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Nine Inch Nails Tension 2013 Xcel Energy Center Review
La Mer

As a music fan, I'm probably some kind of strange freak. My two all time favorite bands couldn't really be further apart in sound and style. It shouldn't even be feasible to love both as much as I do---and yet love them both I do.

I'm on one hand a lifelong Rolling Stones fan, born and bred with the music in my ears as early as four years old. My first album I ever had was Steel Wheels. I was 6. My mother dubbed her cassette copy for me, and I played it until it finally broke. For sentimental reasons I hold onto it. I've been lucky enough to see them perform live three times. There's nothing like a Stones show or their music, and they're forever in my blood.

Yet, I'm also a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I know. How? I got into them in my college years. It's complicated and a bit different than being a Stones fan. I was dabbling into other music at the time, and a friend pushed me to listen to them. My first impressions were not pleasant. It was loud and noisy and abrasive and it rubbed me all kinds the wrong way. This man was screaming rage and fury and snarling all over all these tracks. The accompanying “music” was anything but as far as I was concerned. It was loud and unnecessary and unrelenting and just too much. It kinda sounded like a damn blender in its death throes and I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be so GOOD about this Nine Inch Nails. It just sounded awful to me.

But then I came across some of the “softer” side to Nine Inch Nails. I stumbled over songs like “A Warm Place,” and “La Mer,” and “The Frail.” Piano or strings were here. There was no singing or yowling or anger. Just melancholy and beauty and a strange softness that revealed some form of vulnerability that just gripped me. Oddly, the more I listened to these songs, I realized all of those elements were in the noisier, louder, and more abrasive songs.

So, I gave them another listen. It was still unsettling and off-putting, but the more I listened the more I found I couldn't turn it off and before I knew it, I was in love with Nine Inch Nails. I wanted to figure out why, so I kept listening.

I went to my first NIN concert for the With Teeth tour at the Hammerstien Ballroom. I was foolish enough to climb into the pit for that. I knew better. I knew I was too small. There was no way a 5'4” 130 lb woman had any business trying to get up to the rail and stay there for the duration of a Nine Inch Nails mosh pit show. I was thrashed well and good and had to be circled towards the back or succumb to the heat stroke building not to mention the relentless beating my kidneys took.

Why on earth would I ever go see this band again? Ever? Well, the next night I ended up in seats, watching from a far---and you know what? I fell deeper in love with NIN.


Fast forward to the Tension 2013 tour. I had found out, after a five year hiatus, that Nine Inch Nails was hitting the road again and I squeed in glee. I had to go see the show. I'd be crazy NOT to. So I put the money down to see them play at the Twin Cities's greatest concert venue, Xcel Energy Center, and waited in anticipation for September 28th to arrive.

It finally came and when we finally took our seats and got ready to see the show, I was humming with joy. Our show was to be the first one on the tour docket, so I was so happy to see what Trent Reznor had in store for this tour. They came out playing songs off the new record before busting out some of the older songs to get the crowd going. It was loud. It was overwhelming. It was everything Nine Inch Nails is expected to be.

The best way to describe a Nine Inch Nails show is that Trent Reznor brutally assaults you with the loudest and heaviest sounds he can muster in his arsenal and you want to thank him for it. The bass in his music is like an endless unrelenting sonic boom just washing over you endlessly. The sound surrounds and encompasses and you are so ensnared by it that there's no escape---but you never ever want it to end. And Trent doesn't just assault with sound---he follows it up with lights and visuals that match the music perfectly.

This tour was no different. Trent has made use of screen work since The Downward Spiral era, and here he took that concept and made it 100 times better. He had two, one behind and one in front periodically, that would descend and obscure but not hide the band. While your ears were being attacked by the heavy sounds and snarls, your eyes were being stabbed with strobes and bright colors---mostly brilliant whites and reds, sometimes electric blues or neon yellows.


I kept tabs on the general admission floor periodically, just to gauge how brutal the mosh pit was going to get. We ended up with the ultimate mosh pit song, “March of the Pigs,” fairly early in the show. Typically, when Trent Reznor barks out, “MARCH,” the pit surges full forward and becomes a big mass of chaos as the crowd tries to pummel one another as much as the music already is. Oh there was a surge forward and it seemed to get compact, but this time it didn't look nearly as insane as it had in the past. I check that as a win---not for lack of enthusiasm. Honestly, we're all a bit older---and a bit wiser I'd like to think---that we don't feel the NEED to crush one another to enjoy the show. That being said, no way in HELL do I ever get into one of those ever again.

Oh I get it. I know why people get into those insanity pits. Well, to a point. The song following “March of the Pigs,” was “Piggy,” and Trent has a habit of coming down to the front of the pit to touch hands and snarl directly to fans. Many feel it's worth the risk for that opportunity. Nope. Sorry. I'm too small for that.

