Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series (1988–1991)
I could have just gone out with tape machines or 50 keyboards or whatever and recreated the sound of the record, but I'm much more interested in the challenge of having 4 musicians interpret what was initially composed by one person on a computer ... The record and the shows are quite different.
—Reznor in a 1991 interview
Reznor assembled the first live line-up in 1988 to support the Canadian industrial music band Skinny Puppy on tour. The three-piece band consisted of Reznor on guitars and lead vocals, Ron Musarra on drums, and Chris Vrenna on keyboards. The band was poorly received, however, and they were asked to leave the tour after 10 dates. After the Skinny Puppy tour the band was rearranged and expanded to include a fourth member; Musarra departed and Vrenna moved to drums, Gary Talpas, Nick Rushe, and later David Hymes contributed on keyboards, while Richard Patrick was added as guitarist.
Nine Inch Nails toured North America as an opening act for The Jesus and Mary Chain in 1990, and later for Peter Murphy. During these tours, Reznor began to smash equipment while on stage, and Rockbeat interviewer Mike Gitter attributed the band's early success to this aggressive attitude. In 1991, the band undertook a world tour that continued through the first Lollapalooza festival, where, according to biographer Martin Huxley, they "stole the show". New Musical Express had a sentiment after the performance, describing the show as "genuinely frightening", and asking the reader to "decide for yourself if it's choreographed chaos or unbridled grievous bodily harm". Nine Inch Nails was then invited to open for Guns N' Roses on their European Tour, though they were reportedly poorly received yet again. Before the Lollapalooza date, Chris Vrenna left the band due to a fall out with Reznor, and was replaced for the remainder of the tour by drummer Jeff Ward. Vrenna would rejoin the band for the Self-Destruct tour in 1994. At the conclusion of the Pretty Hate Machine tour, Richard Patrick left the group to form his own band, Filter.
After the 1994 release of The Downward Spiral, the live band embarked on the Self-Destruct tour in support of the album. Chris Vrenna and James Woolley performed drums and keyboards respectively, Robin Finck replaced Richard Patrick on guitar and bassist Danny Lohner was added to the line-up. The stage set-up consisted of dirty curtains which would be pulled down for visuals shown during songs such as "Hurt". The back of the stage was littered with darker and standing lights, along with very little actual ones. The tour debuted the band's grungy and messy image in which they would come out in ragged clothes slathered in corn starch. The concerts were violent and chaotic, with band members often injuring themselves. They would frequently destroy their instruments at the end of concerts, attack each other, and stage-dive into the crowd.
The tour included a set at Woodstock '94 broadcast on Pay-per-view and seen in as many as 24 million homes. The band being covered in mud was a result of pre-concert backstage play, contrary to the belief that it was an attention-grabbing ploy, thus making it difficult for Reznor to navigate the stage: Reznor pushed Lohner into the mud pit as the concert began and saw mud from his hair going into his eyes while performing. Nine Inch Nails was widely proclaimed to have "stolen the show" from its popular contemporaries, mostly classic rock bands, and its fan base expanded. The band received considerable mainstream success thereafter, performing with significantly higher production values and the addition of various theatrical visual elements. Its performance of "Happiness in Slavery" from the Woodstock concert earned the group a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1995. Entertainment Weekly commented about the band's Woodstock '94 performance: "Reznor unstrings rock to its horrifying, melodramatic core--an experience as draining as it is exhilarating". Despite this acclaim, Reznor attributed his dislike of the concert to its technical difficulties.
Reznor performing during the Self-Destruct tour, circa 1994–1995
The main leg of the tour featured Marilyn Manson as the supporting act, who Reznor had recently signed to his Nothing Records label. At the time, Marilyn Manson featured bassist Jeordie White (then playing under the pseudonym "Twiggy Ramirez"), who would later play bass with Nine Inch Nails from 2005 to 2007. After another tour leg supporting the remix album Further Down the Spiral, Nine Inch Nails contributed to the Alternative Nation Festival in Australia and subsequently embarked on the Dissonance Tour, which included 26 separate performances with co-headliner David Bowie. Nine Inch Nails was the opening act for the tour, and its set transitioned into Bowie's set with joint performances of both bands' songs. However, the crowds reportedly did not respond positively to the pairing due to their creative differences.
