by Trent Vanegas
L: GA bracelet, the ticket stub from eBay, and the broken key from Trent Reznor’s keyboard // R: Trent Reznor (photo: Mark Benney)
Because I tend to see a lot of concerts (in 2022 I managed to attend 110 shows from January through December) I am asked “what is your all-time favorite concert” quite often. When asked “who is your favorite artist?” or “what is your favorite song?”, I have a hard time answering because the answer changes from time to time. But my favorite concert of all time? That is an easy question for me to answer because although I’ve seen 1,130 concerts (and counting) in my lifetime, I regularly think about the one concert that actually changed my life.
In 1994 I was a kid thriving in one of the greatest eras of music of the modern age. The internet had yet to explode and radio and MTV were still kings. I had been a Nine Inch Nails fan since their debut album was released in 1989 but until 1994, I had never experienced the band live. After growing up as a bona fide pop kid (Prince, Madonna, Paula Abdul), my music tastes started to mature in the ’90s. In the summer of ’94, I failed to get tickets to see Nine Inch Nails when they famously toured with Hole and Marilyn Manson. I promised myself that I would not miss them the next time they came to Detroit. In September of ’94, I heard a radio commercial announcing that Nine Inch Nails would be playing a New Year’s Eve show at The Palace of Auburn Hills and that tickets would be going on sale the following weekend. That Friday night, I made my way to Southland Mall in Taylor, MI to camp out for tickets to see that show.
Even up until the day of the concert, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I was about to experience. I was excited, yes, and I had my childhood best friend with me but we had no real idea what to expect. Because I camped out, I secured two General Admission floor tickets so when we arrived at The Palace, we had to hand over our ticket stubs and were given plastic bracelets to access the floor (although I kept my bracelet, it took me about 20 years to find a ticket stub from that show on eBay to add to my prized concert ticket stub collection). The floor crowd was pressed up against the metal railing separating the audience from the stage and my friend and I were content to stand back and to the side to watch the show.
For that tour, The Further Down the Spiral Tour, Nine Inch Nails enlisted Pop Will Eat Itself and The Jim Rose Circus to open the shows. After the opening acts were finished, a big beige curtain/tarp was raised to hide the stage from the crowd until the show began. Suddenly, the lights in the venue went off and flashing lights started to pulse behind the semi-opaque tarp as smoke billowed from the stage as the opening beats of the song “Pinion” started to play. The tarp dropped, the band exploded into “Terrible Lie” and my life was changed forever. I had never experienced such power, fury, or overwhelming live energy in my life. For the next twoish hours, NIN tore through a set list of songs that I was familiar with but were all transformed into something wilder, more primal.
At around 11:30 PM, the band left the stage and the tarp was raised once again. Then, as the clock neared midnight, a countdown began to ring in the new year — 1995. At the stroke of midnight, the tarp fell again and the band played for almost another full hour. During the last songs of the set, Trent Reznor and the band, worked tirelessly to destroy every single piece of equipment on that stage — guitars, keyboards, drums, mic stands — everything was smashed into countless pieces. A broken keyboard key was launched right at me, which I caught, and which I still possess today as one of my prized possessions.
It is difficult for me to truly explain what that concert meant for me. As I write these words, I am transported back to that night and I can still remember what it felt like for me to bear witness to that show. When I tell this story to people who ask me about “my favorite concert,” I liken the experience to a religious conversion. I was one person before that show and I was a very different person after that show. That was the concert that showed me what live music could be, what it should be — life-changing. From that moment on, I promised myself that I would attend as many concerts as I was able to if only to experience again even a fraction of what I felt that night.
I am very happy to report that I have enjoyed a great many other “favorite concerts” since that NIN show on NYE ’94–’95 but this show, in particular, will forever hold the place in my heart as my all-time favorite concert. Any experience that can help you realize your true self — in ways you never dreamed were possible — is one you will carry with you for the rest of your life. So, the tour that defined me? It’s the one that helped mold me into the person that I am today: Nine Inch Nails live at The Palace of Auburn Hills on December 31, 1994.
The Tour That Defined Me:
Nine Inch Nails – The Palace of Auburn Hills (Taylor, MI) 1994