Review Nine Inch Nails Tension 2013 at the Xcel Energy Center

Last night I said to my wife quite possibly the saddest words ever expressed in the English language, “The guy in front of me just had his credit card declined for a can of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” This was moments before we took our seats for the opening night of Nine Inch Nails’ Tension 2013 tour at the Xcel Energy Center in sunny Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The preshow crowd watching wasn’t as exciting as I thought it might be as most people were either sporting their fanciest foot long metal goatee or pulled out the only black t-shirt in their suburban closet—except for my wife, who was sporting quite a lovely Easter green. The only person who really made me wonder was the happy gentleman sporting his Anal Blast concert finest, although based on the graphic on the back it was really hard to tell if that blast was an implosion or explosion. The one thing I’ll never get used to about arena shows though are the people wandering around with hotdogs and tater tots at a concert.  I just seems weird to me.  Although, I did look at many concession stands and much to my consternation I couldn’t find any Nine Inch Nachos to snack on.

We grabbed some popcorn and headed to our seats, which actually turned out to be one of the most bizarre and disappointing aspects of the night’s event. We were in section 103, which was the side of the stage and were actually pretty good seats if you didn’t want to suffer a seizure during the intense light show. However, the Xcel staff ran caution tape across the last two seats of the row before the stairs to section 102 and placed numerous security staff on those stairs. You see, no one on the end of the row was allowed to use those stairs – and quite honestly even though they led down to the stage, there seemed to be no purposes in it other than to have the security staff talk during the entire show. Repeatedly, people snuck under, over or tripped through the caution tape to go up the stairs and repeatedly the security staff would tell them to go back and climb over the 20 people in their row to go to the bathroom or to fail in their attempt to purchase another can of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. My lovely wife’s typical form of social protest is threatening to write a strongly worded letter actually called a security employee over to our seats and told her to shut up. I’ve never been more thing I’ll never get used to about arena shows though are the people wandering around with hotdogs and tater tots at a concert. I just seems weird to me. Although, I did look at many concession stands and much to my consternation I couldn’t find any Nine Inch Nachos to snack on.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. The show last night was excellent. The drumming was amazing and the light show even better. At one point, they had LED screens in front of and behind the band having some kind of funky red, green and yellow party and I thought to myself this could be the post-industrial Mos Eisley Cantina band for the spaceport in “Serenity.”

However, if your knowledge of Nine Inch Nails ends with “Downward Spiral” and a couple of radio play songs after that and you want to relive sitting in your dorm room playing “Pretty Hate Machine” while swilling Zima and talking about how you are going to stick it to the man by not having 2.5 kids, a minivan and a house in the Suburbs (you had 1.5 and an SUV instead, nice hustle) this is likely not the show for you. The show was exceptional, don’t get me wrong, and worth going to on the musical talents of Trent Reznor alone. Now if your thing is seeing the 25th anniversary of “Flood,” or “Doolittle” or “Copper Blue,” or Rancid’s 20th Anniversary, or Mike Doughty reimaging Soul Coughing you might come up a little short in your entertainment dollar.

This gets to one thing I didn’t understand about the show. It’s a rock concert, yell, scream, sing along, have a great time, but don’t just talk above the music for the entire event. We had numerous people around us, and keep in mind we paid $75 per ticket or a tick below the Federal deficit after Ticketmaster convenience fees, to hear two hours of music. We had several people who just wouldn’t shut the hell up for five minutes (this was on top of the non-stop talking of the security guards). That said, the drunken chatty guy in row 19 did provide us the most entertaining moment of the entire concert. There was about a five minute delay in the action due to a technology problem.

His buddy shouts out, “Head like a hole.”
“Black as your soul,” he calls back.
“I’d rather die”
“Then give you a home.”

Clearly, this was the concert he’s been waiting his entire life for.

Nine Inch Nails busting into an industrial wall of sound, didn’t happen often enough during the night to cover up this dude’s blathering. Instead, a lot of the show was more of an ethereal and dark Bjork. And because I wasn’t experienced in hearing Reznor with a live band, when he did beat our brains in with sound, I kept hearing Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” in my head.

While I might have been annoyed with all the talking, surprisingly I wasn’t bothered too much by people holding their phones up to make a crappy video recording of the show as it seems to happen more and more lately. I suspect the reason for that is there was a EMP machine secretly embedded with the sound and light equipment exploding any cell phone attempting to record the show—at least if we suspend reality like they do on TV.

Overall it was a good show and entertaining. The encore was a serious downer, and more of an indulgent clapping intermission than a real please come back and give us more. When encores are scripted, it just feels contrived. The first song of the encore received the least applause and cheers of any song in the set and while Hurt was amazing as a final song, the whole extra session really felt like it sapped some of the energy from the crowd after closing the regular set with Head Like a Hole.
The net is this: My wife and I enjoyed the show and are glad we went, but it felt more like checking a band off a concert bucket list than an experience of a lifetime. Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with a number of the songs. Maybe it was the Xcel staff or the people around us who wouldn’t shut up. Or maybe the encore brought down my experience. I’m not disappointed in the show, but if you are a casual Nine Inch Nails fan, it’s just a decent show.

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