Maybe former New Orleans resident Trent Reznor, leader of the industrial strength electronic-rock band Nine Inch Nails, felt some pressure about following Pearl Jam’s epic Friday night show at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience.
Eddie Vedder and company’s powerful show at Voodoo’s Ritual Stage also got a boost from a guest appearance by local hero Steve Gleason, former Saints player and Pearl Jam super fan.
But Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, headlining Saturday night at the same stage on the City Park Festival Grounds, nailed it. The show likely will be the biggest, most intense, eye-popping experience at the 2013 Voodoo Experience.
Minutes after 9 p.m., Reznor, tightly wrapped in a Goth-style outfit suitable for a mad scientist, circa 1850, assumed his position at the microphone stand while mist swirled over the stage. Strobe lights, rows of bright white lights behind and beside the stage and more made it a show that could only be seen at night.
Colors changed, too, giving the illusion that Reznor, his band and his two world-class backup singers, Sharlotte Gibson, who’s from New Orleans, and Grammy winner Lisa Fischer, were performing in clouds of red, green, purple and blue.
Combined with Reznor’s often heavy, moody and bleak music, the mist, color and flashing lights made for an otherworldly scene.
The musical heat from the stage contrasted with the cooling nighttime temperatures and brisk wind.
Reznor’s early Ritual Stage songs featured monstrous, crunching, punishing riffs. Simple music played to extremes, primal and destructive. Reznor may have destroyed a guitar when, following his third song, he hurled the instrument from the stage.
Beneath all the rage and wattage, the musicality in Reznor’s most aggressive material is sparse. But his shift to comparatively quieter, funky material early in the set showed he’s got soul and rhythm in him as well as tightly gripped fury.
Bassist Pino Palladino, whose credits include The Who, John Mayer and a Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour, is playing hypnotic, deep-bottomed bass lines for Nine Inch Nails’ “Tension 2013” tour.
Bassist Pino Palladino plus Gibson and Fischer, who suggested as much as they sang their backup vocals, helped Reznor conjure his strange soul brew. The two singers whispered, for instance, during a spooky new Nine Inch Nails song, “Come Back Haunted.” In a later song they even panted, or so it sounded.
There was more subtlety in “Find My Way,” also from Nine Inch Nails’ new album “Hesitation Marks.” The song built in intensity but also turned tender and delicate.
Although the festival grounds grew uncomfortably chilly, many of Nine Inch Nails’ fans stuck it out. Reznor rewarded them with “Head Like a Hole“ and “Sanctified,” both from his 1989 album debut, “Pretty Hate Machine,” and the Nails’ version of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” He made his stand in City Park.