Last night alt-rock legends Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails rolled on through the Xfinity Center in Mansfield in front of a nearly sold-out crowd that brought the place to near pandemonium. A tour that has already been well publicized due to the breaking up of Death Grips — preventing them from being the opening act because they finally eclipsed Morrissey in canceling shows — the excitement in the Venue Forever Known To Many As Great Woods was so contagious you could feel it from everyone around. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails perform on separate occasions when they both seemed to still be working off the rust from either a long breakup (a la Soundgarden) or an extended hiatus (a la Nine Inch Nails); this time around, both acts were on top of their game as they electrified a beautiful New England summer evening.
After I witness a guy who looked like Jack Black’s bully character in one of the Neverending Story movies tell the security guards to “go fuck [themselves]” because someone was holding a ticket for him — proving ’90s angst is alive and well in 2014 — I walked in and Soundgarden was already getting the party underway. With former Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain filling in for Matt Cameron due to Cameron just finishing up a European tour with his fellow Seattleites, I was a tad concerned that Chamberlain wouldn’t be able to match Cameron’s impeccable skills on drums. I was wrong. And with an old-school classic in “Like Suicide,” Chris Cornell showed that despite being in his 40s he can still sing like the rock god that he is, and Kim Thayil ripped it up with his now-trademark scorching riffs on guitar. Following it up with another song off of Superunknown in “Fell On Black Days,” right when the audience heard Cornell’s opening riff they went absolutely insane.
Soundgarden then completed the trifecta by performing the title track off of the same album and the fanboy inside me started acting like I was hyped up on a bunch of pixy stix. Cornell went on to say how New Englanders should feel lucky to live in a such a beautiful region during the summer “because everywhere else looks like shit right now.” Soundgarden then dived into “A Thousand Days Before,” which sounded better live than on 2012 album King Animal. Going vintage with “Beyond The Wheel,” Thayil exhibiting maximum distortion by pressing his guitar into one of his amps concluded a spectacular performance that brought people to a rousing applause. After witnessing something like that, I could only think of the epic display Nine Inch Nails had in store for this double-headliner bill.
Starting out with nothing but a white curtain in the background and few synthesizers, Trent Reznor came out on stage joined by the rest of his band, making the Xfinity Center look like the world’s biggest goth industrial party. Starting off with a newer number in “Copy of a,” four moving screens combined to form a silhouetting effect with shadows of each member of Nine Inch Nails reflecting on the canvas before routing into a deep track off of Pretty Hate Machine in “Sanctified.”
A black light show took over the venue with “Came Back Haunted” and in rapid fire succession the insanely powerful drums of “1,000,000” kicked in and the energy exuded was at an all time high. At one point you saw the moving screens become red and Reznor became magnified as of he was raging through a tangled web of crimson during the seductive S&M anthem “Closer.”
With “The Hand That Feeds” making people jump around like they had hydraulic fluid in their veins and the timeless hit “Head Like A Hole” capping off the frenzy, the fans were left wanting more like a pack of rabid wolves drooling for a piece of fresh meat. Reznor and crew came back for an encore and delivered with “Hurt,” which got one of the loudest cheers of the night and the emotional moment nearly had Reznor breaking down in tears. There were even points during the performance where you saw the enigmatic frontman busting out a tambourine, and combined with captivating visuals and near perfect quality, Nine Inch Nails ended the show in as awesome fashion as when it started.