Nine Inch Nails

And So I Watch You From Afar and Little Matador provide support for Trent Reznor and friends at Custom House Square

Fronted by Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly, Little Matador are the perfect choice to kick off tonight’s hard rocking proceedings at Belsonic, despite the vocalist’s indie credentials.

Featuring crunching riffs courtesy of Dave Magee – best known for his work with Belfast-based grunge rock stalwarts LaFaro – Little Matador’s stoner-tinged grooves are a world away from Snow Patrol’s brand of power pop, which is probably a good thing, considering tonight’s audience.

The incredibly tight outfit are well met with appreciative toe-tapping, head-nodding and rounds of muted applause – it’s difficult to believe this is only their second gig.

Next up, And So I Watch You From Afar take to the stage with a howl of atonal shredding before launching into fresh release ‘Eunoia’, a peppy example of their distinct brand of largely instrumental prog-tinged post-rock.

Custom House Square is the perfect arena for the band’s reverb-laden, bombastic tunes, really giving the epic complexities of the instrumentation on ‘Search:Party:Animal’ and ‘Set Guitars To Kill’ room to breathe.

Clearly years of honing their craft has paid off, with ASIWYFA’s funk grooves pouring fuel on a rapidly growing mosh pit. A heavy rain shower doesn’t put off the crowd as the band go out on a high with long-time favourite ‘The Voiceless’ – sure what’s a little ruined mascara between friends?

Opening with brand new number 'Copy Of A', Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor stalks the stage, dripping with menace. Whether or not it is a title he would wear with pride his debatable, but he is every bit the rock star. Make no mistake – although Reznor is accompanied by four others on stage, he is Nine Inch Nails, the only constant in a revolving door of musicians.

As the band launch into 'Sanctified' – a fan favourite from debut album Pretty Hate Machine – it is impossible not to notice how much Reznor has beefed up since those early days. Once a skinny recording studio janitor – he laid down his first album by himself at nights while the studio was closed – he has packed on considerable muscle mass of late. This, of course, serves only to intensify his already fearsome stage presence.

Taking a leaf out of Kraftwerk’s book, the band stand side by side, five solitary figures fronting a minimal stage set. However, when the industrial chords kick in good and proper, the enormous backdrop comes to life with Caligari shadows cast on a set of mammoth sliding walls. The drumkit silhouette becomes a hulking Lovecraftian behemoth, with Reznor spitting his lyrics centre stage.

Keeping fairly quiet between songs – save for the occasional bellowed 'Let’s go!' – Reznor captivates the audience with his effortless melodrama. In his world, things are either at their worst, filthiest and most base, or perfect, angelic and pure. It's the most captivating thing about NIN, and it makes for great listening.

All of this is complemented by an increasingly impressive stage set-up. Subtle, mottled blues bleed into greens behind the band members, before Custom House Square explodes into a full-on laser light show. I’m surely not the only one who recalls the similar antics at the Flaming Lips' performance at the first Belsonic five years prior.

The sneering, lazy groove of ‘Piggy’ stands out as the set continues, although it is fan-favourite ‘Closer’ that garners the biggest response from the audience. When the dirty bass of Reznor’s X-rated ode to carnal knowledge kicks in, you can be sure that high school romances forged to 1994 album The Downward Spiral are being reignited somewhere in the crowd. Probably behind the portaloos.

Unfortunately the Bowie and Joy Division covers that NIN are known for performing live don’t make an appearance, but the bellowed invective of breakout single ‘Head Like A Hole’ more than makes up for it.

Perhaps the only downside of the night is that the volume feels a little on the quiet side, encouraging me to make my way to the very front of the crowd. At least my 15 year old self would be proud, but my ears will feel it tomorrow...

Closing with the tender, haunting strains of ‘Hurt’, Nine Inch Nails leave the stage to rapturous applause, and the curtain closes on another memorable Belsonic headline set. The people in the apartments overlooking the square can finally get some sleep.

Belsonic continues in Custom House Square, Belfast until August 27.

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