The tour concluded with "Nights of Nothing", a three-night showcase of performances from Nothing Records bands Marilyn Manson, Prick, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Pop Will Eat Itself, which ended with an 80-minute set from Nine Inch Nails. Kerrang! described the Nine Inch Nails set during the Nights of Nothing showcase as "tight, brash and dramatic", but was disappointed at the lack of new material. On the second of the three nights, Richard Patrick was briefly reunited with the band and contributed guitar to a performance of "Head Like a Hole". After the Self Destruct tour, Chris Vrenna, member of the live band since 1988 and frequent contributor to Nine Inch Nails studio recordings, left the act permanently to pursue a career in producing and to form Tweaker.
In support of Nine Inch Nails' third full-length studio album, The Fragile, the live-band reformed for the Fragility tour. The lineup remained largely the same from the Self-Destruct tour, featuring Finck, Clouser, and Lohner. To replace long-time member Vrenna, Reznor held open auditions to find a new drummer, eventually picking then-unknown Jerome Dillon. Dillon would remain a member of the live band until 2005.
Nine Inch Nails' record label at the time, Interscope Records, reportedly refused to fund the promotional tour following The Fragile's lukewarm sales. Reznor instead committed himself to fund the entire tour out of his own pocket, concluding that "The reality is, I’m broke at the end of the tour," but also adding "I will never present a show that isn’t fantastic."
The Fragility tour began in late 1999, running until mid-2000, and was broken into two major legs, Fragility 1.0 and Fragility 2.0 respectively. Destinations included Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and North America. Before the first Fragility performance date in Spain, Nine Inch Nails opened their final rehearsal in London to 100 fans. Kick-starting the tour was a performance of the title track from The Fragile at the MTV Video Music Awards. Atari Teenage Riot opened for Nine Inch Nails during Fragility 1.0, and A Perfect Circle for Fragility 2.0. At the time, A Perfect Circle featured Josh Freese on drums, who would later replace Dillon and play drums for Nine Inch Nails from 2005 to 2007. The tour featured increasingly large production values, including a triptych video display created by contemporary video artist Bill Viola. Rolling Stone magazine named Fragility the best tour of 2000.
In 2002, the tour documentary And All That Could Have Been was released featuring a collection of performances from the Fragility 2.0 tour. While making the DVD, Reznor commented on the tour in retrospect by saying "I thought the show was really, really good when we were doing it", but later admitted that he "can't watch [the DVD] at all. I was sick for most of that tour and I really don't think it was Nine Inch Nails at its best".
Live: With Teeth (2005–2006)
Following the release of With Teeth in 2005, the live band was reassembled for the Live: With Teeth tour. Since the previous tour five years earlier, much of the band had moved on in their careers, and only drummer Jerome Dillon rejoined. To find replacements, Reznor held auditions during December 2004. He stated that keyboardist Alessandro Cortini "fit in immediately", though he had trouble finding a guitarist to replace Robin Finck until auditioning Aaron North.
Reznor performing during the Live: With Teeth tour
The tour began with a series of small-club performances early in 2005. The band told journalists they were "pleasantly surprised by the interest" of fans despite their lengthy absence. This initial leg of the tour also included a headlining performance at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The band followed with a North American arena tour in autumn 2005, supported by Queens of the Stone Age, Death From Above 1979, Autolux, and Saul Williams. Williams performed on stage with Nine Inch Nails at the Voodoo Music Experience festival during a headlining appearance in hurricane-stricken New Orleans, Reznor's former home. To conclude the With Teeth era of the band, Nine Inch Nails completed a tour of North American amphitheaters in the summer of 2006, joined by Bauhaus, TV on the Radio, and Peaches. The 2007 release Beside You in Time features performances from the North American arena tour, the North American amphitheater tour, and a number of studio rehearsals.
