And A Bang Of The Gear

By TERRY STAUNTON for NME on September 7, 1991

Ten guitars are destroyed every night during NINE INCH NAILS' band-battering, water-flinging, chaotic slots on the mega successful Lollapalooza tour. Hiding behind the amps, TERRY STAUNTON risks electrocution to join the Campaign For Real Nail.

San Francisco, city of peace and love. Perhaps the last refuge of the beautiful people who advocate making babies, not bombs.

But, hey, get out of the '60s, we don't have that mentality any more. It's 1991, the year of The Terminator (slight return), and Trent Reznor has declared war on anyone within guitar-slinging distance-and that includes the rest of Nine Inch Nails, as keyboard player James Woolley discover to his cost.

"It was just one of those shows," explains an almost apologetic Trent, a couple of weeks after the "Frisco Incident", as it has become known among the Lollapalooza entourage.

"Every single thing was fucking up; monitors weren't on, guitars were out of tune, the mic stand was nowhere to be seen. Every fuck up that could happen happened. Also the crowd were a little weird, and I just snapped....

"I just went totally violent, really scared a lot of people. I picked up my out-of-tune guitar, and smashed the fuckin' thing on the keyboard. Then I turned around and went about my business of the next song.

"A couple of songs later our road manager ran by and said 'It's OK, the medics are finally here.' I just looked at him and said 'Medics? What fuckin' medics? What for?' Then I turned around and saw James scowling at me, with all this blood trickling down his face. Seems a piece of guitar busted off and hit him in the head. Oh well, that's showbiz."

Violence is nothing new to Nine Inch Nails shows. James and guitarist Rich Patrick are used to being attacked mid song by the intense and troubled Trent Reznor. But the frontman sometimes forgets to hold back, and he's not a latter-day punk playing to the gallery. He means it, man.

Nine Inch Nails are genuinely frightening. They scared the shit out of the suits and pony-tails at last year's New Music Seminar in New York, trashing their instruments and each other during their showcase gig. And 12 months later, watching them from the side of the stage during the Boston shows of the Lollapalooza tour, I can't remember when I last felt so terror-stricken. I want to go home!

LOLLAPALOOZA is the brainchild of Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell; a touring package designed to showcase a rag-bag of musical styles while offering freedom of information and a forum for debate. As well as the bands, each stadium-sized show boasts stalls where one can learn about Greenpeace, gun control, civil rights, censorship, seven shades of political thought and hey, there's even a place where you can get a tattoo!

Smack dab in the middle of a seven band bill are Nine Inch Nails, immediately followed by Ice-T and preceding Living Color. The bulk of the acts are self-explanatory, but NIN are proving to be the wild card, combining the industrial terrorism of Ministry or Front 242 with the more organic manic guitars and polyrhythmic mayhem of Jane's Addiction.

"Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor" claims the sleeve of the 'Pretty Hate Machine' album. Subscribing to the auteur theory , Trent picks a bunch of blokes to flesh out the sound live.

"I'm not looking for virtuoso musicians all the time, it's an attitude that I'm interested in," says the curiously mild-mannered off-stage Reznor. "They have to have fire in them, and also be able to take orders from me."

His co-workers also have to be tough enough to take physical abuse each night, and risk their lives as buckets of water are thrown over all manner of electric's. More than one Lollapalooza stage-hand tells me its a miracle that nobody's been killed by taking 10,000 volts up the backside-yet.

"I was thinking about that only last night," muses Trent. "There I was on stage, standing in a huge pool of water, water dripping from my hair onto my guitar, and my mouth against the mic."

Trent, you've been doing this show for a couple of years now, and you only thought about the danger last night?

"There has to be danger, we have to instil a sense of fear in the audience, and ourselves. Rock 'n' roll deserves that.

"Censorship has been the big issue in recent years, in fact it's a big advertisement for your group to get banned in some way. But how many things that have been censored are really dangerous?

"So somebody says 'fuck' on their album, big deal. Anyone can say 'fuck', there's too many people banking on that word as dangerous. When The Beatles and The Rolling Stones started they were seen as a genuine threat, it was underground and exciting, but too many people are doing the same thing now and the danger is missing.

"Wanting to be a rock star is as legitimate as wanting to be a fireman or an astronaut, there's almost an established career path. Every beer commercial has some asshole playing guitar, it's all become so safe. It's like being a doctor, only you get more girls to take their clothes off for you and you get to fuck them.

"Anybody can try and look like David Lee Roth and base a career on an old Van Halen video and I just find that sickening."

British audiences get their first taste of Nine Inch Nails this week, with the start of the band's debut tour over here. Having opened for Guns 'N Roses at Wembley last weekend, terrorist Trent is about to put the frighteners of the frequenters of smaller club venues-stay away if you scare easily.

More than 17,000 stunned spectators must have had nightmares after the Boston shows. With the mic lead wrapped around his throat, Trent Reznor stumbles on to stage, screaming blue murder and slinging water into the stalls. Then he turns on the stage crew and soaks the amps, cables and monitors.

Les Harvey of Stone The Crows, Keith Reif; the Electrocution Hall of Fame runs through my mind as I hide behind a speaker stack.

Joined by the rest of the band for the second number, Trent snaps. He charges across to guitarist Richard, slamming him to the floor on top of the monitors. Writhing in agony, Richard forgets about his guitar, he is seriously hurt.

Trent throws a mic stand into the drum kit, crosses the stage to James, rips the keyboard from its stand and sends it back towards the agony-stricken Richard.

Realising has demobilised two instruments, Trent screams at a roadie to give him a guitar. But he doesn't try to play it. The axe is hammered into the floor as Richard squirms his way to safety, cursing Trent through clenched teeth.

Now Trent grabs a bottle of mineral water and performs a mock ejaculation, emptying the liquid on Richard's discarded guitar. He turns and attempts a kung-fu kick at the bass drum, before demolishing any remaining microphones.

Then something very strange happens. James picks up his keyboard and returns it to its stand-and Richard's back with a new guitar, shouting his backing vocals into a fresh mic on a hastily reassembled stand. We're into the next song and they're carrying on as if nothing has happened! Roadies chortle to themselves, standing by with replacement mics and guitars, geared up for the next demolition.

And so it goes. By the end of the set countless guitars have been wrecked, various Nails are sporting shiny new bruises and gallons of water have left the stage looking like a boating lake. Just another show, it seems.

The Who almost bankrupted themselves in the early days by smashing instruments once a night, how can Nine Inch Nails afford this regular ritual slaughter?

"Well, we're kinda goin' overboard for Lollapalooza," grins Trent. "We're getting paid pretty well and we're gonna end up with a nice little kitty, but we have been able to set quite a bit aside for repairs and what have you.

"Every night we can afford to have ten guitars waiting in the wings ready to die. Sometimes I feel kinda bad when I look out and see all these kids lookin' up at me totalling a guitar. You know what they're thinkin', 'I've been saving up for one of those for months, man, and you're killin' it in seconds!' You have to put it into perspective, I guess."

Advocating violence with attitude, Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor, axe murderer extraordinaire. But is he the ultimate showman taking rock 'n' roll to the edge, or a calculating charlatan with a neat line in shock tactics?

Nine Inch Nails have to be seen to be believed, decide for yourself if it's choreographed chaos or unbridled grievous bodily harm. Having seen James' San Francisco stiches and Richard's Boston bruises, my money's on the latter. Mind you, the music's pretty good.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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