Review: Nine Inch Nails rips through Fox Theatre show

The first night of the band's two night stand focused on its 1990s material

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Nine Inch Nails throttled fans with a sonic and visual blast at the Fox Theatre on Monday night, ripping through a 19-song, 100-minute assault focused largely on the band's 1990s output. 

Trent Reznor and his four-piece band, anchored by Atticus Ross on keyboards and longtime sidekick Robin Finck on guitar, tore through a large portion of the group's 1992 EP "Broken" and other material from alt-rock's heyday.

But it was no nostalgia play: NIN still thrashes with a ferocity that cannot be manufactured, Reznor's inward turmoil now projected outward at a seemingly crumbling world. 

Nine Inch Nails perform on the first of two consecutive nights at the Fox Theatre in Detroit during the band's "Cold and Black and Infinite Tour" on Monday, October 22, 2018.

That was especially true during the quartet of songs from this year's "Bad Witch" album, which act as damning commentaries on a failing society.

"Obsolete, insignificant, antiquated, irrelevant / celebration of ignorance, why try change when you know you can’t?" Reznor howled during "Ahead of Ourselves." The 53-year-old's outlook has always been bleak — he's the Shakespeare of self-loathing — but here he seems to have given up on humanity as a whole. 

Fun way to spend a Monday night, right? At least in Reznor's hands, the end of the world goes out with a bang.

He kicked off the show, the venue's houselights still up, with "Somewhat Damaged," the opening missive from 1999's "The Fragile." Smoke engulfing the stage, the band members could only be seen when flood lights illuminated them from the side. 

The lights switched to deep oranges and blues during "The Day the World Went Away," and gave way to an onslaught of strobes during the pounding "Wish." "Don't think you're having all the fun, you know me, I hate everyone," Reznor sang during "Wish," a hilariously dark bon mot that sums up his M.O. succinctly.

Monday was part one of the band's two-night stand at the Fox, which marks a smaller scale production than the technology-pushing arena spectacles NIN usually present. There were no video screens or wild effects in the band's bag of tricks, just some smoke, a few lights, and the furious, cathartic roar of one of Gen X's defining bands. (The fact that NIN has yet to even make the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a pox on the institution.)

The new wrinkles came musically; Reznor broke out a saxophone during "God Break Down the Door" and "Over and Out," and "Sanctified," from 1989's "Pretty Hate Machine," was given a looser, more swinging production that made it sound like something off of 2013's "Hesitation Marks." ("Hesitation Marks" was ignored entirely on Monday, as was the rest of the band's 2000s material, save for the "Bad Witch" offerings.)

Reznor, dressed in black and with scruff covering his face, thanked the audience — mostly 40-somethings, mostly dressed in black — several times throughout the evening. He complimented one audience member for wearing a Devo shirt, noting the group is one of his all-time favorites.  

The band's three-song encore opened with "The Perfect Drug," which Reznor is playing live for the first time on this tour. He avoided playing the 1997 song in the past, he explained, because he hated himself at the time he wrote it, and it has always reminded him of the person he was then.

"I don't hate myself as much now," Reznor told the crowd. From his mouth, it doesn't get much sunnier than that.