Four years ago, Trent Reznor walked away from Nine Inch Nails and the next thing we knew he was walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards in a tux looking more like a producer than a rock star.
At that point, it was hard to picture him ever being back on a stage screaming "Head Like a Hole." On Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center, the 48-year-old new father of two easily slipped back into that role of the angst-ridden industrial rocker.
The occasion is the new album "Hesitation Marks," which brightens the band's usual deathly black sound to more of a gun-metal gray.
Nine Inch Nails arrived in a red-lighted fog flexing its muscle on the album's adrenalized single "Copy of A." What followed was a crushing 25-song set centered around the theme of "I hate you, you ruined my life, why did you do this to me!" It's a mindset that clearly resonated at points in his life -- maybe not this one, which makes him a good actor as well as film score composer.
Mr. Reznor had talked about doing material that suited his age, but he certainly threw himself 100 percent into hyper-driven rockers like "March of the Pigs" (paired with "Piggy"), "Survivalism" and "Somewhat Damaged," made all the more intense by the band's eye-popping strobes and criss-crossed lighting.
NIN has always been on the cutting edge visually, and that hasn't changed. Songs from the new album, like the downbeat electronic dance track "Disappointed" and the souped-up "Came Back Haunted," got a stunning treatment from a set of gates -- like shop gates -- that surrounded the band and served as a screen for various streamlined and splotchy light projections. You think of NIN as a band in black and white, maybe with a shot of red, but Mr. Reznor opened the palette on the percussive "Running" with a splash of primary colors.
The singer stayed in constant motion and the band -- led by longtime guitar grinder Robin Finck, new bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Ilan Rubin -- sounded tough as steel with a soulful assist from backup vocalists Sharlotte Gibson and Lisa Fischer.
There were some soft moments, like the droning "Find My Way" and piano instrumental "The Frail," but mostly NIN went hard, and then harder as the set went on, climaxing with "Wish," "The Hand that Feeds" and an insane "Head Like a Hole," which had the crushed-together crowd on he floor flashing back to the crazy days of '89-90.
The five-song encore, which included the dreamy "Even Deeper" and borderline hopeful "While I'm Still Here" (with alien movie lighting), ended with his cover of the Johnny Cash song "Hurt." (Just kidding -- he had it first.) It was disturbingly quiet and teeth clenched, ending with a shot of electricity that would've made you jump out of your seat if you weren't already standing.
Mr. Reznor waited about two hours into the show, but did end up acknowledging his Mercer roots. "I grew up just a little bit north of here," he said softly. "My whole life, all I ever wanted to do was this." He thanked the crowd for still letting him do it, for still caring. Obviously, the feeling was mutual.
Austin band Explosions in the Sky, playing in virtual darkness, opened with a set of post-rock that explored guitar and bass textures from delicate to volcanic. There's no virtuoso in the instrumental band, but they do a lot with their simple melody lines, and live up to the billing on the Sonic Youth-worthy crescendos.musicreviews
Smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. First Published October 8, 2013 7:41 PM