Eschewing the trend of recent years for hard rock bands to base their touring around festivals such as Soundwave and to a lesser extent Big Day Out, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor decided they could have more fun and deliver a better show for the fans by teaming up as a double-headed alt-rock tag team and playing ten arena shows across Australasia. Who would play first, would there be a strong crossover appeal for fans of each band, would they collaborate on-stage and which band would reign supreme at kicking out the proverbial jams?
Brody Dalle, (The Distillers, Spinnerette, wife of Homme) hit the stage early at 7pm and set about playing a no-frills, punk rock set featuring old songs and a preview of tracks from her forthcoming solo album. There wasn’t much stage presence happening and the songs did tend to blend into one another with the buzzsaw guitars, pounding drums and Dalle’s Courtney Love-esque raspy snarl of a voice. It was a solid but unimpressive performance that paled in comparison to what came next.
Nine Inch Nails had drawn the short straw on the coin toss to determine the playing order (presuming Reznor would prefer to play last) and after a super quick changeover the lights blacked out and Qantas Credit Union Arena was transformed into a mechanistic cyber disco with Reznor cast as a futuristic Travolta whose job was to overload senses and fuse musical genres.
NIN are of course the sonic limbs of Reznor, such is the large cast of players that have passed through its ranks and tonight he used the band members in different configurations to suit the songs. Some songs featured live drums, others had pre-preprogrammed loops while the drummer stepped out to play bass with the other two instrumentalists. It really was a huge sound for so few on-stage musicians which was a testament to Reznor’s ability to create mood and dynamics in his music and translate that to the stage with all the tricks and tools of live performance. They opened with A Warm Place before the metallic stomp of Somewhat Damaged really ignited the arena and Reznor and co set about pulling from all corners of their discography, from Pretty Hate Machine up to the recently released Hesitation Marks, a spread of nearly 25 years of music.
The combination of the primarily white, strobing lighting, stark stage set and Reznor’s prowling, bouncing and at times messianic presence gave the performance the intensity he is renowned for, whether it was the industrial or electronic sides of NIN. The nineteen song set did a brilliant job at capturing those two aspects of their sound. From the Giorgio Moroder-ish disco thrum of Copy of A to the monstrous metallic riffing of Wish, Reznor showed what a strange and unique world he has created where dark, subterranean themes are wrapped in the sound of disparate influences such as Ministry and Depeche Mode with fans lapping up it all up with equal verocity.
The peak of the set came with the closing tracks Head Like A Hole, in all its surging, anthemic glory and Hurt, probably Reznor’s finest song and delivered with real passion and intensity. Those qualities defined NIN’s performance and left the rewarded crowd energised and buzzing as they scattered to drinks queues and toilets before Homme and gang swaggered on stage.
There was obviously discussion about each act’s stage setup in order to create contrast between the two as Queens of the Stone Age played in a tight formation in front of colour-matching amps and a giant video screen that rose from the stage to the roof. Immediately the difference between the two acts became apparent. NIN is dystopian, nihilist head music whereas QOTSA is a looser groove, from the hips with bluesy swagger and rock ‘n’ roll nonchalance. Second song in they unleashed the monolithic chopping riff of No One Knows, possibly igniting the biggest cheer of the night. It was a masterful move to play the song so early as from there on in the crowd were in the palm of their hands. The rest of the set showcased last year’s …Like Clockwork album with seven of it’s tracks with If I Had A Tail, I Sat By The Ocean and My God Is The Sun in particular already sounding like established QOTSA classics. A mid-set highlight was Make It Wit Chu, that soulful, falsetto hookworm of a song that had the arena getting their groove on and singing along in full voice as the band stripped the song bare and built it back up into a sexy ramalama rave before poisoning the sweetness with the grinding, flagellating riffs of Sick, Sick, Sick.
Homme was the consummate frontman, solid, composed and hitting the notes and when the music required it, flailing, lurching and tearing solos from his guitar strings. “How the fuck are ya Sydney?” was a favourite laconic phrase and when he introduced the band and their instruments in comic style he gave us “Hi, I’m Joshua, I’m on tequila”, raising a glass to friends and fans.
Opening the encore Homme caressed the keys for the haunting The Vampyre of Time And Memory which stood out amid all the rock bluster before they upped the frenzy with the punk blast of Feel Good Hit Of The Summer complete with Homme chastising the crowd for their sing-along sounding like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. A segue into the gloriously deconstructed, disorientating stop-start A Song For The Dead and the audience were left sonically battered and bruised after 3 hours of modern rock from two different acts, both firing on all cylinders. It mattered little that there were no onstage collaborations as NIN and QOTSA made the double headline bill feel like such a special event, making the format an unequivocal winning formula.
this review was first published on FasterLouder