The thing about a Nine Inch Nails tour in 2022 is this: Nine Inch Nails doesn’t need to exist, per se. Frontperson and mastermind Trent Reznor spent the aughts and 20-teens diversifying his creative output, reinventing himself and his creative partner Atticus Ross as award-winning composers for film, television, and video games; the haunting soundtrack to Damon Lindelof’s acclaimed HBO series Watchmen is but one recent example of how their unique approach to tone and mood, melody and dissonance can connect in all manner of settings. Between those gigs, and a robust back-catalog, the idea of NIN as an actively touring and recording concern seems…antiquated. Which is exactly why they’re making their best work and playing their best shows right now.
Nine Inch Nails doesn’t need to tour — so by the very act of going out on the road and booking gigs in intimate (for them) settings, like their two-night stand at The Met Philly this week, they make it clear they very much want to tour, and they’re going to go all in. Same with their most recent new music, the cathartic trilogy of EPs that began with 2016’s Not The Actual Events, continued with 2017’s Add Violence, and concluded with 2018’s Bad Witch. Reznor and Ross had plenty other stuff going on, they didn’t need to make those projects — they had a creative itch to scratch, they felt compelled to put them into the world, and the result is Nine Inch Nails’ best music in over a decade, three punchy collections on par with their classic Broken EP, individually and collectively surpassing most of their full lengths of the 21st century.
Last night, round one of Nine Inch Nails’ Philly stop showed that the trusting-your-instincts, following-your-muse approach results in terrific concert setlists as well. “We’re gonna do what we feel like tonight and see where it leads,” a warm and chatty Reznor told the crowd before launching into “Even Deeper,” a chilling album track from 1999’s The Fragile that resulted in cheers from surprised fans; this crowd was going to get deep cuts, they were going to get new material, they were going to get hits, and they were going to love the lot of it.