Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NIN/JA, fickle fans, expletives and videos: My farewell to one of my favourite bands.

I was in the process of trying to find the exact set list for the NIN/JA show that took place on June 5th in New Jersey...and I'm coming across an awful lot of...well, frankly, bullshit.

Read the comments to this Rolling Stone article as a primer. Hell, just read the article itself. What the...?

I found out from a friend maybe three days ahead of time that NIN would be performing before Jane's Addiction. (If I'd had half a brain I'd have seen the huge notice on the NIN website.) I said, "Wha...?" and then got over it. Because despite not even owning any of JA's albums, I loved the '90s alt scene, and I don't care in what order they play; seeing NIN and JA share a stage is like a rock-gasm for people who were heavy into the club circuit throughout the last decade. Having Tom Morello tossed in for good measure was simply a cherry on top of it all.

I consider myself a pretty good critic as far as concerts go. Lord knows I've seen enough of them to be called, if not an expert, at least thoroughly informed on the subject. I've seen NIN five times (or is it 6...? Yes, it's six! HOLY CRAP), so I have a basis for comparison. And I would say that the NIN/JA show was easily the second best I have ever experienced. (The absolute best was on the summer leg of the With Teeth tour in '06 - it cannot be beat. Not only did Bauhaus open for them, but the electricity in the crowd, the gorgeous summer night by the lake - same venue as the one they played the other night - and the amazing set list and brand new light show were just unbeatable.)

Having said that, one could argue that it's because I've gotten to see them so many times that I can feel as fulfilled and as happy with whatever Trent wants to throw at us as I am. I do wonder how I'd have felt if the NIN/JA experience had been my first (and, as it appears more and more each day, the LAST). But on the other hand, I know NIN's catalogue backwards and front, sideways and then some, and I didn't learn it from seeing them live; I already owned it all going in. I'd be hard pressed to come up with a set list that would disappoint me, because I love stuff from every Halo that has been put out.

Trent made it very public that there would be no flashy light show this time, and that they wouldn't be playing Closer and all of the other mainstream pseudo-fan favourites. They just played those in November! (And, okay, AGAIN, I will grant that Toronto is insanely lucky because we've almost always gotten to see NIN both at the start and at the end of a tour, so we get two different shows with different set lists etc., while other cities get passed over completely. I saw one Fragile show, two on the With Teeth tour, two for Year Zero, and then the NIN/JA set. All in my own city. That's lucky. I do get that.) The point is that Trent made it abundantly clear that this was the Wave Goodbye tour, and it was for the die-hards, not the poseurs. Silly little blonde sluts who like to bump and grind to Closer at their local sleazy dance club were not the target audience.

(My clip, which sadly did not go far enough to let everyone hear me screaming, "IT WON'T GIVE UP IT WANTS ME DEAD GODDAMN THIS NOISE INSIDE MY HEAD"...because I wanted to dance, not film. Sorry 'bout that. I do know there's complete video of it elsewhere on YouTube, though!)

So instead of the same old regurgitated set list for the umpteenth time, Trent opted to give the fans something else. Something about which, at least at the Toronto show, people in the audience were SO pumped. Nearly every song they played, you would hear thousands of people exclaiming things like, "Holy shit!! I never thought I'd hear this live!!" I was one of those people. I had to apologize to Ian, my intrepid partner in concert-crime, who is a relative NIN novice, because I'd sent him a bunch of MP3s to prep him for what he was likely to hear...and I think only ONE out of the 30+ tracks I'd given him ended up being played. But he was pretty amused to see me jumping up and down - literally - because we were getting to hear Heresy instead of Closer, and I'm Afraid Of Americans instead of Only. (You really must check out this awesome footage of IAOA from our show.) And despite only even recognizing two of the songs at all, and never getting to see the mind-blowing light shows that had marked the previous Lights In The Sky tours, and being younger than me (just shy of 24) and therefore never being exposed to NIN as part of his nightlife, he enjoyed it. I don't think you could help but enjoy it; there was just an energy in the crowd that was infectious, and everyone was simply there to have a great time. And I think everyone did - certainly everyone around ME, and the reports from other friends at the show were the same. [ ETA: Browsing the NIN.Com boards, I see that the West Palm Beach thread is mostly negativity, whereas nearly everything said about our Toronto show was over-the-top positive. In the WPB thread, there is - seriously!! - a guy who says they were "entitled" to an encore. A contradiction in terms, to be sure, Einstein. ] It was a nice way to say goodbye to the longtime fans, and clearly it was enjoyable for some of the newcomers as well.

