Nine Inch Nails and The Jesus and Mary Chain at Bill Graham, Dec. 3-4, 2018

Review by Tyler King  |  Photos by Geoffrey Smith II
Seeing both The Jesus And Mary Chain and Nine Inch Nails is like taking a time machine to the late 1980s or early ’90s, when both bands were at the peak of their mainstream popularity. As frontman Trent Reznor said towards the end of Nine Inch Nails’ set on the second night, “While planning this tour, I was trying to figure out if we were still relevant.” Two triumphant shows proved that both bands are, indeed, just that.
The Jesus And Mary Chain played an extended support slot of about 45 minutes. Opening both nights with their most popular song, “Just Like Honey,” you might think the band was playing all their cards first, but that was not the case. Instead of going the easy route, or playing up the nostalgia factor, the shoegaze innovators’ sets both nights drew heavily from their most recent album, 2017’s Damage And Joy.
Highlights from Automatic, and the criminally underrated “Honey’s Dead” and “Munki” also made it into the set. Newer songs like “All Things Pass” and “Amputation” sounded like they belonged near songs like “Some Candy Talking” and “April Skies.” Besides a slight guitar-issue hiccup on the second night, the notoriously chaotic and unpredictable Jesus And Mary Chain plowed through their distortion-heavy set like a well-oiled locomotive. Jim Reid’s vocals sound just as full of sarcasm and disdain as they ever did, and William Reid’s guitar still creates deliriously dreamy and frenzied tones, particularly on closing number “Reverence;” the opening track of Honey’s Dead was drawn out to nearly 8 minutes long, Jim Reid opening the song with the lines “I want to die just like Jesus Christ / I want to die on a bed of spikes,” following an extended introduction where William Reid showed the crowd who the true shoegaze guitar hero and innovator is.
Whereas The Jesus And Mary Chain played (almost) the same set both nights, Nine Inch Nails decided to switch things up between the two shows, to the point where only four songs were performed at both concerts. Night one started with a dense fog taking over the stage, followed by the pounding sample that opens “Mr. Self Destruct” from 1994’s The Downward Spiral. Following that was a one-two-three punch of powerhouse song after powerhouse song: Reznor and co. pummeled the crowd with “Last,” “Letting You,” and “Sin,” before the band drew back for a few slower, more calming songs to give the audience some breathing room.
A fair number of the songs played between both nights hadn’t been played in years — or, in the case of “Happiness In Slavery,” decades. The most touching moment came when Reznor took a moment to tell the band that they were going to perform a couple of songs by David Bowie; Reznor sang an incredibly emotional, stripped-down version of “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the final song from Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, before the band segued into “Subterraneans,” the track used to combine Nine Inch Nails and Bowie’s sets together when the two toured together in 1995. The rest of the night was just icing on the cake.
The second night saw a more by-the-numbers approach, with fan favorites like “Wish,” “March Of The Pigs,” “Less Than,” and “Reptile” populating most of the first half. Suddenly, guitarist Robin Finck stepped onstage holding a mandolin and plucked the beginning notes of “The Perfect Drug,” a song that Nine Inch Nails had famously never performed before this tour. To say that the crowd went wild would be a vast understatement. Following that, Reznor said, “OK, we played some old shit. We played some new shit. Now we’re going to play… some shit.” before the band launched into a string of three songs from this year’s album, Bad Witch.
Popular songs “Gave Up,” “The Hand That Feeds,” and “Head Like A Hole” closed out the main set, but it was in the encore that the second surprise of the night came. Said Reznor, “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and feel like shit, not knowing if it’s worth it all. But to play for you all makes it worth it. These next few songs are some I wrote to get me through that darkness,” and what emotional songs they were. “Even Deeper” was up first, an emotional highlight from the 1999 double album The Fragile. But it was the following song, the never-performed-before-this-tour “And All That Could Have Been,” that brought the crowd to their metaphorical knees. Of course, the song that closed the show was the same the previous night, the gargantuan “Hurt.” But even before Reznor sang the opening lines, and Finck strummed the opening guitar chords, the emotional damage was done. Nine Inch Nails had proved their relevance in spades over the course of two aggressive and emotional nights, and the crowd was all the better for it.
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