Your first concert is powerful, unforgettable experience. Nearly everyone has their story about the first band they ever saw, and can usually recall in exact detail what they wore, who they were with, how much the tickets cost, where it went down, what the stage looked like, and what songs they played. If the performer was someone who rode the zeitgeist at the time, but has since fallen out of cultural favor -– your Vanilla Ice’s or Smashmouths for instance — they might relate the tale with some sheepish resign or “can you believe I was into that” self-deprecation. If it was someone badass however, someone iconic, the story is typically relayed with raised eyebrows, widened eyes and huge smiles. I live to hear these stories.
My first concert falls squarely into the realm of badass. September 28, 2005 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California. Nine Inch Nails were touring behind their new record With Teeth, and brought Queens Of The Stone Age and Autolux with them. Thankfully, I spent the summer mixing up Blizzards at the local Dairy Queen and had enough money saved up to spring for GA tickets with my friends. The show itself was incredible; so incredible in fact, that it threw off my perception of what a merely “good” concert looked and sounded like for years afterwards.
I didn’t cut class too often in high school, but one of the few occasions I bailed was to purchase a copy of With Teeth the day it came out at Dimple Records on San Juan Avenue with my buddy Nathan. The band’s sophomore album Downward Spiral was absolute gospel, and to me, the only sin of their double-CD The Fragile was that it wasn’t long enough. All that’s to say, I was in pure, frenzied heaven as soon as the lights lowered in the basketball stadium and the band emerged through a dense, manufactured fog.
The raw intensity that Trent Reznor and company brought totally shocked me. I had seen clips of their mud-drenched performance at Woodstock in 1994 and owned the Closure video on VHS, but it was an entirely different thing to see this animal in person. I was in the pit, moshing out to cuts like “Terrible Lie,” “Burn,” and “Reptile,” and you could literally see the veins popping out of Reznor’s neck as he leaned in, white-knuckling his microphone and screaming out the gigantic choruses of some of my all-time favorite songs. I left that night a changed person and have been chasing the dragon of that euphoric feeling for years ever since.
Unfortunately, for many different reasons, that chase has not included Nine Inch Nails themselves. In the dozen years or so since that first gig, for reasons that range from economic, geographical or just plain bad timing — I had tickets to a show in 2013, but had to cover a Drake concert instead at the last minute — I have not been able to see them again. Then, a few months back, Riot Fest unveiled their lineup and I almost dropped my phone. Not only were Nine Inch Nails included on the bill, but the next night was headed up by the opener that night, Queens Of The Stone Age. It was kismet. Fate. Destiny. There was no way in hell I was going to miss this.