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Live music review: Nine Inch Nails at Hollywood Palladium

September 3, 2009 | 11:13 am

In the first L.A. concert of its farewell tour, the band played 'Downward Spiral' in its entirety, then performed other, mostly older, material with the same relentless power and fury.

"Nothing can stop me now," Trent Reznor snarled as he lunged toward his audience during the song "Piggy" at the outset of Nine Inch Nails' sold-out show at the Hollywood Palladium on Wednesday. The statement held some irony, given that Reznor has announced he's retiring his band, as a live act at least.

It's been 15 years since "The Downward Spiral," the concept album about loneliness and despair that contained that song, became the most successful industrial music album in history and catapulted Reznor squarely into the mainstream spotlight. Now that the front man has decided to say goodbye to the stage, he's reaching back to the seminal collection.

At the first of the series of L.A. shows being billed as NIN's last, he led his band through "Downward Spiral" in its entirety, then continued to run through a selection of almost exclusively older material.

Reznor might be in a very different place in his life from when he originally wrote and performed those songs -- he's since recovered from the substance abuse that gripped him in those dark days -- but they retained the same relentless power and rage.

The setting certainly helped; the raw emotion that Reznor taps into is communicated much more effectively in the club environment. The proximity of the musicians to the audience generated real electricity, with the songs facilitating a kind of communal catharsis.

"I take you where you want to go / I give you all you need to know," Reznor bellowed during opener "Mr. Self Destruct," the capacity crowd surging toward the stage in waves.

NIN's back catalog is filled with songs about angst, anger and alienation, and in part it was Reznor's ability to channel dark impulses through his lyrics and music that won him a devoted following. His audience has shifted demographically over the span of his 20-year career, but it was the die-hards who turned up Wednesday for the two-hour-plus performance.

They were rewarded with a comprehensive set list that featured a number of B-sides and other surprises and a band that sounded like a cohesive, energized unit, despite Reznor being sick and admitting at one point that he could barely hear himself sing. In fact, this morning it was announced that tonight's planned concert at the Henry Fonda Theater had to be canceled on doctor's orders.

"Burn" dates to the "Downward Spiral" period, and thematically it fit in seamlessly with that album's more aggressive tracks. "Gave Up" and "Suck," both from NIN's sophomore effort, "Broken," sounded especially compelling, moving with kinetic and sensual energy.

But it was an unexpected visit from new wave pioneer Gary Numan, whom Reznor introduced as a "vital influence" on NIN's sound, that nearly stole the show. With his spiky black hair and ankle boots, the 51-year-old English veteran fit right in, effortlessly taking command of the group as Reznor retreated to keyboards for two of Numan's songs. Together, they burnished the syncopated sheen of "Metal" and breathed renewed life and energy into the almost too-familiar "Cars."

The evening ended with "Head Like a Hole," the 1989 single that first broke NIN nationally. But the raised fist rant of a chorus, "I'd rather die than give you control" was oddly fitting.

With these final, more intimate dates, the last two of which are set to take place Saturday and Sunday, Reznor is taking his musical legacy into his own hands, ensuring that fans remember Nine Inch Nails the way he would want them to. He should be pleased -- he's crafted a visceral experience that won't be easy to forget.

--Gina McIntyre

Photo credit: Ann Johansson/For the LA Times