Published Jul 20, 2014Nine Inch Nails were the main stage headlining act for the first full day of the Pemberton Music Festival, and the veteran group proved worthy of the task by delivering a flawlessly tight, meticulous performance.
After Kendrick Lamar's set ran long at an adjacent stage, Trent Reznor and company arrived 15 minutes late, appearing in front of a plain, darkened backdrop. The visuals soon became more elaborate, as a row of canvas screens were rolled out partway through the opening "Copy of A," and the musicians' shadows loomed imposingly behind them.
These screens were wheeled in and out throughout the set, appearing in new configurations on nearly every song. On the thumping industrial banger "Came Back Haunted," the four-piece were lined up as Kraftwerk-style silhouettes, performing on synths with moody blue and white backlighting. For the raunchily throbbing "Closer," Reznor hid behind screens displaying sinister blood-red abstractions, and these parted so he could emerge to snarl the signature foul-mouthed hook: "I want to fuck you like an animal."
Much like the visual display, the band's instrumental setup altered repeatedly, with the players rotating between synths and live guitars and drums. Every change was seamless, with roadies materializing to switch out the instruments with assembly line precision. The transitions were so speedy that Reznor didn't offer any small talk other than an occasional "thank you."
All this meant that the set was a little cold and mechanical in its ultra-rehearsed professionalism and complete lack of spontaneity. Still, every moment was impeccable, and the closing ballad "Hurt" provided a satisfying end to the first night of the festival.
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