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Monday, April 28, 2014

VNV Nation @ Turner Hall Ballroom

April 27, 2014

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Largely instigated by the success of Nine Inch Nails, the mid-’90s tidal wave of industrial rock lifted a lot of bands to prominence, few of whom are still active now that that wave has long since receded. VNV Nation, formed by Dublin-born vocalist and producer Ronan Harris and English drummer Mark Jackson in 1990, is one of the few who’s still going strong, which probably has a lot to do with the duo’s philosophy of steely determination, best expressed through their motto, “One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret.” That work ethic has served the band well, forcing them to stay focused on developing their own sound in the face of changing commercial trends, as heard on their latest release, 2013’s Transnational, and instilling an intense loyalty in their fans.

Yet as devoted as those followers are, they’re getting older, and simply don’t go out as much as they used to, leaving the group’s show at Turner Hall Ballroom a bit under-attended, but still more than respectable for a Sunday night. Mostly aging industrial heads, a noticeable number of whom brought their young children to the show (bad idea), with a smattering of elaborately attired, 20-something goths, the crowd looked a little more formidable when the lights went out and people pressed in as close to the stage as possible, at which point it became apparent that seemingly everyone not wearing a corset or trench coat or what have you was sporting a brand new Transnational T-shirt. They’re clearly a passionate bunch, and greeted the opening number, the rousing new “Retaliate,” with something approaching ecstasy.

As excited as they were, Harris spent much of the evening good-naturedly chastising the crowd in his rolling Irish brogue, constantly enquiring, often mid-song, why they weren’t moving more. It was unclear whether he was actually frustrated or if it was just a gambit to get people engaged, but, in any case, it had people literally trying to have a good time as Harris and Jackson, backed by two supporting keyboard players, sweated their way through an eclectic set, really shining on the newer material, particularly “Control” from 2011’s Automatic. Oscillating between big, harsh beats and shiny ballads, the group started to sound a little samey by the second encore, making the closer, 2005’s “Perpetual,” feel somewhat ironic but, ultimately, that effort is why they’re one of the last of their ilk left standing.