Nine Inch Nails played such intense shows in Cornwall this weekend they appeared to create their own climate change. Goths melted into pools of black as Trent Reznor’s industrial rockers performed in bright sunshine and heat on Friday, while the following night was all pouring rain and gloom, lifted by a rainbow in a weird pink sky – much more suitable for NIN’s musical ‘sturm und drang’.
“Summer in Cornwall … the ****?!” He’d only been here two days but Reznor understood. When these first UK shows for four years were announced, there was general disbelief – bands this huge and legendary don’t play in Cornwall. But you can rely on the Eden Sessions, now in their 20th year, for getting everyone from Elton John to Queens of the Stone Age to rock the biomes.
After support from fellow industrialists Nitzer Ebb, Friday’s show was probably the one for casual observers as well as the NIN fan, with the band playing some of their best known songs, including six from the nihilistic masterpiece that is 1994’s The Downward Spiral, including Mr Self Destruct, Piggy and one of the nearest things to a pop song Reznor has written – Closer – if pop songs include the lyric “I want to **** you like an animal”.
Reznor is a different beast to the drug-loving king of misery he was then. Now a 57-year-old multi-millionaire Oscar winner, who lifts weights and has a happy home life with his wife and kids, one wonders how he still summons the demon every night, but who cares when it’s this good?
David Bowie famously took him aside when they toured together in 1995 and told him to ease up on the bad stuff, cut his hair and unleash his De Niro-like looks (which were definitely apparent when he was caught in the spotlight at Eden). It was no surprise that he played two of his mentor’s songs on the first night – Fashion and I’m Afraid of Americans; circle of life stuff as the latter was always indebted to NIN.
A fan who went to both nights suggested Friday’s sublime show was a warm-up for Saturday’s hypnotic, uber-heavy pounder. Incredibly, both concerts only shared five of the same songs across the 45 that were played.
The band might be most famous for initial releases like the Pretty Hate Machine album and the Broken EP, as perfect a record as has ever been released, but Reznor has built a hardcore fanbase on subsequent releases, many of which have been self-released. And songs from across the board were played on Saturday, with a few deep dives including the hellishly addictive Happiness in Slavery (performed in Britain for the first time since 1994), Burn from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack and the slow burn of And All That Could Have Been.
From the decapitating drums and chest-quaking bass of opener The Beginning of the End, the sound was incredible – loud but crystal clear (with some being able to make out which songs were being played a couple of miles away in St Austell); it got into every part of you like some shamanic drug. The Perfect Drug, in fact, which was performed on Friday.
The whole concert was relentless – Reznor doesn’t do ballads, well not traditional ones anyway. Highlights included the aural battering of Wish and March of the Pigs, the machine stomp of Reptile, instrumental La Mer (making its tour debut) which starts pretty and ends ugly, the electro groove of Less Than, crowd singalong Every Day Is Exactly The Same and the electronic punk of Survivalism. It was all a highlight, really.
Reznor told the crowd the show was unique for two reasons – the rainbow which appeared in an uneasy sky and the fact he hit a wrong note: “A first – you can tell your kids.” Praise to the rest of the band, it’s definitely not just about perfectionist Reznor – Atticus Ross on keyboards, guitarist Robin Finck, bassist and synth player Alessandro Cortini and drummer, guitarist and cellist Ilan Rubin all add to the theatre of sound.
The main set ended on the one NIN song everyone knows, even if they think they don’t – Head Like A Hole and it was possibly the greatest four minutes I’ve ever seen at Eden – lights astonishing and crowd singing as one, while the encore ended with a mesmerising Hurt, reclaimed from Johnny Cash and everyone else who’s covered it. The stage pulsated with white light and noise, leaving the crowd waiting for more, which never came. We were soaked but it was worth it.
The perverse joy of the Eden Sessions is that Diana Ross follows Nine Inch Nails on Tuesday. Let’s see if she summons rainbows too.