Nine Inch Nails at the Eden Project

Never underestimate the awesome restorative power of live music.

When I drove my family from the West Midlands to Cornwall last week I had a metaphorical black dog in tow as well as a real one. It was after an excruciating delay made the long journey even longer that it finally bit me. Hard.

That evening was spent blankly staring into a fire, trying and failing to drink away the day until every last ember went dark and only smoking ash remained. Away, then, to an uncomfortable bed and the promise of claustrophobic heat the next day.

It was the next day that took us to Cornwall in the first place. I bought two tickets to see Nine Inch Nails at the Eden Project for my wife’s birthday, a decision that felt a long time ago and a long way away as I wasted a day of glorious weather by the seaside.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails were fucking brilliant. The kind of molecular, guttural, life-affirming brilliant that only art can achieve. Their show shook off the last of my cobwebs and pricked the numbness right out of my soul.

Trent Reznor and his band played two nights as part of the Eden Sessions, a series of outdoor summer concerts set in the shadow of the Eden Project’s famous biomes, which became a spectacular part of the light show.

Saturday night immediately earned its place in NIN lore thanks to a largely flipped setlist, unwelcome rain, epic pink skies and the timely appearance of a rainbow. We went on Friday, though, and I wouldn’t swap if offered the chance in hindsight.

Staying dry is better – that’s just obvious, no matter the positive impact of the rain on the experience – but the setlist was so spotless that I’d have been sad to miss out on so much of it had we switched tickets.

Opening with ‘Somewhat Damaged’ followed by a gorgeous rendition of ‘The Day The World Went Away’ was quite the statement of intent. The Downward Spiral was heavily represented throughout, and ‘Heresy’ in particular was an early highlight.

‘Wish’ also appeared in the first half, energising a crowd already more than willing to sing along. The adored deep cut ‘The Perfect Drug’ was sensational, its triumphant and thunderous final third as memorable as any of the NIN staples.

Nobody was expecting a run of three songs from 2018’s Bad Witch EP – complete with Reznor on saxophone – followed immediately by floor filler ‘Closer’, but that’s exactly what we got.

It was, for me at least, outshone by a stunning performance of ‘Copy Of A’, a funky and insistent gothic electronica anthem elevated on this occasion by the smartest, slickest light and shadow projection effect I’ve ever seen in music. Atticus Ross is a tremendous foil for Reznor and this type of thing is the result.

Party mode now fully activated, the band played a couple of David Bowie covers. Reznor has a production credit on ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ and remixed it for the Bowie single. NIN’s version of ‘Fashion’ is everything it should be – it sounds like Nine Inch Nails playing a song that can only be Bowie.

Then it happened. After 18 songs, Reznor and his bandmates somehow found another gear and made me feel something.

‘Gave Up’ is a favourite of mine and was the penultimate song of the main part of the set. Even today Reznor performs it like it’s 1992, but Robin Finck tore the spotlight from him more than a few times during the show and this was his crowning moment. They didn’t play it on Saturday.

It was the next song that will live longest in my memory. ‘Head Like A Hole’ – a NIN classic whatever the circumstances – was performed with the same gusto amid a barrage of white lights so bright that they might as well have been deliberately programmed to show me myself.

Of course, the truth is that performance’s transformative potential is not in the individual experience, no matter how profound, but in the collective moment. That’s truer in live music than anywhere else and Nine Inch Nails are the best in the business.

At the Eden Project they were electrifying. They were dextrous and creative, ferocious and fired up. Three decades on the road makes them a polished live act but they’ve lost none of the energy that got them there.

They remain utterly compelling because they trade in truth. Reznor is an artist and he stands by his every work and every word. He surrounds himself with players of equal genius and the crew to match. The sound was impeccable. That’s no mean feat for an outdoor show.

Nine Inch Nails at the Eden Project. It sounded like a good idea. It worked beautifully in practice.

That it came to mean so much to me was an unexpected twist for which I will always be grateful.