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nin / the jesus and mary chain

Aragon Ballroom

October 26th

 NIN / all photos by ATD

A Note From the Authors:
This “review” is a little different than what you may be used to seeing here at Chicago Crowd Surfer. As an homage to the atypical magic that is a NIN show, we felt that it we’d take a little creative freedom and try something new. (Plus, they are doing just fine without our promotional help. So if this goes poorly, we aren’t ruining any careers.) What follows is in many ways a freeform conversation in which we reflect on our personal impressions of the same show. Hopefully you enjoy this diversion from our typical format. Or, at the very least, find something within it to relate to. --ATD & ELP

P.S. Sorry, The Jesus and Mary Chain. We slacked on getting there before your set!

ATD: I was introduced to Nine Inch Nails about 11 years ago through an equally angsty buddy of mine. We were driving around in my white, 1996 Honda Civic Coupe, getting high on a school night (as you do when you’re a 17-year-old burnout with nowhere else to be) when he asked if he could play a song that reminded him of me. Being as fascinated with myself back then as I am now, I agreed. Cue “The Fragile” whose animalistic chaos and heavy distortion shook me to my core. I had never heard anything like it. I had never felt anything like it. Erupting through the speakers of my little 4-cylinder was the answer that the social aberration that I was had been looking for for so long. I didn’t have to stand outside and look in anymore, I could just hangout by the windows and flip the bird to anyone who dared look out. And while my bird flipping days are long gone, I still hold Nine Inch Nails close to my heart. My relationship with their music at this point isn’t just emotional, it’s visceral. And, despite having a healthier relationship with my angst, it reminds me that it’s still okay to mouth the occasional “fuck you” at those you catch peeking out the window.

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ELP: When I was first introduced to NIN, I was probably younger than society’s standards for hearing the lyrics to “Closer”. I was sitting with a group of my 5th grade friends in someone’s basement, and we were listening to some jams and probably coloring with glitter (or whatever 5th grade girls do) when my friend happened to find her older brother’s CD stash. She ended up playing The Downward Spiral and everyone in the group was instantly weirded out, but I loved it. I loved that the tone was dark and angry, I loved that it pushed boundaries and that it didn’t sound like Britney Spears or bad radio pop. Fast forward quite a few years, and my musical taste had morphed into pure punk form (not a whole lot has changed to this day), but my love for NIN was later rekindled by an ex-boyfriend my freshman year of high school. He insisted that I give NIN more consideration, and I’m grateful that he did.

ATD: Obviously, it was a no brainer when my co-author here told me that she had access to some NIN tickets for their October show in Chicago. Though, the fact that they choose to play the Aragon was a little strange to me. The smallest venue I’d seen them play had a capacity of about 20,000 and the Aragon only holds about 5,000. Not that I’m complaining about seeing a more intimate NIN show.

ELP: The intimate setting was something new to me as well. The last time I had seen them was during the With Teeth tour, and that was a full stadium show. The differences in atmosphere were really apparent from the beginning. In a stadium setting, it seemed that everyone was experiencing NIN very introspectively, probably due to the wide-open space and room to breathe. Small venues like the Aragon force me to be in the moment with everyone else and really give in to the energy of the crowd.

ATD: A perfect segue! The crowd is definitely one of my favorite parts of any NIN show, and this show was no exception. The Aragon was filled with all the usual suspects that one might expect to see: your goth kings and queens, freaks and weirdos of every flavor flying their flags high, lovers of chaos moshing in the face of bodily harm, the fringe dwellers with their backs against the walls, and ex-club kids who have been following NIN since the band’s inception in late the 80’s. And, standing shoulder to shoulder with these aforementioned characters—in perfect juxtaposition—soccer moms in kitten heels, young children perched on the shoulders of their loafer-clad dads, desk jockeys with 401ks revisiting old dreams, AARP members anchored still as stone in stoic appreciation, and weekend warriors looking to re-paint their picket fences black for one night. It was (and always is) an interpersonal spectacle of massive proportions. I think that what makes NIN so attractive to so many is that they tend to skip the “small talk” and get right to the heart of the individual. Musically speaking. And while it’s no secret that music is powerful, there is something supernatural about NIN. And it knows no social bounds.

ELP: For certain bands, the stage banter serves as part of their performance. For some, it tediously drags on while the crowd puts up with it between songs if the music is good enough. Trent Reznor bypasses all of that, both musically and on stage. He notoriously has been, and seems as though he always will be, a person that predominantly speaks to his fans through his music. And that night, he gave the crowd exactly what they wanted, and opened the show with the first 4 songs from The Fragile. But I did walk away wondering why he chose to play just the first 4 songs, and switch it up right before “We’re In This Together Now”. It was almost as if he wanted to say, “I know you want more, but you’re not going to get it.”

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ATD: His whole setlist was absolutely killer, but The Fragile openers were by far my favorite setlist choice to date. I cried unabashedly (rolling tears and hiccupping status) through the entirety of those first four songs. The Fragile is such a personal album to me. While part of me selfishly wishes he would have played it in its entirety, another part of me understands why he didn’t. It would be like being served cheesecake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great news if you love cheesecake, not so much if you’re lactose intolerant. The type of experience that fans hope to take away from a NIN show varies wildly, and a setlist that only played through The Fragile might have left some people feeling left out. Plus, I don’t know how well my makeup would have held up through an hour and a half of vigorous weeping. That being said, I really wanted it to happen.

ELP: Very well said. I agree that playing The Fragile in its entirety would have been a strange choice, and Trent is smart. In the end, while it would have been great, probably not what most people were there to see, even if they wanted him to continue on with the album. Trying to predict a NIN setlist is a futile attempt anyway, as there are far too many songs to choose from, and either way you’re going to be put through one hell of an emotional ride. I’ll admit that I wish they had played more songs off The Downward Spiral, as that album is nearest and dearest to my heart, but in no way was I disappointed with any part of the night. The overall aura of a NIN show is truly incomparable, and they will always be one of my favorite bands to see live. Few bands can truly create such a physical and primitive reaction for me during a live set the way they do, and I will be forever in love with that feeling. Never have they hit a sour note during a performance that I’ve been lucky enough to see, and nothing with them feels forced, despite playing the same songs for years. Needless to say, come hell or high water, if NIN is playing within the tri-state area, I will be there.

ATD: NIN show are akin to pilgrimages for a lot of the people who attend them. And there are a lot of people who attend them. I was told by a veteran NIN fan that she wasn’t all that psyched about the changes in the types and volume of people that she’s seen over the years. “It was different when I used to see them back in their club days. The people were just...different,” she lamented. I joked about how “different” was a good way to describe most NIN fans. I also offered that perhaps it wasn’t all that bad that the fan base has grown. “I think that it’s kind of cool that all these people get to have this experience. Passion is important, you know?” Whether or not she acquiesced because she actually considered my angle, or if it was because she wanted me to keep my hippy-talk to myself, I’ll never know. Either way, I stand by my words.

Nine Inch Nails just rolled through on a three night run. We aren’t sure when, but chances are that they’ll be back in Chicago at some point in the future.