Nine Inch Nails

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • January 2019Wide Focus • January 14, 2019

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

“Cold and Black and Infinite” North America Tour 2018

Paul “Arlo” Guthrie of Toss Film + Design had a busy 2018. Along with designing the Nine Inch Nails “Cold and Black and Infinite” tour, he also worked on tours by Macklemore, Hall & Oates, The Lonely Island and various high-profile TV and corporate events. For the Nine Inch Nails (NIN) tour, which just ended in December, Guthrie also served as lighting programmer and director as well as LD.

At the start of last year Trent Reznor, who basically is NIN, contacted Arlo to start looking at ideas for designs. One of the first things Trent thought of was to find a new video program that could distort his image on LED screens, thinking that perhaps they could do something original. Indeed, after looking at what could be achieved through the use of Notch effects in a media server, they thought this might be the way to go. That was the idea until Arlo informed him that everyone on the road was now incorporating that technology into their tours. Since this artist has always strived on doing things outside the box, he immediately nixed the original plans.

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         A 1990s Vibe

Guthrie expands on this. “We spent the first half of last year investigating new technologies for the projected tour and then abandoned everything for par cans and an early 1990s aesthetic featuring a lot of smoke, fans and heat.” Trent reverted to one of his old passions, lots of white light and smoke. This time he nixed all video, offering only a raggedy backdrop and a rocking band to get his message out.

PRG Lighting supplied the gear for this, really because they may have been one of the only places Guthrie could find the gear he wanted. “I remember talking to Upstaging’s rep in Chicago, as they have looked after this client for many tours. I told them I needed a system of beat up pars. We were looking for a greasy industrial look. We didn’t want shiny-looking gear, just beat-up dented old par cans that looked gnarly. I remember Huddleston being stumped and telling us he really didn’t have any gear that fit this mold, and we would have to look elsewhere.” PRG was probably the best place to source a large number of cans. Light and Sound Design (who sold to PRG decades ago) made so many models of pars, used on so many metal tours, that Guthrie was able to find precisely what he was looking for.

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Rising to the Challenges

Each day brought a new challenge, whether it was squeezing into a theater or trying to come up with their looks on a festival stage full of only moving lights. “Having worked with Trent and the band before, I knew pretty much what to expect, and also that things can always change. I knew it would be punishing and challenging. I run 75 songs programmed in the console, all manually, so it’s a timecode-free zone, all while being judged by the harshest critics.”

Nine Inch Nails draws a tuff crowd who love their idol. They are used to an amazing light show, whether it’s all new technology that’s never been used or, in this case, the total opposite. The challenge for Guthrie was using pars in a way he hadn’t used them before.

He admits, “There was daily cloning at festival dates while another band was doing soundcheck. There can be songs the band rehearsed once in the afternoon and then played in the set later that night… like cats and dogs living together.”

Most bands would be turned off by the immense heat that a lot of pars add to a stage. Certain acts, such as Tina Turner, demand that pars be in their show just for just this reason. It appears Reznor shares that trait. “Trent wanted it hot. I am still amazed at what the band can take on stage. I smash their faces off every night, and they never miss a beat. We wanted piles of par cans on the floor, so All Access made us some carts that get repositioned throughout the show.” And of course, more smoke than most anyone can handle, was in ample supply.

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Timecode…NOT!

As far as programming and coming up with a daily set list of songs, well, that just wasn’t going to happen with Trent this time around. “We talked about things for a long time beforehand, but there were only a few days of pre-programing and then we threw it all out and started again with just two days to re-program the whole show.” In addition, most of the programming had to be done at soundcheck each day and, of course, the LD was expected to remember where to hit each cue, though he may have never heard that song before that day. “The set list is different every day, and songs have been added all the time,” even up to the last show, he says.

Moving lights were incorporated into the rig, mostly from the overhead trusses. This way, Guthrie could clone the lights when the band played festivals. PRG Best Boys, Robe BMFL WashBeams and MegaPointes made up the brunt of the rig, with GLP JDC1 strobes used as well. As Paul says, the band is not afraid of heat or bright lights. He placed some JDC’s on the front of the stage, mere inches from the musician’s faces at times. It was like they almost dared the LD to melt their faces. He did his best. The front rows of fans were not immune either.

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

The only semblance of a set beside the carts of pars was a backdrop that Sew What had made for the tour. Even that had to be reprogrammed, it seems. “We had some trusty assistants ‘relic’ our first backdrop with kitty litter, soy sauce and shoe polish. After a month in the hamper between tour dates, it smelled pretty bad!” The tour that started last June wrapped up with six sold-out nights at the down-and-dirty Hollywood Palladium. I can’t think of a better venue for a crowd to rock and sweat it out for a few hours to industrial rock.

Arlo wished to throw some accolades to the crew. “Working with Bill Rahmy and Jerome [Crooks] is fun, as they are consummate professionals, each in their own unique way. And of course, having the legendary “Hodgie” as my crew chief is great as were my old mate Curry Grant and his PRG crew.”

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

Nine Inch Nails

“Cold and Black and Infinite” Tour


  • Lighting Designer, Programmer & Director: Paul “Arlo” Guthrie
  • Lighting/Video Co: PRG
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Gerardo “Hodgie” Vierna
  • PRG Account Rep: Curry Grant
  • PRG Lighting Techs: Rob Simoneaux, Jen Kerbs, Michael Kitts
  • Tour Manager: Jerome Crooks
  • Production Manager: Bill Rahmy
  • Production Coordinator: Mariko Jones
  • Stage Manager: Rene Marino
  • Set/Carts: All Access Staging
  • Backdrop: Sew What?
  • Trucking: Upstaging

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings


  • 2       grandMA2 Full consoles
  • 20     PRG Best Boys
  • 6       Robe BMFL WashBeams
  • 15     Robe MegaPointes
  • 1       Vari-Lite VL6000’s
  • 40     GLP JDC1’s
  • 21     GLP X4Bar20s
  • 58     Chauvet Strike 4’s
  • 30     Chauvet Strike 1’s
  • 6       4×2 Kino Flos
  • 76     Par 64s
  • 3       Shadow Lights
  • 4       ZR-44 Smoke Machines
  • 8       DF-50s
  • 4       RE-5 Fans


More NIN 2018 tour photos by Steve Jennings:




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