Seeing Nine Inch Nails just about put me six feet under.
The No. 1 band on my bucket list delivered Saturday night, with music mastermind Trent Reznor engulfed by moving backdrops, his dark silhouette hovering over 65,000 people in Golden Gate Park during the sixth annual Outside Lands music festival.
Starting with new material like “Came Back Haunted,” the crowd eased into a set that embodied 25 years of industrial and experimental sound. Mayhem soon ensued when Reznor, the only official member in NIN and the brain behind the project’s lyrics and sound, played “1,000,000.”
Streaks of red light illuminated the trees surrounding a sea of spectators; looking up, a heavy mist flickered through thick beams of color. Sweating and panting, “March of the Pigs” exposed a side of me I’d forgotten how to revive. It left me vulnerable, exposed; releasing all the angst that I felt as a 10-year-old girl – the first time I picked up a NIN album and listened to its entirety in one sitting.
The energy morphed when Reznor, backed by a simple piano melody, began singing “Something I Can Never Have.” I shared the evening with my sister; she too looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore . . .Scraping through my head ‘till I don’t want to sleep anymore . .. . You make this all go away . . .I just want something . . . I just want something I can never have.”
Sometimes it’s the darkness with which we identify – plagued by the loss of a parent as young children, the song meant different things to each of us, but we held hands, and we let the words flood our bodies, rekindling lost pieces of our childhood that sometimes only music can mend.
I don’t think I have ever been more emotionally connected to a set in all my life.
Middle-aged Reznor, thick and muscular, is a far cry from the skinny, Goth-looking man that put out “Pretty Hate Machine,” “Broken” and “Downward Spiral.”
Even the 60-something year old couple in front of me dropped their bags and screamed when an electronic heartbeat initiated an echo of screams. “Closer” could easily be their most popular song, but I couldn’t have asked for a stronger finish. Eighteen songs in, Reznor played 2005’s “The Hand That Feeds,” just before 1989’s “Head Like a Hole.”
Could it get any better?
It did. He closed with a song so beautiful, Johnny Cash covered and dedicated it to his dead wife June Carter just before his own death in 2003. “Hurt” nearly brought me to tears, and allowed the mass to wean off the high, infused by the last 90 minutes.
Other highlights included an unforgettable set by Paul McCartney on Friday night. Playing “Blackbird,” “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Yesterday” and a million other Beatles hits, he was backed by the Kronos Quartet, and at one point pulled two women on stage. They frantically asked him to autograph their wrist, which they tattooed the following day.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers closed the festival Sunday night. Feet in the air, Anthony Kiedis walked on his hands while iconic bass player Flea warned the crowd that they’d be playing the quietest song in history before bursting out with “High Ground,” a Stevie Wonder cover. Honestly, I couldn’t take my eyes off drummer Chad Smith. I saw Will Farrell drumming in “Step Brothers” and playing one mad cowbell on SNL.
Jurassic 5 put on one of the best daytime shows, rapping and spinning a record the size of a semi truck. The fully reunited crew, with both Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark, played classics like “What’s Golden.”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O impressed the crowd when, dressed in a silver and gold suit, she gulped the entire microphone on her hands and knees and belted graphic lyrics.
One of the most unforgettable moments came during comedian Jeffrey Ross’ set when “Uncle Jessie” (John Stamos) and Bob Saget joined his Roast of San Francisco.
All in all, festivals like Outside Lands allow ticketholders to see some of their favorites – maybe a band so huge they seemed unattainable – as well as the old-schoolers, like Willie Nelson and Hall & Oates, while also searching for new sound among a slew of unknowns.
Contact Nicole Baptista at firstname.lastname@example.org.