The newspaper ads mentioned nothing about Nine Inch Nails. In fact, the ads simply read, NOTHING. The event, a surprise CMJ Music Marathon show featuring Meat Beat Manifesto, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails (all of whom are on NIN frontman Trent Reznor's label, Nothing), was veiled with the kind of hush-hush secrecy that usually accompanies an exclusive party.
Meat Beat Manifesto opened the proceedings with a phantasmagoric techno performance, but the party didn't really get rolling until the end of Marilyn Manson's five-song set of industrial ghoul rock, when frontman Marilyn accidentally clocked drummer Ginger Fish in the side of the head with a mike stand. Fish collapsed in a bloody heap and was dragged off to a hospital, where he received stitches for his injury.
From there, the pace was set, ensuring that the rest of the evening would be a bacchanalian orgy of malignant delight – but not a flawless one. Just seconds into NIN's metallic-industrial show, Reznor forgot one of the lines to "Terrible Lie" and started laughing. Minutes later, microphones were shorting out and guitars were feeding back. But rather than agonize over mistakes and technical difficulties, Reznor shrugged them off as the byproducts of his band's controlled anarchy.
NIN blended thrashy tempos and caustic guitar distortion with bleeping keyboards and grinding samples, balancing demolitionfests like "Wish" and "Suck" with more atmospheric fare like "Sanctified" and "Something I Can Never Have." Most of the songs were from the band's first album, Pretty Hate Machine. "March of Pigs" was the only track from NIN's most recent disc, The Downward Spiral. The biggest surprise came when one-time NIN member and alleged Reznor rival Richard Patrick (now of Filter) joined the band for a bombastic encore of "Head Like a Hole."
This story is from the October 17th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.