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Nine Inch Nails Bring Cathartic Rock to New Orleans

Trent Reznor with a colorful, smoky background.

Trent Reznor at Voodoo Experience.

Dark blue rectangles dimly reflect the countless lights that surround the Le Ritual stage. There are only ten sticky passes for the ten photographers who are scheduled to shoot industrial powerhouse Nine Inch Nails and yet here I am, unapproved and utterly without credentials. A frantic grab of one rectangle immediately blows my cover.

“Which outlet are you covering for?” a woman demands, as I rack my brain and ultimately arrive upon the truth: a rather large publication. A look of recognition flashes by, the sticky wrinkling in her hand as she continues a line of questioning that brings me out of the pit and over by a security guard who also recognizes me.

He’s far friendlier and lets me compose myself before I worm my way into yet another restricted area. The name of the festival coverage game is “access” and that’s certainly something I’m limited in. Shifting restrictions at the Voodoo Experience have me in a VIP section with a camera over my head, my thoughts and hopes developing with each release of a shutter.

New Orleans is often likened to a cruel mistress; the type of city that makes Las Vegas appear tame, San Francisco a kiddie park, and New York a glorified 24-hour bodega. For Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, his time spent in the Crescent City provided an endless stream of creativity at the high cost of a paralyzing drug addiction. He sobered up in Los Angeles shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit the city and was one of the first musicians advocating for the Voodoo Experience to return to the ravaged city.

Reznor returns almost half a decade later, after a brief hiatus in which he not only regrouped but completely reconfigured his musical vision. He got married, had kids, and started a band with wife Mariqueen Maandig, the hauntingly beautiful How to Destroy Angels. For Reznor to forge on with Nine Inch Nails, however, he had to return to his roots. Their latest LP, the critically acclaimed Hesitation Marks, draws heavily from their breakthrough album The Downward Spiral.

Trent Reznor at Voodoo Experience

Reznor helped bring Voodoo Experience back to New Orleans after Katrina.

As with earlier inspiration, Nine Inch Nails completely hit their stride returning to Voodoo. Their set is cathartic, almost malicious in its intensity. Completely uncovered tracks lay bare spanning a back catalog that includes choice cuts from the aptly named the Fragile and their David Bowie collaboration “I’m Afraid of Americans.” My camera is zeroed in on the frenetic frontman as lights flash and rotate to the thumping, driving mix of steely percussion and growling vocals.

“I had some of the worst times of my life here and I found salvation here,” Reznor says midway through his set. An appreciative roar of the audience echoes his sentiments. My arms are pulling double-duty steadying and focusing and following as I shift my feet in place and occasionally stretch out as high as possible to capture the set in images.

Nine Inch Nails are a band I grew up with and grew into, having discovered the Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine thanks to an older cousin. Never had I dreamed that I would be shooting them for the second time in a year and writing exactly how and why the set had moved me, which it undoubtedly did. Those full circle moments are what makes the feverish run from crowd, to pit, to VIP worth its weight in gold. A return to passion in a positive manner is the chord that Reznor and co. struck within the confines of City Park and damn was it melodious.

Photos by April Siese

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April Siese

April Siese