I'll have to ask my friend EmCee to weigh in on this, too, because we were at the same show and she was in the section ahead of me, so she might be able to lend more insight into the vibe. But from everything I witnessed, people were having a blast, even while the sun was still up! (NIN in daylight is, truly, a weird experience.)

[ETA: EmCee's response to all of this: Yeah, I was at that show and people were totally into it from my POV.

Hell, I know I loved it. I've never gotten to see NIN before and I am absolutely in no way disappointed with this being what is most likely the only one I'll ever see. IMHO, it was tight.

Those tickets are pretty. Shame mine says [my brother's name instead of mine]. Oh well. Still look all shiny. Nicest looking ticket I've got on my board.

Anyone who bitches and moans and acts all entitled can go DIAF.

Well said, my friend. ]

Back to the über-bitching that's spreading across the 'net, then.

(It's really not so bad, you know, once you get past the taste...)

what a fuckn letdown man. if theyre really gone now an that was what we were left with than FUCKYOU NIN.

I'm reading comments like these, and just shaking my head. Everyone's entitled to their (grammatically flawed) opinion, and of course there will be shows that are better than others, but come ON.

Went to the Austin show and it was awful. NIN was lackluster and sounded weak. Audience was not into the music. Trent recently tweeted about it: “Not one of our better shows. Despite our efforts we seemed unable to win over the crowd. Texas ends with a whisper.” about 4 hours ago from Tweetie -
Trent should buckle down and focus on the tour and not his cheapo girlfriend.

And then this:

There were a lot of very pissed off people at the West Palm show… NIN opened for Jane’s, but nobody knew that was going to happen. I guess my fault for showing up a little late, got there around 7:45 and NIN was already on stage. Then they didn’t even come out for an encore. The stage looked like they were going to come back out for a bit and then all of a sudden the lights came on and they started setting up the stage for Jane’s. Heard a lot of booing… Lots of pissed off people…


Now, see, here's the thing. A lot has to happen to make a concert orgasmic. There has to be a certain synergy between band and audience. Sometimes it happens organically; sometimes it has to be pushed a bit before things start rolling; sometimes there's a misfire and the connection just doesn't take. Keeping NIN as the sole example (just because it could get messy if I start comparing good vs bad shows when I'm talking about totally different bands/crowds/expectations etc.), I can say that I was underwhelmed at the winter show of the With Teeth tour. Part of it was probably because the one I'd seen in July, only a few months previous, was The Best Show Ever. But there were other elements, too - the electricity wasn't the same. The set list wasn't as good. Hell, our seats were crap. But not in a million years would I go and post something like those comments above just because things weren't firing on all cylinders.

I like this response, given by another Rolling Stone reader:

Hey Austin...How can you be mad at the band. They feed off the energy of the crowd. You got no feeling….you fail.

This is SO TRUE. Sometimes there'll be a crowd who come in with this indignant attitude right off the bat, thinking about what they paid for their ticket and having a specific set list in mind, and it's as though they've set themselves up to be disappointed. I've been to other shows like that, with other bands; you can feel it before the show even starts. Instead of there being a buzz in the crowd as everyone comes together in anticipation of what they're gonna see when the curtain comes up and the lights go down, there's an expectation. As though the band is a bunch of trained circus dogs who are expected to perform a certain set of tricks, and one false move totally kills the moment. The band is up there, working their asses off, and the crowd is barely moving. Because OH NOES THEY DIDN'T PLAY MY FAVOURITE SONG!!

To which I say, "If you want to hear your favourite songs in the 'right' order in the 'right' way, STAY THE FUCK HOME and LISTEN TO YOUR iPOD."

For the record, NIN has only ever played my "must-hear" songs once each. I wait with bated breath every single show, hoping to hear the first notes of Ringfinger and The Wretched. Only once, ever, did that happen. And y'know what? THE SHOWS WERE STILL AWESOME.

