A great rock band requires a source of tension. It can be almost anything: the relationship between melody and noise in Nirvana, for instance, or the competing interests of creative co-captains like
During its original run, Nine Inch Nails drew on several such sources, including frontman
Some of those feelings still drive Nine Inch Nails, which after a four-year hiatus began playing concerts again in July, then in September released a new studio album, "Hesitation Marks," its first since 2008.
"If I were you, I wouldn't trust a single word I say," Reznor sings in "Disappointed," "Think by now you should know nothing's gonna change."
Yet a primary thing had changed (or evolved, anyway) when Nine Inch Nails performed Friday night at
You can tell that Reznor, 48, is pondering the question given the touring band he put together. In addition to veterans such as guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Ilan Rubin, the current eight-piece version of Nine Inch Nails includes three newcomers: Pino Palladino, the Welsh bassist who’s played with D’Angelo and
At Staples, where the group’s set pulled heavily from “Hesitation Marks,” those players helped emphasize the album’s muscular R&B grooves, as in the scrubbing “Satellite” and “
Wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt and what appeared to be a pair of drop-crotch trousers akin to those favored by
And though he growled plenty in combustible older songs like "Wish" and "March of the Pigs," the singer summoned a convincing sensuality that expanded the music's emotional range even as he was describing brutal scenes of control and paranoia.
Reznor got more bandwidth still from the kind of fine-grained electro-acoustic textures he perfected while scoring films (including "The Social Network") during Nine Inch Nails' break. The new album's "Find My Way" struck a strange balance between soothing and unsettling, as did a mordant rendition of the band's great 1994 ballad "Hurt," which it performed in front of a screen flashing artfully rendered images of death and decay.
The screen was just one of several in Friday's show; at other points in the concert the musicians disappeared into or behind the visuals, some of which flickered on a scrim of LEDs that hung near the front of the stage. It felt like another way to illustrate a rock band's shifting identity, from main attraction to part of the matrix.
Which didn't mean that Reznor and his mates were above taking the room's attention by force. Near the end of the show the band reached back to Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut for a ferocious version of its breakthrough single, "Head Like a Hole," and as Reznor raised his arms to salute a crowd roaring his words, the tension he'd built all night momentarily broke. This was domination without resistance.