It’s hard not to simply bow down to the raw, rocking, testosterone-fueled energy of Nine Inch Nails. In their first tour since 2018 (and their first local appearance since 2009), Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and crew gave the sold-out crowd at the Santa Barbara Bowl what was probably the closest thing this town will ever experience to the kind of huge; bursting with electricity, noise, lights, and smoke; and head-banging, body-flinging ferocity you usually only find in a ginormous stadium concert.
The juxtaposition of the intimacy of the Bowl with the intensity of the show — not to mention the black leather and spandex-clad crowd during the 80-plus-degree heat wave — took me a few minutes (and one earplug) to adjust to, but once I was in it, I was IN IT and loving every minute of it.
Reznor — the lead vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, principal songwriter, and only “official” member of the band from 1988 to 2016, when Ross became the second “official” member — is a freaking force of nature. At age 57, he commands the stage with a pounding vocal intensity and attacks his demons through songs with a level of vigor that might lead you to suspect he really did make a deal with the devil.
While Nine Inch Nails thrusted and throbbed their way through a set filled with anthemic crowd favorites like “Mr. Self Destruct” (I take you where you want to go / I give you all you need to know / I drag you down, I use you up), “Hurt” (And you could have it all / My empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt) and “Head Like a Hole” (Head like a hole / Black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control), I couldn’t help but marvel at yet another juxtaposition — how much fun it truly is to connect with a band, and with an audience, and pound your fists and sing (and scream) along in tandem with such dark, emotional, and tortured songs.