Lolla Main Event: Nine Inch Nails (8/3)

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Two stories fell over Grant Park tonight. South at the AT&T stage, Kanye West brought fans along on his extraterrestrial expedition, whereas up north, industrial guru Trent Reznor wreaked havoc on the Bud Light stage, opening his fans’ eyes to an apocalyptic future. Most, if not all witnessing, should agree that NIN told the proper story to end Lollapalooza 2008. The only problem is scaling back and remembering it all.

Ah, where to begin…

Seconds after The National nailed “Mr. November” at the adjacent Playstation 3 stage, lasers of various colors teased fans, who seemed to disappear in the smoke billowing from the stage. It was a moment before Reznor took the mic, but already drummer Josh Freese was pummeling away into the beginning of “1,000,000”. When the famed frontman, aided by guitarist Robin Finck, programmer Alessandro Cortini, and newcomer bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, screamed out, “Kind of hard/ hard to see”, the crowd leapt into the air. Water, glow sticks, and even some lingerie were thrown forward, or in other words, a typical NIN crowd. Within one minute, everyone knew something special was going down.

It must be said that if Radiohead’s lightshow was beautiful, balmy, and advantageous to the band’s hypnotic melodies, then Reznor’s light brigade was energetic, frantic, and well, innovative. We’re big into keywords this weekend, so let’s just say this entire show was “innovative.” There was nothing that felt tired or generic; instead, most fans were too busy picking up their jaws off the ground. With three separate screens, all of which sectioned the stage, an ocean of background lights, and an arsenal of instruments, there was never a bored moment. Something was always happening and it was miles ahead of what one might possibly expect.

picture 1 Lolla Main Event: Nine Inch Nails (8/3)“March of Pigs” came in fairly early, conditioning fans for the unexpected series of hits that would come later. Even if it was only the third song in the set, The Downward Spiral hit rocked and rolled thousands of fans, who treated it more like a finish than a beginning. Not giving a breath to save, Reznor threw together a piano introduction to the scintillating and sexy “Closer”. Basked in red and walled in with a digital chaos that resembled Hades, the band slinked through the naughty track with ease, allowing the crowd to dance and gyrate as one. Something sexual? Absolutely.

One thing that fans expected, and probably feared, was the set list additions from this year’s instrumental album, Ghosts I-IV. For twenty minutes, Reznor directed his hired guns into a medley of the album’s best material, all enveloped by the greatest light show entertainment can offer today. From boggy swamps to desert terrains, the band traveled everywhere, without ever moving once. Even those who had been enjoying the harder hitting hits stood around with admiration and wonder. It was all very surprising.

Towards the end, after a slew of new material (including a captivating performance of With Teeth‘s “Only”), Reznor dusted some older tracks off. Both “Terrible Lie” and “Head Like A Hole” ripped fan’s minds open, the latter being one of the show’s highlights. Finck stood atop one of the amps, shredding religiously (those years holed up with Guns N’ Roses must have been rough), while Reznor, who was now bathed in sweat, tormented the stage like a tropical storm. It should have been the show’s finishing, if there wasn’t fifteen minutes left.

Against a digital, black and red “NIN” screen, fans knew better that Reznor and his gang were far from done. True to their faith, Reznor returned, though to another digital screen, this time ascribed with little white boxes. As his hands raced left and right, the boxes were filled red. It took a second, but the idea becamepicture 2 Lolla Main Event: Nine Inch Nails (8/3) clear, he was playing with his own live, digital beat maker. In due time, “Echoplex” off of this year’s The Slip, came out without a hitch. Tight, gripping, and solid were three ways to describe the encore opener.

“We were just kids from Cleveland who had no idea what we were doing,” Reznor admitted, after a nostalgic story on how he played the fest “17 summers ago.” Once he remarked (and apologized) for his vocals, of which were perfectly fine, he introduced his “special” song. Of course, this meant a rousing and hard hitting cut of “Hurt”, complete with thousands of lighters (not cell phones, mind you) that highlighted the sold out crowd. And as the band climaxed through “In This Twilight”, the backing screens exhibited a burning city (very reminiscent of the opening shots of Blade Runner) eventually blessed in sunlight, as the band took us into the clouds.

One by one, each band member signed off, until only Reznor was left, alone at the piano. Just like his timely start, he finished evenly, dropping the fans back off in reality… the chaotic Grant Park… with one horrible, final thought: Lollapalooza is over. In the end, it was the perfect bookend to Radiohead’s advantageous opening and quite possibly the greatest headlining experience this festival has had to offer.

Thanks Trent.

Set List:
01. 1,000,000
02. Letting You
03. Discipline
04. March of the Pigs
05. The Frail
06. Closer
07. Gave Up
08. The Warning
09. Vessel
10. Ghosts 5
11. Ghosts 25
12. Ghosts 19
13. Ghosts Piggy
14. The Greater Good
15. Wish
16. Terrible Lie
17. Survivalism
18. The Big Come Down
19. Only
20. The Hand that Feeds
21. Head Like A Hole
22. Echoplex
23. Hurt
24. In this Twilight

Thanks to for some additional photography.