Nine Inch Nails
Image courtesy flickr user kernelslacker

It would go against the trail-blazing spirit of Trent Reznor to use him as any sort of guideline, but it must be said that any arena rock band should turn to Reznor’s live show for inspiration. Every aspect of Sunday night’s show at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA was flawlessly executed, a well-conceived blend of the wants of both Reznor and his audience.

Dubbed the Lights in the Sky Tour, after a track on his recent release, The Slip, Reznor took the name and applied the basic translation in a complex presentation. Combining his innovative tendencies, his fondness for the highly conceptual, and his costly production spending habits, Reznor turned to Moment Factory for a visually stunning, interactive design. The Montreal-based new media and entertainment company has an impressive list of unconventional clients that includes Cirque du Soleil.

Primarily centered around three screens that could be raised and lowered, the lighting effects for the current Nine Inch Nails tour respond to either physical movement (a gap in television-like static that followed Reznor’s path along the stage in “Only”), or sonic movement, like giant versions of the iTunes Visualizer. During more tranquil moments, like the block of ambient, instrumental songs from Ghosts I-IV, the display engages the imagination, transporting the audience through picturesque scenery of swamps and deserts, pulled from the graphics that accompanied the release.

Discounting the majestic production, Nine Inch Nails are plenty engaging on their own merit. For such a personal artistic endeavor, it felt uncannily like a group effort. Guitarist Robin Finck, drummer Josh Freese and keyboardist Alessandro Cortini are all experienced Nine Inch Nails collaborators, and though bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen is a relative newbie, his gigs include stints with David Bowie, Beck and Air.

Though he doesn’t make a blatant effort to, Reznor naturally steals the show, however. Sticking to his soft-spoken side, he kept banter to a minimum. Sticking to his aggressive side, he careened around the stage, thrusting, jumping, throwing his hands up high and sending various items flying into the crowd.

The setlist was inspired, spanning each of the Nine Inch Nails albums, with the expected focus on The Slip and Ghosts I-IV. Reznor devised ways of keeping hits and older songs interesting: a brief segment from “The Only Time” stuck in right before the last verse of “Closer,” a stripped down version of “Piggy” (written on setlists as “Ghosts Piggy”), drawing out “Only” and making it a little less pop. If he’s tired of playing these songs, it never showed.

Nine Inch Nails: “Only” (download)

The only hiccup in the evening was courtesy of the DCU Center, who turned away yours truly for having a digital camera, and were extremely rude and unhelpful, even after explaining that I had travelled 6 hours to be there. Taking a leap of faith, I left my camera in the empathetic hands of the staff of the local Exxon gas station – many thanks go out to Matt and their staff, who took pity on me. Because of this, I missed opening act Deerhunter, whose new album Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. is a recent obsession.

The show was plenty worth those 45 aggravating minutes beforehand, and the resulting concert high shed some light on the impressive fanaticism that Reznor and Nine Inch Nails receive. Reznor knows how to entertain and enjoy himself and his fans, whether online or off.

Click the jump to see the setlist.
Letting You
March Of The Pigs
Head Down
The Frail
Gave Up
The Warning
The Great Destroyer
21 Ghosts III
14 Ghosts II
19 Ghosts III
Piggy (Ghosts)
The Greater Good
Terrible Lie
The Big Come Down
31 Ghosts IV
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole
Encore: Echoplex
Reptile (w/ Peter Murphy)
God Given
In This Twilight