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Concert Review: Nine Inch Nails / Soundgarden / Cold Cave

This past week, I was able to see two bands whom I’ve listened to for some time, but have never seen live: Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails. I found both of them long after their most celebrated albums, but have enjoyed listening to both their older works and newer releases.

When I found out that this concert would be held at Sleep Train Amphitheater (AKA Cricket Amphitheater, AKA Coors Amphitheater), I was a little worried. Only attending one prior concert there, I was not a fan of the seating arrangement, as the closest seats are still far away from the stage. Nevertheless, I was excited to go with my good friend Jules (from “2 Nerds and a Dude”) and his family, who happened to be major Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden fans.

The opening act was a duo called Cold Cave. Having learned that the prior opening act disbanded months before the tour started, I was not expecting anything great out of this band, thinking both headliners were eager to just fill the spot with anyone willing. Hanging outside the theater, my friends and I started hearing decent music come from the stage. Thinking it was just the pre-concert music that every venue plays, we slowly made our way to our seats, only to find out the opening band actually started. Overall, I was quite pleased with the band. Having never heard of them before, they performed very well, and had some pretty cool video effects behind them. The sound was more synth-pop and indie than I imagined, but could easily be used as background music at work. An unexpected surprise to the start of this concert.

Just as nightfall started, Soundgarden graced the stage. Playing to a nearly sold-out crowd, I was more impressed with the crowd reaction to Soundgarden than I was with Nine Inch Nails. Many fans around me screamed the lyrics to favorites like “Black Hole Sun” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” while more of the fans were in a stupor when watching Nine Inch Nails and not moving from their seats. Chris Cornell had an amazing voice as always, Kim Thayil played tremendous solos throughout the set, while Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd were amazing on drums and bass. There was a variety of effects, ranging from different types of lighting to a large video screen displaying some socio-political and religious emblems. The set was much more proggy than I expected, since I don’t consider Soundgarden a progressive rock band by any means. Several songs contained extended solos and bridge sections, while the last song was drawn out an extra few minutes, as each member left the stage one by one. I loved their stage presence and performance, and enjoyed listening to their greatest hits.

Nine Inch Nails
Photo by Kenny Norton

After some time, the crowd started to scream again. Looking at the stage, I saw Trent Reznor come onto the stage by himself with one light focused on him. For some time prior to this concert, Jules, being the ultimate Nine Inch Nails fan, had told me all the crazy effects and stage performances they have done. I was surprised to see such a simple start to their set, but was not disappointed in the end. The remaining members slowly trickled into their first song “Copy of A,” and only then did the vibe feel right. Nine Inch Nails went on to play many songs, mostly from their earlier records like “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Broken” (the only part of their discography that I don’t know too well). Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this concert. What I liked most about their set was the member of the band that I least expected: their drummer Ilan Rubin, who happens to be a San Diegan. His performance was simply outstanding. I have never seen a drummer so technical, yet so accurate live. I would love to see them again just to see that drummer again. In the encore, the band came back to perform one of my favorite songs by them, “Hurt.” With such a depressing video display behind them, I nearly cried as he sang the chorus:

“And you could have it all / My empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt.”

This concert was a lot of fun. While both bands celebrated their 20th anniversaries of their greatest albums, each band was able to mix in some other material. The opening act was listenable, which has become a rarity nowadays. There were many special effects during each performance despite the outdoor venue. Sleep Train Amphitheater redeemed itself in this concert, and now I am willing to give the venue another chance.

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