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Review: Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden blaze a too-quick trail through Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Aug. 11, 2014.
Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Aug. 11, 2014.
Published Aug. 12, 2014

Sixteen songs by Nine Inch Nails and 13 by Soundgarden are nowhere near enough for one night.

The alt-rock icons blazed like napalm through Monday's intense double bill at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, but their furious, 75-to-90-minute, hit-packed sets seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye. Seriously, each band could've played twice as long, and not one of the 11,000 souls in attendance would've left to beat traffic.

That's the thing with these summer co-headlines, which seem to be taking America's concert sheds by storm. It's been five years since Nine Inch Nails last played Tampa, a whopping 18 for Soundgarden. Both bands are long overdue for a full, headlining show here. It's awesome to see them both on one ticket, but at what cost? Last October, for example, Nine Inch Nails headlined Orlando's Amway Center and played a whopping 27 songs. Twenty-seven! That's a full album's worth more than fans got Monday night!

Maybe Nine Inch Nails' closing set felt short because no one saw it coming. For real: The house lights were still on when Trent Reznor walked to a nearly empty center stage, with no dramatic buildup whatsoever, and ripped into the careening Somewhat Damaged, with seizure-inducing spotlights casting massive shadows on a giant white curtain behind him.

Nine Inch Nails may be a lean four-piece these days, but Reznor remains obsessive in his band's presentation. Their stage was a constantly morphing Stonehenge of LED panels, spotlights and shadows that weaved around guitarist Robin Finck, keyboardist Alessandro Cortini and drummer Ilan Rubin. Every time you looked away, it seemed like the band and stage had transformed.

With so few members on stage, the show felt rawer, punkier than you might expect, given Reznor's Oscar-winnning forays into film scores. Still ripped at 49, Reznor gripped his mic stand like he was pile-driving it into the ground, sweating like a gym rat on devastating shredders Burn, March of the Pigs and Eraser.

Evidence of his compositional wizardry was everywhere – the bubbling synthesizers and moombahton clacks of Disappointed, the devastating melancholy of Hurt, the avant-garde cacophony of The Great Destroyer – but in the end, Reznor had no interest in previewing his score for Gone Girl. He just wanted to give in to his grinding psychobilly urges on Gave Up and Wish.

Maybe it was just the fury of the music, but there was a sense of urgency to Nine Inch Nails' performance that seemed to intensify throughout the night. The encore break was a tight one, and judging from the setlist on the stage, it appears they axed one song (Only) near the end. Maybe Trent had somewhere to be? Like I said: It all went by way too quickly.

The same was true for Soundgarden, who at least mixed things up a bit from recent shows on this tour. This is the 20th anniversary of landmark album Superunknown, and while its big hits (Black Hole Sun, Spoonman, Fell On Black Days) got their due on Monday, so did the rest of Soundgarden's catalog. In a break from recent setlists, they skipped a couple of songs from Superunknown to pay homage to 1996's underrated Down On the Upside, including scoundrelly desert-blues jam Burden In My Hand and the grinding, drenched-in-distortion Pretty Noose.

Just as welcome were Soundgarden's pre-Superunknown tracks, including 1991's Badmotorfinger's Outshined and Rusty Cage -- the former a Zeppelinesque flex-fest that saw frontman Chris Cornell striking his best rock-god poses; the latter a blast of engine-revving MC5-style punk.

Cornell's voice, always the Seattle scene's best, sounds like it's been preserved in amber (with just a touch of amber liquid mixed in). And with guitarist Kim Thayil -- an unmovable mound of hypnotic prog-metal consistency -- and earth-shaking bassist Ben Shepherd behind him (longtime drummer Matt Cameron is sitting out this tour, replaced by Matt Chamberlain), Cornell proved that Soundgarden's 12-year hiatus had no effect on their live skills.

They saved their oldest song for last: 1988's anti-war screed Beyond the Wheel, which ended with Thayil alone onstage, thrusting wave after wave of groaning feedback through his speakers.

Maybe he just didn't want the night to end. Plenty of fans know exactly how he felt.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*