Concert review: Nine Inch Nails deliver sonic, visual blitz in Atlanta

The band is playing two nights at the Fox Theatre
Nine Inch Nails in concert. There are no photos from the Fox performance because the AJC couldn't comply with the band's restrictive photo agreement. Photo: Facebook

Nine Inch Nails in concert. There are no photos from the Fox performance because the AJC couldn't comply with the band's restrictive photo agreement. Photo: Facebook

Even as roadies scurried around the stage making final adjustments, the mere sight of Nine Inch Nails’ tattered curtain backdrop being lowered prompted anticipatory whoops from the crowd.

It had been four years since Trent Reznor and Co. played Atlanta and the first time in more than a decade that the band brought its sonic storm to a venue smaller than an arena or amphitheater.

At the Fox Theatre Wednesday night – the first of a two-night stand - a vibrating throb filled the venue at 9:20 p.m., escalating in volume until a gotta-blink blanket of white lights flooded the stage and Nine Inch Nails tore into “Mr. Self-Destruct.”

Reznor, brawny and fiery in his usual uniform of black, clenched the microphone and, under a halo of flashing neon green lights, guitar strapped on, led the band through “The Perfect Drug” with keyboardist Atticus Ross by his side.

For generations, Reznor, 53, has tapped into the seething anger and hurt so many are reluctant or unable to express, providing an outlet to unleash and a mind with which to commiserate.

The audience at Wednesday’s production teemed with 40-somethings (many with an affinity for beer), but also included a solid number of older teens, proving that the nerve Reznor touches will always be raw.

The setlist bounced from NIN’s buzzy debut album, 1989’s “Pretty Hate Machine” (“Head Like a Hole”) to current release “Bad Witch,” which features a few tweaks to the NIN playbook.

Reznor briefly addressed the crowd before the heavy handclapper “S*** Mirror,” which found him trading guttural vocals with guitarist Robin Finck, and, during “God Break Down the Door,” wielding a saxophone. The murkiness which can sometimes overtake NIN’s music was apparent here, as it was more of a blitz of spotlights and whirs of sound than a coherent song.

Throughout the show, drummer Ilan Rubin proved to be the MVP, with his relentless pace closing out “The Perfect Drug” and his pounding march making “Wish” sound like the industrial rock version of the Tarantella.

A NIN show is always a frenzy of sound and light and the presentation of “March of the Pigs” was particularly effective, with Reznor quietly offering his rhetorical question (“Now doesn’t that make you feel better?”) before an explosive auditory assault.

Reznor is an innovator as well an astute student of visual wizardry. He knows how to captivate an audience, whether through a deluge of flashing strobes or simple clouds of dry ice and solid blue lights, which accompanied the mesmerizing “Find My Way.”

His live band, rounded out with multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, fits into the blueprint effortlessly, and even a tour dubbed “Cold and Black and Infinite” can’t completely mask the emotional wallop Reznor delivers onstage.

In contrast to the visceral approach of Nine Inch Nails, openers The Jesus and Mary Chain plowed through a 12-song set that, while spectacularly lighted, was devoid of any drama.

The ‘80s/’90s-era alt-rockers from Scotland opened with the warm buzz of “Just Like Honey” and rolled through 1990’s radio hit “Head On” and the more recent “Amputation.”

Shy frontman Jim Reid kept a hand clasped around the microphone and, possibly, his mouth, as his vocals were usually buried in the mix.

The band, which also features his guitarist brother William Reid, as well as newer recruits - guitarist Scott Van Ryper, guitarist/bassist Mark Crozer and drummer Brian Young - sounded rich and full on “Happy When it Rains” and “Cracking Up.”

Many in the crowd nodded along vigorously to “All Things Pass” and “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but even during that rowdy anthem, Jim Reid stood by quietly as William ripped through a solo, content to stay a bit out of the spotlight.

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