Melody Maker




Loose Screws 


Text by Paul Lester



Nine Inch Nails

International 2, Manchester

In a sense, the gig starts with the cab driver telling the photographer and I to wind up the windows as we approach the club because he reckons something dangerous is about to happen, and continues with Trent Reznor chatting to me backstage about his desire to self-destruct, self-mutilate and generally do horrible things to himself and anybody else who knows him. “I‘m not a badass, though‚“ beavers, reaching for a giant beaker of light point in arguing.

By the time Nine Inch Nails appear on stage smeared in corn starch or fluorescent paint or what ever it is that makes them look like models in a Face fashion spread an Beirut chic (what, another one?), the band have switched into hot-rails-to-hell mode for ‘Terrible Lie“. Reznor is yelling “I‘m gonna smash myself to pieces/I’m gonna f*** myself up,“ and it’s obvious the show really has begun.

And it is a show, make no mistake. Welcome to Nine Inch Nails‘ theatre of hate, Trent Reznor‘s public exorcisms of disgust and despair performed at no extra charge. But who feels more purged after NIN‘s hardcore electro therapy session, them or us? Good question. Reznor spends much of “Sin“ trying to shove guitarist Richard Patrick (whose brother, incidentally, is Arnie‘s nemesis in “Terminator2“) into the crowd, and vainly attempts to electrocute keyboardist James during a version of Adam & The Ants‘ “Physical“ by hurling cupfuls of water at the poor bastard.

Also included in Trent‘s repertoire of rebel postures tonight simulated masturbation and ejaculation using a shaken-up beer bottle during the cover of Queen‘s “Get Down Make Love“ (!), smashing the mikestand to the ground every 11 seconds, crashing into various band members and the bars that surround Jeff’s drum stock every 17seconds, and threatening to do a Jim Morrison by grabbing his crotch during a particularly vicious, nay, homicidal “The Only Time”. Looks like someone could get hurt tonight.

Could they really, though? How much of this is mere rock n‘ roll spectacle, NIN‘s continuation of the great American tradition of glitzy showbiz (it‘s not that far from Broadway to the Bowery), and how much is truly subversive, even DANGEROUS? Okay, a while back at a gig in Seattle Reznor whacked his guitar over some gadgetry and James got his face gashed to bits in the process, and the ward from his UK press officer is that NIN‘s mainman is “f***ing mental“.

But is this just another in a series of recent attempts to unleash a maniac on a rock scene starved of obsessives willing to walk it like they talk it (see: Axl Rose, Perry Farrell, Shaun Ryder)? Are NIN‘s aggressive onstage antics ever likely to spill out on tot he streets? Most importantly, would Trent really be prepared to give his life for us, or would that bugger up his plans for the next album? We’ll see.

For now, Nine Inch Nails are impressive enough. Naturally, as a live experience,  it blows average rock gig out of the water. You can even hear Trent‘s words, a mixture of self-loathing (“I‘m just an effigy to be defaced/ To be disgraced“ - “Sin”), self-pity (“You took away all my self-confidence... Now I‘m slipping on the tears you made me cry“- That’s What I Get“) and the sort of sensual/ spiritual, dirty/divine blurring that would give Prince a hard-on. “I‘m Jesus Christ an Ecstasy,“ sings Reznor on a new, as yet untitled song. The church of the poisoned mind, or what?