Nine Inch Nails marks the end of an era with historic performance

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Occasionally, if you’re lucky enough, you get to witness a musical moment. One where a phrase like “One Night Only” rings true and words like “epic” and “monumental” are justified.

Nine Inch Nails’ return to Blossom Music Center on Saturday night certainly fit that bill. But fans had to wait for it.

The band Trent Reznor founded in Cleveland in 1988 hasn’t played Northeast Ohio since 2013. Reznor was set to do something special for NIN’s 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. But COVID-19 prevented that event from happening in Cleveland.

Nine Inch Nails was set for a makeup gig of sorts with back-to-back concerts planned for Jacobs Pavilion (with the Pixies no less) in 2021. But the pandemic’s wrath struck again. The delay wasn’t lost on Reznor.

“We finally f—ing made it here,” he told the massive crowd – bodies as far as the eye could see – a quarter of the way through Nine Inch Nails’ nearly two-hour set Saturday. In truth, Reznor and company had been in town for two days.

The celebration began on Friday during “Nine Inch Nails Fan Day” at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to some eye-popping artifacts on display (including a mannequin suspended from above, mimicking Reznor spinning in the iconic “Closer” video), the members of Nine Inch Nails appeared on stage in the museum’s Foster Theater. That’s when history was made.

Reznor and the current members of Nine Inch Nails were joined by several former members, including Richard Patrick, Chris Vrenna, Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser. Patrick’s appearance was especially shocking given his public fallout with Reznor and the resentment that caused him to form another legendary Cleveland band, Filter.

Those former bandmates would take the spotlight again on stage Saturday at Blossom. But first, Reznor brought some other friends along.

British EBM and industrial dance act Nitzer Ebb opened the show. The band – one of Reznor’s favorites – arrived in the mid-1980s and was highly influential in the development of industrial rock. The primal three-piece rewarded a crowd that arrived early with a seductive set that peaked with “Join the Chant,” where fans followed along to singer Doug McCarthy’s every growl.

Tickets for Saturday’s show were surprisingly still available earlier in the day on resale markets for as low as $9. And from the sea of ​​fans covering every inch of Blossom’s lawn, it appeared that every single one of those tickets was gobbled up.

Chicago industrial rock pioneers Ministry took the stage next. The band’s soundcheck was so loud, you were forced to put your earplugs in, if you had them.

Seats had been moved from near the stage to create a standing-room-only pit. A fence was set up at the front of the Ministry’s stage design. Behind it, frontman Al Jourgensen emerged from a cloud of smoke, lurking like a nightcrawler in the shadows.

Ministry’s performance of “Stigmata” marked the moment Saturday’s event turned into a full-throttle rock show. A spaced-out, distorted cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut,” which Jourgensen dedicated to Reznor, followed.

Jourgensen – a 63-year-old with the intensity of a pumped-up 20-something – broke out his guitar to match the piercing sirens of “NWO” Ministry closed things out by emptying its smoke machine for the jolt of electricity that was ” Thieves.”

Everyone knew what was coming next. Nine Inch Nails took the stage promptly at 9:25 pm for one of the greatest and most singular concerts in the band’s history.

A spotlight hit Reznor as he sang the opening lyrics to “Somewhat Damaged.” The performance set the stage for NIN’s amazing lights show, flashing in and out of darkness and accented by fantastic, black-and-white camera footage that aired on the venue’s large screens.

You’d be reading this story for days if I were to describe every highlight from Nine Inch Nails’ performance. Each song played out like a mini-movie, placing its own unique imprint on the show.

The intense “March of Pigs” weaved into “Piggy” with Reznor standing at the edge of the stage, holding out his microphone for fans to sing along. “The Lovers” provided an emotional tour de force that transitioned into “Reptile,” which saw the stage soaked in green lighting.

Reznor broke out his saxophone for “God Break Down the Door” before delivering big hits like “The Perfect Drug” and “Closer.” It was then onto the raw intensity of “Burn” and another singalong fest for “The Hand that Feeds.”

Fifteen songs into its set, Nine Inch Nails delivered a performance that was more than worth the wait. Then, the band made history again.

As Reznor and Atticus Ross played keyboards during the eerie “The Frail,” stagehands began setting up more instruments and microphones amid the darkness. As the lights brightened, you could see Vrenna emerging on a second drum set, Lohner holding a guitar and Clouser manning a keyboard.

The venue’s big screens then showed Patrick standing stoically at the side of the stage. Was he there to watch or play? A minute later, Patrick walked on stage to a huge roar, some fans even in tears.

Featuring a lineup of musicians that had never appeared on stage at a Nine Inch Nails show before, Reznor took a trip down memory lane, performing “Eraser,” “Wish,” “Sin” and “Gave Up.” Patrick then said the words, “Hey Man Nice Shot” before breaking into Filter’s 1995 hit of the same name. It was a moment Nine Inch Nails fans thought they’d never see.

One song later, the performance ended somewhat abruptly. Nine Inch Nails broke into “Head Like a Hole.” Reznor held his hand up to thank the crowd. Those expecting an encore were, instead, greeted with the lights going up at just after 11 pm

An army of Nine Inch Nails fans lumbered out of Blossom Music Center like zombies, trying to comprehend what they just witnessed. As it turns out, it was the end of an era.

Reznor took to the band’s Discord channel after the show to reveal, “When/If we tour again, it will be different. Not like [2018′s “Cold Black Infinite” tour] era – It’s over.”

“One Night Only” indeed.

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