Live Music Review: Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails

NIN live

Author’s note: Yeah, this is over two months late. I’ve been extremely busy with clients and preparing for my art show. Better late than never, though, right? Father, forgive me. This is my first Old Music Tuesdays post since August 26th.

On Friday, August 22nd, I went to see the Soundgarden/Nine Inch Nails show at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine, California. Or as Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell put it, “This is that place that used to be called one thing, but now it’s named after some big corporation.” I have loved both of these bands since the 1990s, but I had never had the opportunity to see either one before. I had heard that Nine Inch Nails always uses a lot of heavy visuals in their stage show, so I was really looking forward to it. As with the Vampire Weekend concert, I had Maile in tow. She had recently gotten into Nine Inch Nails (by mistake) and was also excited to attend.

For the three people reading this who have never heard of these bands, they have both been around since the 80s. Soundgarden was part of the Seattle grunge invasion in the early 90s and had quite a few mainstream hit songs. Chris Cornell, the band’s singer, is consistently voted amongst the top rock vocalists of all time. Soundgarden broke up in the late 90s and Cornell joined with the members of Rage Against the Machine to form the supergroup Audioslave, to mixed reviews and success. Soundgarden reformed in 2012 and released a new record.

Nine Inch Nails is pretty far from Soundgarden on the musical spectrum. Trent Reznor, the mastermind behind the group and the only consistent member, creates dark electronic music. That’s the best way I can describe it, really. There are elements of synth, industrial, metal, new wave, pop, and even rap depending on the album/song. The cohesive element is the electronic tones. Fun fact: Reznor is also a Grammy and Oscar winner.

It was also my first time at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine. I wore my Groovy shirt to try to make some sales and generate some interest while we waited in line. (Why not combine work and play?) I figured that the overlap between Soundgarden & Nine Inch Nails fans and fans of the movie Army of Darkness was probably pretty big. I did sell a few on my site after the concert, so it worked! We arrived to the venue a bit late, so we missed all of Cold Cave, although I read on another concert review that they put on a good show. I listened to some of their stuff on YouTube, and it was pretty good. I’m not super disappointed that we missed them, though. (I was hoping that Irvine was going to be one of the Dillinger Escape Plan dates, but I think they were only on the East Coast leg of the tour.) Maile didn’t really care about missing Soundgarden, either, but I had to lay down the law. We were not going to miss them. It turns out that she liked Soundgarden live better than Nine Inch Nails.

Soundgarden started just after the sun went down, at 8pm sharp. The crowd went nuts. They opened their set with Searching With My Good Eye Closed, an oldie off their phenomenal album Badmotorfinger. Thankfully, they would end up playing three more songs off of that album. Due to a the band playing a shorter set than it would have been if they were the headliners, they really cut the filler and went straight for the hits. This was great for me as it was my first time seeing them play. I can see why veteran concert-goers may grumble about it, though.

The highlight for me was The Day I Tried to Live. Cornell’s voice was really cranked up to 11, and he showed the audience why he still deserves to be in the list of top rock vocalists. It gave both me and Maile chills. I was also delighted to see Kim Thayil wearing a Dillinger Escape Plan tee shirt. It’s good to see a bunch of jazz metal Jersey boys living the dream and get some respect, especially from rock legends like Soundgarden. *Fun fact: The Dillinger Escape Plan has covered both Soundgarden (Jesus Christ Pose) and Nine Inch Nails (Wish) on their covers album.

A few reviewers have commented that Soundgarden’s performance was lackluster or lazy. I didn’t think so, although admittedly I don’t have anything to compare it to as this is my only live experience with them. The only song in which I noticed any mistakes was Black Hole Sun, and that was mostly due to the lack of backing vocals from Matt Cameron. Cornell, I think, lost track and got a little over-ambitious. Other than the one hiccup, the rest of the set was very tight and energetic. Cornell joked with the audience about his home-made tee shirt and dedicated the set to their absent sound guy who was with his sick father.

Soundgarden

Setlist : Searching With My Good Eye Closed | Spoonman | Gun | Outshined | Jesus Christ Pose | Black Hole Sun | The Day I Tried to Live | My Wave | Blow Up the Outside World | Fell On Black Days | A Thousand Days Before | Rusty Cage | Beyond the Wheel

After Soundgarden’s set, the crew cleared the stage completely. All that was left was a white wall, and a greenish stage with all kinds of tape, rivets, and other debris littered across the floor. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when Trent Reznor jogged out to his keyboard and started playing in the middle of the minimalist setup. It was very unexpected and very cool. The opening track was Copy of A, off the new album. It was a great choice as the song starts out very simple and then sonic layers are gradually added. The same can be said of the stage. As each new piece of music came in, another band member would come out and join Reznor. The set dressing also became more intricate as the show went on. The first song mainly utilized screens and shadows, while later songs involved more LED screens and light patterns. Probably the most impressive visual piece was during the song Closer when Reznor’s face was being videotaped and transmitted onto the LED screens as a pixelated, digital monstrosity.

Nine Inch Nails’ set was broken up into eras, mainly, with the industrial rock songs grouped together separately from the more dance-y, dub sounding stuff. The light show was also tailored to each specific era. The Downward Spiral era was marked by red, creepy lights, bold monochrome light work, ominous shadows, and lots of smoke. The With Teeth era was cooler, bathed in blue light and more digital, pixelated visuals. Nine Inch Nails delivered on both the audio and visual and played a perfect show. My only complaint is that it only lasted 80 minutes. I could’ve probably stayed for 80 more.

While Cornell joked with us, Reznor barely spoke. He seemed to be focused completely on the music and the performance. Both performance methods work in their own ways, and I think they both did. This was the best show I’d seen all year, and I’m kicking myself for only now seeing these bands that I have loved for so long.

NIN Irvine

I really shot myself in the foot by waiting so long to write this review. I realized how much someone forgets after just two months. I hope this review was enjoyable anyway. If you’d like to read some reviews of this show that are more timely and detailed, please click here and here. Thanks for reading!

Setlist: Copy of A | Sanctified | Came Back Haunted | 1,000,000 | March of the Pigs | Reptile | Closer | Gave Up | Disappointed | Find My Way | The Great Destroyer | Eraser | Wish | Only | The Hand That Feeds | Head Like a Hole

Encore: Hurt

Soundgarden: ★★★★½ out of 5

Nine Inch Nails: ★★★★★ out of 5

Concert Reviews


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