TAMPA — Trent Reznor, soaked in sweat, stopped to take a breath, two songs away from the end of an incredible show that offered a glimpse inside his turbulent, brilliant mind.
“I want to take one second to say thank you very much,” the founder and driving force behind Nine Inch Nails said. “This is it for us. I’m not sure if we’re coming back or not.”
As a capacity crowd sang along to “Head Like A Hole,” Reznor’s breakout first single, the words seemed eerily prophetic – “You can’t take it. No, you can’t take it. No, you can’t take that away from me!” – at least for one reviewer seeing the band for the first time live.
If it was indeed a coda, Reznor made the most of his last appearance, pulling songs from his entire 26-year career, and delivering a blistering take on such classics as “Wish,” “Terrible Lie” and “Closer.”
Monday’s show at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre was a rousing double bill of aging but still relevant alternative rock icons with more than 30 million albums sold collectively between them.
Soundgarden, the early purveyors of Seattle’s grunge movement, opened the night by going back — way back — to 1994 for a set heavy with hits off its seminal album, Superunknown, including “Spoonman,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell on Black Days.”
Both the band and its most successful album share an anniversary this year. Soundgarden formed in 1984, 10 years before releasing Superunknown.
Frontman Chris Cornell appeared not to have aged at all over the past 30 years. Looking and sounding like he just walked off a Temple of the Dog video shoot, his voice still strong and his long, lean frame draped in a gray T-shirt and skinny black jeans, Cornell seemed to relish the response.
He chatted between songs and said he was glad to be in the Bay area, but made no mention of the Tampa woman arrested last month for allegedly stalking him and his family.
Reznor, in comparison, let his music do the talking.
After walking onto a completely bare set draped in curtains, Reznor launched into “Somewhat Damaged” from his 1999 album, “The Fragile.” Moving deeper into his set list, the stage morphed with large video banks wheeled out behind him, offering an assault of lights and blurring imagery.
As the first notes of “Closer” brought a roar from the crowd, Reznor’s face appeared digitized and pixelated on the video screens, screaming in catharsis.
Both bands ended with iconic hits that were covered by Johnny Cash.
Soundgarden’s last song before its encore was “Rusty Cage.” Reznor concluded with “Hurt,” a sweeping anthem of pain and despair.
Standing prone beneath a spotlight, holding his head and pulling at his short black hair, Reznor seemed to lose himself in the darkness of the lyrics as thousands of fans stood, rapt, from the rain-slick lawn to the front-row VIP seats. They sang in unison with him, a collective outpouring of love and appreciation, an urgent embrace to keep him on stage just a little longer.