For a guy who would go on to embrace technology, Trent Reznor really used to hate machines. In the early days of Nine Inch Nails, the equipment would rarely survive a set, though that was mainly due to Reznor unleashing his aggression on whatever happened to be nearby. But on July 18, 1991 — at the first Lollapalooza stop in Phoenix — things were different. On that day, the equipment betrayed him. And it paid the price.
It seems that bands had been battling a faulty power generator for most of the day (truly, Lolla had auspicious beginnings), which wreaked havoc on their sets. But for NIN, who relied heavily on electronics, it proved disastrous, as Reznor recalled to Keyboard magazine in 1994.
“We couldn’t play because one of the power boxes had melted, and every time the low end of the PA would rumble, it would jiggle the cord and all power onstage would just shut off and turn back on. If you have a sampler, that means you’re down for a minute. And if you have a tape deck, ahem, that means it stops. So this started happening, and: ‘Hello, does anybody know what’s going on?’ A voice from backstage: ‘No, but I think it’s working now.’ Turn to the crowd: ‘OK, hey, we suck, so here’s the next song.’ And 10 seconds into it, every time he hit the kick drum, there it went. Turn back around: ‘This is the biggest show we’ve ever played, does anyone know what the f—- is wrong?’ Voice from backstage: ‘We think we have it!’ Turn to the crowd: ‘OK, one more time,’ and … “
What did they do next? Well, they launched into “Sin,” then, frustrated, trashed all their gear and hightailed it to the bus, of course. And we have footage of that fateful moment. It’s the kind of thing that only happened back when Lolla was still learning on the fly, when disasters like this were just part of the fun. Watch the video and weep for the synthesizers.