Playing a series of small and intimate shows as warmups for festival headlining gigs, industrial giants Nine Inch Nails made a stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Tuesday, September 13th.  

When you mix in a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band with a cozy, coastal California venue you have the formula for an epic night. Sold out months in advance, a mix of young and old fans made it to the Bowl early for this highly anticipated show—many clad in various black NIN shirts.  

For over 30 years, Trent Reznor has been the only permanent member of this groundbreaking musical project. Although he has taken time away over the last 10 years to focus on motion picture scores with bandmate Atticus Ross (netting them both 2 Oscars), Reznor continues to return to his roots with NIN—scratching an itch that has fans thankful with each new release and subsequent tour.  His shows are a Masterclass in visual and sonic beauty.

Kicking off the show behind a wall of thick fog and intense strobe lights, the sound of a torturous beating could be made out—meaning that “Mr Self Destruct” would be the opening song. Throughout this first offering, Reznor and his bandmates could barely be identified through the murkiness of the theatrical stage mist.  

Although his early studio work was created alone, he does employ a full band when touring including Robin Finck on guitar, Alessandro Cortini (bass), Ilan Rubin (drums) and Atticus Ross (keyboards). ‘The Downward Spiral’, a groundbreaking piece of work released in 1994 has stood the test of time. Reznor definitely put a large focus this evening on powerful tracks from this album with 7 making the cut on the 21 song set list. 

Each song throughout the evening brought a new lighting treatment, painting a diverse picture and creating a strong atmospheric experience. A double dose of swine came just a few songs into the set with “March Of The Pigs” and “Piggy” back-to-back while “Reptile” naturally brought a green hue to the stage. Reznor even took a turn on saxophone on “God Break Down The Door”, which saw a psycho rainbow of lights and fog take over the venue. After a frantic “Copy Of A”, the opening riff for “Closer” caused a visceral reaction from the capacity crowd. The song sounded as raw as it did when it was released way back in 1994 with Finck performing an intense guitar solo to close it out. 

Per usual, Reznor was not extremely chatty through the performance but did take a break midway through to share his appreciation for being back out on tour stating that he “doesn’t take anything for granted these days”. His collaboration with David Bowie from 1997, “I’m Afraid Of Americans” included an extended jam that saw Reznor take a turn on the tambourine.

With a 10pm curfew quickly approaching, the band blew though hits near the close of the main set with “The Hand That Feeds” with “Head Like A Hole” placing an emphatic punctuation mark on the night.

Before finishing up with the now customary show closer “Hurt”, they ran through “Even Deeper”—a deeper track off “The Fragile” during their brief two song encore.  The strength, harshness and power behind each of Reznor’s songs is magnified when performed live…after nearly 2 hours of music it felt like the crowd still wanted more. 

Only a few scheduled shows remain this year for NIN—headlining night one of the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville, KY next Thursday (9/22) and a hometown show in Cleveland (with Ministry and Nitzer Ebb) next Saturday (9/24) before Joe Walsh’s charity show, VETSAID 2022 on Sunday, November 13th at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH.

Nine Inch Nails Setlist: 

Mr. Self Destruct | Wish | Last | March Of The Pigs | Piggy | The Lovers | The Frail | The Wretched | Reptile | God Break Down The Door | Copy Of A | Closer | This Isn’t The Place | Heresy | The Perfect Drug | I’m Afraid Of Americans | Gave Up | The Hand That Feeds | Head Like A Hole   Encore:  Even Deeper | Hurt