And god forbid if the band acknowledges a night when the crowd wasn't feelin' it. Because then you incite remarks like this:

Did you see Trent Reznor whining about the Austin show on Twitter? Really, is he surprised? IT SUCKED! HE SOUNDED LIKE SHIT. He needs to grow up and stop being a ass. He’s “sad” that the crowd wasn’t into it, well if he had put together a tighter show, we would have been into it.

Now, okay, I wasn't at the Austin show. I can say nothing with any authority about how good or bad it was. And I've seen Trent whine (OY OY OY), and I've rolled my eyes at it too. But the remark he made about that one concert wasn't whiny. And when fans take something like that and twist it around, why on earth do they expect their supposed favourite band to work nearly as hard next time?? If they can do no right, why bother?

I'm trying to find a comment that was made about how Trent "didn't interact at all with the audience" and that was a bad thing. I'll post it here if I can find it. But y'know what? TRENT DOESN'T TALK TO THE AUDIENCE. With the exception of ONE of the six shows I've seen - during which he actually dragged a stool to the front of the stage and sat on it to explain why he likes bringing NIN to Toronto more often than anywhere else, and what makes these shows stand out to him (it was quite a surprise to the whole crowd; fifteen thousand people fell instantly silent to hear what he had to say, and it was really very touching and kind of surreal) - he has always kept it to "thank you" and "good night" and that is IT. What the hell kind of NIN fan are you if you're expecting him to, like, get everyone singing Head Like A Hole in the round???

(The idea of that just made me LOL.)

Maybe it's just that the stereotypical NIN fan is all angsty and only happy when they're pissed off, or something. Get a load of this:

There was a BIG problem for those of us that bought Atlanta pre-sale tickets. This was COMPLETELY screwed up, they didn’t have the tickets ready at all! There were literally hundreds of people waiting in line to get their tickets. Once you got to the window (which took over an hour), you had to give them your name, and then someone had to run out and find them somewhere and bring them to the window. It was a total fiasco. I got there just before 7pm, and we didn’t get our tickets until almost 8:15pm. We missed Streetsweeper and half of the NIN set. And we were actually lucky because we were at the front of the line. I feel bad for all those behind us that were waiting. I WILL NEVER GO TO ANOTHER NIN CONCERT. That’s what you get for being greedy old man Reznor.


This is NIN's fault how, exactly...? Sounds to me like the venue is shit. 'Cos we got NIN.Com presale tickets, and we were treated like royalty. No lines anywhere, a separate entrance, better seats (without the insane "convenience fees" from TicketBastard on them, no less)... Hell, even the tickets themselves are pretty! (I still have to take a photo of mine. ETA: Okay...that was harder than I thought.)

It is a hell of a lot harder to photograph a shiny ticket in bad light than I expected it to be. Further attempts to show the shiny prettiness of my ticket did not turn out terribly well. But you get the point. Probably. It's SHINY and it has my name on it and it's purple and silver and stuff. Photos don't do it justice.

Anyway, I guess my point is that this is turning out to be one of the more controversial and talked-about tours that I've ever seen, and I'm genuinely shocked at how much of the talk is negative. I've done my fair share of bitching about certain concerts (is there a soul alive who hasn't heard my kvetching about the 2005 U2 gig where Bono lectured us all to call our PM - he even had the phone number up on all of the big-screens for us! HOW THOUGHTFUL - to get Canada to "drop the debt", and then told us how we could have better spent the $200 it cost each of us to see the fucking show???!?). Some concerts deserve to be bitched about. And as I've said, it is ALL a matter of opinion, and every show will strike something different in every member of the audience. But from where I was sitting (literally and figuratively), my assessment was that Trent Reznor went the extra mile to give his actual fans a proper farewell - from playing rare and thrilling stuff, to controlling the ticket prices (honestly, $75 to see three of the biggest music icons of my generation?!? WOW) and offering better seats/easier access/nicer treatment to the .Com crowd, to making sure that everyone was allowed to bring whatever cameras they wanted to bring without getting hassled by security - and for all of his efforts, he's gotten more shitty feedback than any of the truly awful bands or shows I've ever seen.

I don't blame him for waving goodbye. If my "fans" were as greedy and thankless as the most vocal ones I've seen thus far, I'd have quit long before Trent did.

1 comment:

Polly said...

And I'm kicking myself because I've never seen NIN live, and was all set to go to NIN/JA in West Palm and ended up not able to go.

I dug your post, and felt where you're coming from.