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting” just to remind us where all this music comes from - through all the sorrow and misery that is so poetically and honestly portrayed to everyone in the attendance tonight.
The audience are right there with him in the performance, all hanging on every word he says, arms around one another, some in tears as they watch on.
Branches / Bones
March of the Pigs
Ahead of Ourselves
God Break Down the Door
Parasite (How to Destroy Angels cover)
Copy of A
I Can’t Give Everything Away (David Bowie cover)
The Background World
The Great Destroyer
Burning Bright (Field on Fire)
Digital (Joy Division cover)
The Hand That Feeds
Head like a Hole
The Day the World Went Away
Nine Inch Nails are:
Trent Reznor – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Atticus Ross – Keyboards, Programming
Robin Finck – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alessandro Cortini – Bass Guitar
Ilan Rubin – Drums
You can find them at: