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Concert Reviews:
nine inch nails, Soundgarden partly like it's 1994 at DTE
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- When nine inch nails and Soundgarden announced their joint summer tour back in March, the former's Trent Reznor spoke of a lingering upset that Soundgarden's "Superunknown" had kept his band's "The Downward Spiral" from hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

On Saturday night, July 26, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Reznor got even -- sort of.

It's not that the two iconic alternative rock acts were in competition, mind you. In fact, their two very different sets on Saturday made for a complementary evening more than anything else. But even with a powerful and affecting performance of its own, it was hard for Soundgarden -- and probably any other act -- to trump nin's absolutely dazzling and inventive exercise in sound and vision whose many moving parts recalled Talking Heads' landmark "Stop Making Sense" performances of the mid-80s.

That tends to be Reznor's stock-in-trade, of course; he's had a consistent knack for one-upping himself nearly every time he takes nin on the road, and Saturday's show was another bar-raising show that has few peers currently on the rock or even the pop and hip-hop circuits.

Reznor began the night alone on stage, the houselights still up as he worked a sequencer into the swirling electronic rhythm of "Copy of A." He was joined, one by one, by each of his three bandmates and then by a series of portable screens that were used for silhouettes and, later in the show, for more colorful and visually provocative backdrops. Each of the 17 songs had a distinctive look, perhaps the most arresting being "Closer," which began with a close-up of Reznor's singing face on the screens before they parted, showing him snarling into the camera. During "Piggy," meanwhile, a crew member tracked Reznor around the stage wtih a portable spotlight, while dark, disturbing video images accompanied the closing song, "Hurt."

nin was more than just a visual triumph, too. The quartet deftly mixed electronics with organic instrumentation, blending EDM fare such as "Came Back Haunted" and "Me, I'm Not" with the punky thrash of "March of the Pigs" and "Wish" and a healthy dose of electro rock, including "Terrible Lie," "The Great Destroyer" and a pounding main set-closing one-two punch of "Only" and "Head Like a Hole." Reznor was an aerobic presence throughout the 90-minute set, while Ilan Rubin was particularly impressive playing drums, keyboards, guitar and bass.

"I don't know when we'll be back, I don't know if we'll be back, but his is a great night tonight," Reznor told the DTE crowd -- a little hyperbole that, in this case, was right on the mark.

Soundgarden certainly got the double-bill off to a stirring start with its 14-song, 80-minute performance. As visually minimal as nin was lavish, the Seattle quartet let it's music carry the show from the dark, heavy grooves of "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" to the doomy, feedback-drenched "Beyond the Wheel." In between Soundgarden celebrated "Superunknown's" anniversary with six selections from the album -- including particularly strong renditions of "My Wave," "Fell On Black Days," "Black Hole Sun" and the title track-- while drummer Matt Chamberlain was a strong fill-in for Matt Cameron, who's touring Europe with Pearl Jam.

And while frontman Chris Cornell's comment that the Detroit "is our favorite place" may have been taken with a grain of salt by a DTE crowd packed from pavilion to lawn, his sympathetic comments about the area's recently problems -- including the city's water issues -- before "The Day I Tried To Live" were certainly appreciated, as was the song's dedication "to everybody who's getting f***ed with right now."

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