[December, 1994] The Concert That Changed My Life
After all the waiting and obsessing, it was finally time for the Nine Inch Nails concert. I expected an intense, thrilling show that would blow me away and that night I got one… only not from Nine Inch Nails.
“Nothing quite like the feel of something new” – NIN
NIN COUNTDOWN: 1 DAY
Robin sprained his finger. It bloody figures. My face got comments. Claudia and I were one of the first ones to find out (“don’t say ‘cancelled’ POSTPONED” I heard through the walkie-talkie).
The Limelight was fantastic, my ears are still ringing with Killing Joke (more likely feedback). Maybe I’ll write a story about that. Hmm… I’ve gotten over my fear of mosh pits. If we don’t find a way to get floor seats tomorrow—no we will find a way. We have to.
“Uncertainty can be a guiding light” – U2
Claudia and I got to Madison Square Garden early and lined up outside the arena. The reason my “face got comments” was because I drew three black spikes under each eye with eyeliner (inspired in part by The Crow without copying it straight out). We stood near a security guard and when I heard the words “cancelled” and “postponed” I thought I was in for one of the biggest disappointments of my teenage life. All that anticipation, only to have Robin Finck, the guitarist for Nine Inch Nails, sprain his finger and unable to play that night. However, there were two saving graces. The first was the fact that the NIN show would only be delayed by one day, with all existing tickets being honored the next night.
The second was a group of guys handing out free passes to a different show that night at The Limelight: Killing Joke. I heard of the band but was only familiar with a song or two of theirs from their latest album, Pandemonium, which were played on MTV’s alternative shows late at night. Seeing as my parents gave me a free pass to stay out late and sleep over Claudia’s house that night, I didn’t want the evening to go to waste and hoped we could still get an adventure out of it.
The Limelight was a converted church that played a prominent part in New York’s club scene in the 1990’s (the movie Party Monster was based on the gruesome true events surrounding the club kids and this venue, which was central to their partying). I had never been in a nightclub of any kind before and could sense the dark and debauched vibe when I walked in. Much of the church décor still remained, the pews and filigreed arches mixing with disco lights, dry ice, and metal catwalks to create a dim, disorienting, multi-leveled maze of a club.
I don’t know if it was an all-ages show, but I was just shy of 17 then and too intimidated to do much exploring, so I kept to the stage area, hoping the live show would live up to the surreal surroundings.
The opening act involved an array of sideshow performers eating glass, laying on a bed of nails, and spewing fire. The finale was particularly disturbing and featured a young woman cutting her arm, filling a cup with her own blood and then drinking it. At one point, her knees buckled a little and it looked like she would faint. This may have been part of the act, but I believed it all and was utterly riveted. It was the type of act The Jim Rose Circus, who found pop culture fame as a notorious part of the early Lollapalooza festivals, took on the road, but seeing it up close like that shook me up, in a good way. I was equally fascinated and repulsed.
Finally Killing Joke took the stage, and their metal/industrial-edged music quickly inspired a mosh pit (my first up close experience with one). I remained at the edge of it, avoided the kicking, thrashing whirlpool of bodies and felt like I was absorbing the music with all my senses. The songs were surprisingly melodic despite the aggressive guitars and Jaz Coleman’s vocals, which altered between singing and shrieking.
I had never experienced music on such a visceral level before. Between the setting, the gory opening act, and the mosh pit, there was this sense of barely-controlled chaos to the evening. And as dramatic as it may sound, there was something almost transcendent about it. I knew music was a powerful force, but that I night I experienced a whole other level to it, and even though I can’t exactly say how, I know it changed me.