It wasn’t just at Perry’s Stage, the dusty club two football fields long full of kids high as balloons pumping fists to club tracks tossed out by over-priced DJs, it was everywhere. Friday’s Lollapalooza lineup was infested with four-to-the-floor beats from the majority of bands morning to night because a) that’s what sells, b) that’s what’s on the radio and c) that’s what sounds great against some Tito’s Vodka and methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine. Icona Pop rolled through with their post-dub dance parties and Crystal Castles screamed their way into the chests of hundreds. New Order, one of the founding fathers of techno and dance music, played a mostly-greatest hits set, peaking with “Temptation” and petering out with some perfunctory and unsatisfactory Joy Division songs.
And while The Killers took what New Order did sprinkled it with more glitter and emotion, on the north side, Nine Inch Nails recalled what was once known in the ‘90s as “angst.” Trent Reznor, 48 and apparently no stranger to the gym and mass gainers, led his revolutionary industrial band of revolving musicians through a hale and hearty setlist culling from the big touchpoints in Nine Inch Nails discography. They even played the Atticus Ross and Reznor collaboration “What If We Could,” off The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, during a pronounced lull in the middle third of their set, which may have rewarded patient NINophiles at a stadium show, but sent the average festival wayfarer to the bar, or to conversation, or home.
It’s not really the band’s fault because you sort of expect less of Lollapalooza ticket-holders and I mean that in literally every way possible. In interviews, Reznor had stated that he loosely based his well-rehearsed new live show on the Talking Heads’ 1983 tour, where the set pieces would come together throughout the show, and the music would reflect the crescendo of technical/visual elements. You can watch this happen in the famous Jonathan Demme-directed live concert movie Stop Making Sense, but it was hard to see that translate into Nine Inch Nails’ setup. Literally, because the jumbo-tron screens were not in use for the duration of their headlining set, making it difficult to stay involved in the spectacle if you didn’t have a good sightline.
The first moments of “Copy Of A” incidentally began with a bare beat like the one Byrne used for the opening of “Psycho Killer” in Stop Making Sense. It’s one of three songs played from the band’s unreleased and forthcoming new album Hesitation Marks, and as the band marched onto the bare stage with Reznor in the very beginning, the set and the music was more or less together and off we went jumping from The Fragile to Broken to Pretty Hate Machine for about 2 hours. The shape of NIN’s first US show in over three years was a little more cinematic with peaks and valleys, action and development, not the kind of slow build that the Talking Heads did.