Nine Inch Nails
Aragon Ballroom - Chicago, IL
August 29, 2009
Stepping off of the Red Line Lawrence stop of Chicago’s El, I got my first glimpse of the Aragon Ballroom. The lights in the second ‘a’ of its vertical sign were blown, but it only added to the mystique of such a landmark venue. And it seemed fitting, as hundreds of fans, most in their thirties and dressed in black, filed their way into Nine Inch Nails’ final Chicago show Saturday, August 29. Aging, yet resilient. This was the second of NIN’s two Chicago’s shows in their final tour of ten, which was in honor of their debut album “Pretty Hate Machine’s” 20th anniversary.
The doors opened at 6:30, and the line was tremendous. This wasn’t a casual last minute “live show” you take a date to. This was a sold out show that brought in true Nine Inch Nails fans. What a site to see too, as they wrapped their way around the theater, weaving across parking lots, around dumpsters, and down the sidewalks. The pace to the doors was slow, but everyone waited patiently, passing graffitied walls, while laughing at the line of followers. Just like most concerts, there was an air of built up tension and excitement before the show, but the quietness of the line of people waiting to get inside was surprising. There was no crazy shouting or pre-game rumbles. Instead, there was this palpable sense of respect for the band and for each other. It was pretty impressive.
Walking into this theater, I knew I wasn’t going to be singing along to every song, nor thrashing my head around. But I was excited. Because while I only know a handful of NIN songs, I knew their performance was going to be intense, and heartfelt, and historic… and loud.
As Aragon’s medieval lighting dimmed down, Mew opened their set to the packed ballroom. The band’s haunting backdrops matched their music, and they’re layered instrumentation made for a powerful start to the evening.
In the time between Mew and NIN, the Aragon was literally humming with the sound of anticipation while the stage crew hurriedly set up for what looked to be a light show. One fan behind me said, “You know you’re getting your money’s worth when see a four page set-list being taped down.”
“And the crowd goes wild…” I’m not talking baseball. It was a standing O., and I’m not talking theater either. When the lights came on, they burst back on and out to the space painted ceiling, silhouetting the band. It was a light show indeed. And everyone was on their feet, fists in the air, minus the three dudes in the balcony standing on one chair together screaming along to “Heresy.” Serious song, but those guys had nothing but smiles on their faces singing “God is dead. And no one cares. If there is a hell, I’ll see you there.” Keeping up the intensity, NIN transitioned into their, yes, I’ll say it, grooving “Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)”. The walls were vibrating and the beats were deep in everyone’s chests as they powered through their three hour set. One of the most brilliant moments of the night was when a solid Trent Reznor brought the house to soft reflection in “Right Where You Belong”. The crowd sang every single word with him, and the mirrorballs above sparkled.
And you better believe this band went out in style. Three hours entails a lot of music, and it takes a great deal of endurance not only of the band, but also from the fans in feeling every pulse. I was entirely impressed to see the house was just as full in the last minutes of this show as it was in the beginning. NIN tore through their familiar “Head Like A Hole” only to come back up for a stirring encore of “Hurt”. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
“But I remember everything…” Trent soulfully sang to a entranced audience. The amount of respect felt inside those walls was crazy awesome. And all I can say is every fan probably thanks them for that feeling. It truly was a historic show as each band member gracefully threw up their arms in praise… and peace.