Nine Inch Nails were scheduled to perform at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, but dropped themselves from the show due to a disagreement with the network over the use of an unaltered image of George W. Bush as a backdrop to the band's performance of "The Hand that Feeds". Soon afterwards, Reznor wrote on the official Nine Inch Nails website: "apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me". MTV replied by saying they respected Reznor's point of view, but were "uncomfortable" with the performance being "built around partisan political statements". A performance by the Foo Fighters replaced Nine Inch Nails' time slot on the show.
During the first arena performance in 2005, Dillon was forced to stop midway through the show and was subsequently hospitalized. His condition was later diagnosed as a non-life-threatening cardiac disorder, a consequence of his thyroid medication. Dillon later remarked that when he was ready to return he encountered "complete apathy and no sympathy" from Reznor and Nine Inch Nails' management. Reznor in turn wrote that Dillon's "recollection of the events leading to his departure from the band is once again inaccurate". Josh Freese initially replaced Dillon for two shows before Alex Carapetis joined the band for the remainder of the arena tour. Freese eventually replaced Carapetis and joined the band on a permanent basis.
Performance 2007 (2007)
Having taken a break from touring to complete work on Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails began a world tour in 2007, including their first ever performance in China. Reznor continued to tour with the same band he concluded the Live: With Teeth tour, which was composed of North, White, Freese, and Cortini. Supporting acts included Ladytron, Unkle, The Dandy Warhols, Alec Empire, and Serena Maneesh.
Nine Inch Nails during the Performance 2007 tour. From left to right: (Front) Jeordie White, Trent Reznor, Aaron North, (Back) Alessandro Cortini, Josh Freese
The Year Zero project included an alternate reality game of the same name, with much of the game revolving around various live shows.
During a Nine Inch Nails concert in Lisbon, Portugal, a USB flash drive was found in a bathroom stall containing a high-quality MP3 of the track "My Violent Heart", a song from the then-unreleased album. A second USB drive was found after a concert in Barcelona, containing the track "Me, I'm Not". Following the release of Year Zero the focus of the tour shifted towards debuting and promoting tracks from the new album. While some of these songs were performed by all 5 band members as conventional guitar-driven rock songs, two of them ("Me, I'm Not" and "The Great Destroyer") were played by Reznor, guitarist North and keyboard player Cortini as a 3 piece, using a combination of live guitars and pre-programmed samples triggered onstage with computers and manipulated in real time using Ableton software.
In April 2007, Nine Inch Nails fans received in-game telephone-calls in which they were invited to a "resistance meeting" in Los Angeles. At the meeting, fans attended a fictional Art Is Resistance meeting, and were later rewarded by an unannounced performance by Nine Inch Nails. The concert was cut short as the meeting was raided by a fictional SWAT team and the audience was rushed out of the building.
Later that year, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that the September 18 show in Honolulu would be the last performance of the current incarnation of the Nine Inch Nails live band. Reznor told the newspaper "at this point, I want to switch things around a bit. Nine Inch Nails as a rock band configuration, we've done it and we've done it again. I see other ways I can present the material in concert, more challenging, something new. I don't want it to go stale". In the same article, Reznor also admitted that "the idea of five guys playing loud music [for] two hours ... has got to change once finances come into play, especially performing in markets outside of the mainland U.S. I want to whittle things down".
