The Oakland Coliseum was awash in black as pierced and tattooed concertgoers packed in for a Nine Inch Nails concert on Nov. 19.
Impatience and anticipation were palpable as many arrived before 5:00 for the 7:30 show. Standing at the front railing, faced down by intimidating security personnel, I and my fellow mosh pit compatriots stood at attention; the slightest stage movement made everyone on the floor start pushing forward to catch a glimpse.
Opening for the Nails was three-person self-classified pop band Autolux-perhaps not the best choice for such a bloodthirsty crowd. They began playing with zero introduction, and by their second song people started throwing empty beer cups at the stage amid hollers of, “Who the hell are you people?” Drummer Carla Azar leaned over to her microphone and said, simply, “Autolux.”
A video on the band’s Web site says “The great dream of Autolux is to play a show in front of the entire world and make noise that is so excruciating and terrible and goes on for so long that everyone on the planet loses their mind.”
And they nearly did just that. Between the lead vocalist’s unintelligible howling and the lead guitarist playing with the feedback from the amps, the attendees seemed the most grateful when they were finished.
As the roadies changed the set for Queens of the Stone Age, the air was so hot and so thick with human perspiration it was nearly unbearable. During the Queens’ first song, many bodies were passed to the front; aside from the crowdsurfers passed overhead were people who had simply passed out. Because I was at the front railing, the job was ours to hand the fallen over to security and first aid.
The Queens played an amazing set with the vocal rocker prowess of frontman Josh Homme and the Black Sabbath-esque guitar riffs of Troy Van Leeuwen. They played “Little Sister,” a crowd favorite, and closed their set with their radio hit “No One Knows.”
The arena lights went out as the Queens cleared the stage. As the crowd surged forward again, I found myself holding onto complete strangers and having the most random conversations; from politics to protein bars we talked among ourselves, while some tried to bribe security for bottles of water.
As stagehands tested microphones and other equipment, the crowd pushed forward with incredible force, smashing my 50 new best friends and me against each other and the railing. A gauzy silver screen was lowered around the stage.
The arena was plunged into darkness, and in a flash of blindingly white lights Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor was silhouetted against the stage.
The Nails led off with songs from their newest album, With Teeth, as the arena went wild. Screaming at the top of their lungs, pushing, kicking and clawing, fans in the pit began moshing. I was dragged backwards by my hair, bitten and punched, and I didn’t mind. This was why I came.
Nine Inch Nails cleverly crafted their set list with enough of their new songs to show how they’ve evolved as a group, but dotted it with enough of their older material to take me back to junior high when I first fell in love with Reznor.
Halfway through the concert, the gauzy curtain was lowered again and used as a projection screen, displaying images of war. The band played an instrumental paying homage to casualties of war; a war they are staunchly against. The lighters came out and the crowd calmed as the instrumental was blended into “Hurt,” a song made more famous when it was covered by the late Johnny Cash.
The band kept up the energy for nearly three hours, delighting and exhausting the crowd. By the last song I was sopping wet from sweat that wasn’t entirely mine-and it was the highlight of my month.