This tour was also different in another way. Nine Inch Nails doesn't have backup singers usually. It's usually just the guitar player backing Trent up on some select choruses, like the one in “Terrible Lie,” and such. Not so in Tension 2013. Trent had two female singers with him---and one voice nagged at me endlessly. I kept thinking of my Stones heritage and a particular backup singer for them for years---Lisa Fischer. The voice sounded so familiar, but I dismissed it and allowed myself to rock out to the songs being played. I enjoyed the flavor they added and how it made the performance even bigger and better.

This show being the first on the tour didn't mean it didn't have hiccups. The funny thing about Trent Renzor and Nine Inch Nails (They're the same thing), is how different Trent's singing voice is from his talking voice. He's howling fury or snarling rage or darkly slithering into your ear---and then he starts talking and he's so mild mannered and soft spoken---well if you can look past the swearing. We're rocking out full throttle, bombarded by the relentless barrage that NIN on stage can produce when everything goes black and suddenly the void of sound is deafening instead.


A small spotlight turns on and Trent is standing in it to apologize for the stoppage. He says quietly, “Someone kicked a plug out somewhere. Let's take one second to make sure we've got our shit together. Hold on.”

The crowd gets a little restless, but not me. I'm just thrilled to be at the show and a bit honored that he picked Minnesota to start everything off in no less. It's been awhile since I've seen NIN and I just never ever want the show to end so if he has to fix something before bombarding us again, so be it.

They launch into some more new tracks from Hesitation Marks and we're kinda sorta back where we were before the snafu. I only managed to listen to the new album a couple times before going, so the songs weren't brand new brand new, but they weren't super familiar yet so I didn't know the words. I just let the cacophony of sounds and lights hit me as I enjoyed the show. A guy in front of us was really into the show and he was often dancing up on his feet fully into the show. He was so engaged and I loved how happy this show made him---and in return me!

Having gone to concerts off and on since the age of 12, I've seen the evolution cell phones have had on the experience. Used to be taking ANY photos would be frowned upon and cameras were forbidden. Here, we had people snapping away. Guy in front of us, dancing like mad, had his cell out and did several panoramas starting with the stage and circling back around to capture everyone around his vicinity. It's kinda surreal how far we've come in terms of fans capturing the moment in real time!

Nine Inch Nails assaulted us with the endless rhythms and electronic beats and heavy guitars with a mix of new and old---and then the bottom fell out. The softer side that I fell in love with originally---that led to me to understand Trent's music fully---is most beautiful live. The serenity and melancholy of “A Warm Place,” washed over us in its sonic beauty and in vibrant blues. I held my breath while it played, my heart swelling with its grace. There's nothing like it.


It led up to the starter of The Fragile, “Somewhat Damaged,” and the crowd knew those words. It was a nice segue, the strings going along with this song brilliantly placed. We were thrust back into the brutal and beautiful noise, howling our fury right along with Trent Reznor himself. Nothing compares to doing that. Ever. As one we started to chant, “Broken, bruised, forgotten, sore, too fucked up to care anymore.” There's a metaphysical element to that experience, singing these lyrics. It's almost as if our own rages---whatever they may be---melt away.

Trent seems to know that, because he busted out “Wish” from his angriest record, Broken. If it had been loud up until now, the monster chords of the guitar just hit us in waves as we all sang along, screaming in fury. Nothing like getting to howl “bad luck fist fuck” with an arena full of people. Cathartic is what this experience really is. Nothing like the rage this song and album contains and having it live here is an odd way to release it harmlessly into the air.

I could feel myself screaming myself hoarse---and I loved every single minute of it.

This segment of the show was a barrage of well known songs to the fans in the house, “Only” being a highlight. But we all know the song the fans wait for--- “Head Like a Hole.” As one mass we certainly shout the words, rocking hard to the music as Trent brings his first big hit to the stage after all these years. Somehow it doesn't age, forever as good as it was back in 1989. We all chanted, “Head like a hole, black as your soul, I'd rather die than give you control” like the mantra it is.

Another snafu made it difficult for Trent to introduce the band. Of course the “push the fucking button” speech about the lights was gold. But the shock I felt when he finally revealed the back up singers was incredible. Lisa. Fischer. I sat stunned. My ears hadn't lied. They hadn't lied at all. I KNEW her voice instantaneously in my subconscious. It was incredible to hear her sing with Nine Inch Nails, her beautiful voice adding a layer to the music I never knew it had been missing. She's a steal from the Stones and somehow my two favorite bands had somehow collided.

I kept my eyes most of the night on Trent, but now I was flicking over towards Lisa, just amazed she was on stage, too.


The show closed with “Hurt,” Trent's most emotional song in his catalog. It's heartbreaking and powerful and somehow I always feel a little choked up when I hear it live. We as a crowd sang along with the gripping lyrics---and while cell phones have changed much of the concert experience, several had the classic lighters aloft to bring in natural fire to coincide with Trent's display on the screen of heartbreaking death and decay.

The show ended on the last line of the song, “If I could start again/a million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find away.”

Before the last echoes could reverberate out, the lights came on and we knew that was it. It was perhaps my favorite Nine Inch Nails show ever---and thanks to the internet, I can relive it forever. Find it here if you want to hear the awesome show.