Lights in the Sky (2008)
The seventh and eighth major Nine Inch Nails studio-releases, Ghosts I–IV and The Slip, were released in March and May 2008 respectively. Both albums feature contributions from live-band member Alessandro Cortini. Since the release of Ghosts I–IV, a 25-date tour was announced in several North American cities. Cortini and Freese returned as members from the previous tour, while Robin Finck rejoined the band. The lineup was initially to include Rich Fownes, but before any scheduled performances it was revealed that Justin Meldal-Johnsen would instead be contributing on bass guitar.
Left to right: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Trent Reznor, Alessandro Cortini, Robin Finck, and Josh Freese touring for The Slip
Supporting acts for the tour include Deerhunter, Crystal Castles, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Ghostland Observatory, A Place to Bury Strangers, and White Williams. In early June, a tour EP was released for free on the Nine Inch Nails website featuring four songs from the supporting artists and one from Nine Inch Nails. The files are DRM-free MP3s that are fully tagged, and included with the download are desktop wallpapers and a printable tour poster.
The band headlined the 2008 Lollapalooza festival, the 2008 Virgin Festival, and the first Pemberton Music Festival.
In May 2008, Nine Inch Nails announced that premium seating for all the upcoming 2008 tour shows would be offered in a pre-sale for fans who registered at the official Nine Inch Nails website. In an effort to combat ticket scalpers, each concert ticket will list the purchaser's legal name. The ticketing process was previously used for smaller pre-sales and was available exclusively to fan club members.
On July 26, Reznor introduced an "unplugged" portion into the live show in which the band steps to the front of the stage about an hour into the show, with Reznor on vibraphone and bassist Meldal-Johnsen playing an upright bass. The 20-minute jazzy, acoustic set is taken mostly from Ghosts I - IV. The stage show also featured mesh LED curtains that projected various visuals, ranging from falling rain to static to a ruined city, and made the band appear to be playing on "a stage that appeared to be constructed entirely out of lights." Nine Inch Nails later confirmed that the tour was to extend to South America and it was thought this would be the last Americas set of dates but soon after Reznor announced yet more North American dates including two dates in tourist capital Florida.
On October 8, 2008, after finishing up their last show in South America, Reznor posted on the official Nine Inch Nails website blog that Josh Freese would be leaving the band following the completion of the current tour. Shortly after, it was announced that Alessandro Cortini would also be leaving the band. On November 15, 2008, Reznor announced via the official Nine Inch Nails website that Ilan Rubin of Lostprophets would be replacing Freese after his departure at the end of 2008. No replacement was announced for Cortini, and the band subsequently toured as a 4-piece without a full-time keyboard player.
NIN|JA / Wave Goodbye (2009)
Left to right: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Ilan Rubin, Trent Reznor and Robin Finck.
In 2008, Reznor decided to put Nine Inch Nails on indefinite hiatus. He later clarified that "NIN as a touring live band or live band that's on the road all the time [would be] stopping" after a comprehensive tour, but that he would continue to produce music thereafter.
After a set of shows in Australia and New Zealand, Nine Inch Nails embarked on a North American tour of amphitheatres with Jane's Addiction and Street Sweeper Social Club dubbed "NIN/JA 2009". Concerts in Europe and Asia were also announced before Reznor added a series of smaller-venue shows in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The final show was on September 10, 2009.
Twenty Thirteen / Tension / NIN 2014 (2013-2014)
In February 2013, Trent Reznor announced that Nine Inch Nails would begin touring once more, with festival performances in the summer, arena performances in the fall, and worldwide performances throughout 2014. After Eric Avery and Adrian Belew dropped out during rehearsals, the festival tour lineup featured Alessandro Cortini, Josh Eustis, Robin Finck, Trent Reznor, and Ilan Rubin.
I Can't Seem to Wake Up (2017)
In March 2017, it was announced that the band will perform at FYF Fest and Panorama Music Festival in July. The touring line-up featured the same line-up as the NIN 2014 tour which included Reznor, Finck, Cortini and Rubin, the band's new official member Atticus Ross also joined the line-up. Nine Inch Nails begin the tour by performing at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, California on July 19.