One of my oldest & best friends, Keith, was in town this weekend with his lovely wife Jamie. Most of what happened involved eating. Here’s Keith in a post-Katz’s Deli pastrami seizure:
We did walk the High Line, but they’ve been up here enough now so that we don’t do things like go look at the new World Trade Center, or go up to the tops of tall buildings and take pictures, or anything like that. Truly, it all revolved around eating and drinking.
But this trip was a little different, since Keith and I went to the Nine Inch Nails show at Barclays Center. To give a little context, so you can understand how huge an event this was, you should know we both jumped deep into that hole around 1995/6, after The Downward Spiral had firmly affixed itself within the zeitgeist. This was a good time for me to find them, because I was 16 and Trent Reznor was extremely sad, passionate, and angry. His music gave me some justification for feeling the things that I assume most 16-year-old boys feel, but don’t necessarily know that every other 16-year-old boy is feeling. It helped me grapple with some of the big questions one grapples with at that time. I loved the sound, I loved the lyrics, I loved driving around in my ’91 Chevy Cavalier with at least one slot of my CD changer occupied by a Nine Inch Nails album. I loved listening to it with my friends.
Cut to sophomore year of college. Keith and I are side by side in the dorms, sharing a wall of Melrose Hall at UT. That year found us both in our first serious relationships, neither of which (fortunately) panned out. One week my girlfriend broke up with me. I went back to my room and cranked “Wish” and kicked a wall a little bit. I felt better. A week later, I’m in my dorm and I hear “Wish” through the wall I share with Keith. Occasional thuds as well. I immediately, correctly assumed that Keith’s girlfriend had just broken up with him. These were times we were both carried over deep water by someone who had been to the bottom and knew what creatures were waiting for us down there.
My fandom has never waned, and the last decade has been a pretty good time to be a fan of Trent. But somehow through all of this I’ve never managed to go to a NIN show. I tried once, or rather my mom tried since I was in class when the ticket sales for the Terminal 5 show went live, but they were all gone as soon as they were made available. I had decided that this would be my year, and I locked down two general admission tickets for the floor of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
I want to take a moment here to tell you how fantastic a sport my wife was about this. When we got the two tickets, we didn’t know Keith and Jamie would be coming up the same weekend as the show. Amy was prepared to go with me. I had been sending her YouTube links to the major songs, explaining the different albums and how his music was progressing. We spent a good chunk of our road trip to Tennessee going through The Downward Spiral and The Fragile (my personal favorite). Amy was ready to go, and she was ready to do her best to enjoy it for my sake, and I love her for that.
I’m really glad she didn’t go. So is she.
Keith and I were the 68th and 69th people to enter the venue. We went right up to the rail, and were only two people back from it, dead center where Trent would be standing in just a couple of hours. We got to know everyone around us, had some great conversations with other big fans, and we all grooved together while Godspeed You! Black Emperor opened up the show with a 45-minute set. I love this band as well, and I was only slightly less excited for them than for the main act. They did not disappoint.
By this time there were way more people around us, pressing in closer in anticipation of NIN, and the sea of people extended far enough behind us that I could no longer tell where it ended. I had never been to a show of this caliber, but based on what experience I had had, I knew there would be a press of people once NIN got under way. I grossly underestimated what that press would feel like.
As soon as the first song started there was a forward surge and for the next hour I was at the mercy of the crowd. I couldn’t move my arms and I could barely keep my feet under me, though if I lost my balance there was no room to fall. Before the first song ended I was covered in sweat, most of it my own, from the sheer body heat and lack of air around me. For one of the slower songs we managed to all get a coordinated sway going, but otherwise it was chaos. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Screaming the lyrics of some of your favorite songs with hundreds of other madmen in your ears doing the same, losing yourself to this crowd that’s somehow holding itself up, seeing one of your personal heroes 15 feet in front of you completely dominating an arena of some 15,000 people–there’s no substitute for that. I did narrowly avoid getting kicked in the head by the lone crowdsurfer we saw, and once my shoe came untied all I could think of was that if it came off, I’d never see it again and I’d probably get at least two toes broken by the crowd. Then I realized they had yet to play “Wish,” so when the big guy in front of me had enough of the press and turned around, I told him I was right behind him and yelled at Keith to let him know. We made it out of there, Keith following a text I sent him to find me a couple minutes later. I tied my shoe, had room to breathe and let the sweat evaporate, and we got to rock to “Wish” while the pit where we were standing destroyed itself. I told Keith after the show that getting out of that press was the second best decision I’d ever made, the first being to ask Amy to marry me. I’m glad I experienced it, and I’m glad Trent was right in front of me, and I’m glad we were able to scream “Don’t think you’re having all the fun/you know me, I HATE EVERYONE!” along with him from a safe distance where I was certain I’d be able to take my next breath.
They closed the show with “Hurt.” They used the same effect from the Downward Spiral tour, strange and sad footage projected onto a screen covering the entire stage. They used some new images, and some you’d recognize if you’ve ever seen a video of the song performed live. The most iconic for me was the snake, and while I was listening to the song and trying to take in this experience that I knew was coming to an end I thought of all the years I’d been listening to this song, and the first time that snake stared at me while I watched Trent pour himself out on stage on a VHS copy of Closure. I thought about all the things I’d been through since then, the decisions I’d made and the places I’d gone, those who had come into my life and those who had left, and I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was that one of my oldest friends was there with me.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.