The year was 1996 and I was a freshman at a small-town highschool. I remember the anxiety of that first day: stepping off the bus, filled with a naive optimism about the new friends and experiences I was about to have. I found myself now mixed into a world of mature-themed concepts, introduced by the older kids I would now be surrounded by on a daily basis. This would be an important and very transformative time period for me, as I evolved from a young sheltered youth into the person I am today. I vividly recall walking to my locker and noticing a senior student with a black shirt on with three white letters surrounded by a rectangle on the front.
These letters were NIN, with the last N backwards.
This logo, in all its simplistic nature, stuck in my mind like so many other incredibly well-branded things. One day, while on a bathroom break from class, I approached the older student in the halls and asked him what the letters on his shirt meant. “Do you live under a rock?!” He laughed. “The letters stand for Nine Inch Nails and they are probably the best band in the world.” As soon as I uttered “hmmm, never heard of them”, he turned the combination on his locker, reached inside and slammed a CD case against my chest. “If you don’t bring this back to me tomorrow in perfect condition, I will beat you senseless!”
The album was The Downward Spiral and it quite honestly changed me, not only as a music fan, but as someone who grew up forced into a religiously oppressive mindset. Trent Reznor was singing about controversial topics and subject matter that — at the time — I was afraid to even think about. I thought, if he can openly perform songs like this and not get struck down by a bolt of lightning, maybe it would be okay for me to explore my own thoughts. I have been a rabid Nine Inch Nails fan ever since — considering them to be among the greatest bands of all time. In 2008, I had the pleasure of seeing them for the very first time in San Antonio, Texas for their Lights in the Sky Tour and the show was absolutely mind-blowing.
Sadly, I haven’t had the opportunity to be anywhere near NIN while touring since…
That is, until they rolled into Franklin, Tennessee this past Sunday. It was a great night for a rock show, as I stood in the photo pit, waiting for the band to take the stage. The weather was perfect and the First Bank Amphitheater was absolutely packed. The very moment Robin Fink walked out, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Out of nowhere, the entire stage exploded with light as Trent Reznor yelled out “Hey God!” — the first words from their classic “Terrible Lie”. I could feel the sound waves literally rattle my bones and, almost like a wave returning, the sound from the crowd screaming immediately hit me from behind. I don’t think I have ever felt sound like this before and I have been to hundreds of shows.
Trent still moves as if he is 25 years old, jumping and headbanging his way across the stage. While he didn’t take too much time interacting with the crowd, he took a few moments to speak on how thankful he was to be back onstage after the pandemic and how grateful he was for the support from fans. Based on my own observations, he is the type of performer who speaks solely through the words of his songs. The set highlights for me came in the form of “Burn” and “Wish”, which are two of my all-time favorite songs; they sounded just as perfect as when I saw them performed originally 14 years ago. Overall, it was everything you could ask for from a Nine Inch Nails show. The only thing missing was a large scale mud fight!
Photography by Derek Jones