An interesting benefit to working at a publication with a deep history and real-time traffic stats: you know right away when something from the past suddenly becomes relevant again. That’s how I learned about the heavily-rumoured, now-confirmed Soundgarden/Nine Inch Nails co-headlining tour set to take place this summer.
Reddit, CoS, and even a couple of Pearl Jam message boards dug up this hit from Chart Attack's past, an examination of the long-standing rivalry between the two bands, which goes deeper than Trent Reznor’s well-warranted slam of Chris Cornell’s Timbaland-produced 2009 solo pop record, Scream.
Its origin goes all the way back to a legendary festival date Nine Inch Nails did with Soundgarden at Molson Park in Barrie, Ont. in 1994.
"We had a chip on our shoulder about Soundgarden because their record [Superunknown] came out the same day Downward Spiral came out and they beat us to #1 on Billboard," Reznor told EYE Weekly's Liisa Ladouceur. "That became a kind of professional showdown. And we did show them."
This was long before the era of shaky fan videos (but not bootlegs) so non word-of-mouth evidence of Nine Inch Nails’ upstaging is hard to find, but a scour of the internet helped us recreate the Lollapalooza-era conditions of that legendary co-headlining gig.
The show took place August 6, 1994, six months after both bands had released their high-watermark albums (March 8, 1994) and were angling to fill the hole in the cultural zeitgeist opened by the death of Kurt Cobain in April. Both bands embarked on heavy tour schedules, but one managed better than the other.
Above is Nine Inch Nails’ 1997 VHS documentary Closure, a very ‘90s document of the “Self Destruct” tour that brought them to Molson Park. As you can see, Reznor's devoted army of fans were out in full glory (one even admits near the beginning he’s not a huge NIN fan, but would love to “lick Trent”), and his destructive disregard for his bandmates and his instruments overshadowed both then-protégée/tour opener Marilyn Manson, (whose door-to-door-shocking role will be filled on this tour by Death Grips) and even an on-tour circus freak who, at one point, attempts to lift a suitcase with his penis.
A cover story in Toronto's NOW Magazine pegged to the '94 Molson Park show describes Reznor as a “human pinball,” whose “'official injured reserve scorecard'... chronicling the stitches, hernias, bruises, bumps, fractured wrists and smashed foreheads incurred by NIN members on the road, speaks volumes about Reznor’s onstage presence.” (In another twist, he also talks about opening for Guns N’ Roses and “failing miserably,” an experience shared by Soundgarden, whose 1991 tour with the band, as recounted by Mark Yarm’s oral history of grunge, Everybody Loves Our Town, got them labelled “Frowngarden.”)
Soundgarden, meanwhile, were coming off a grueling world tour. There isn’t much good footage of the North American leg, and for good reason: Chris Cornell had severely strained his vocal cords. Upon returning home the band quickly cancelled their upcoming European tour, including a slot at Reading. But the above Lollapalooza segment from MuchMusic's The New Music (made during the hosts-carrying-video-equipment era) shows brief footage of the band playing Molson Park in a different year.
"I think we kinda overdid it!" Cornell later told Kerrang! "We were playing five or six nights a week and my voice pretty much took a beating. Towards the end of the American tour I felt like I could still kinda sing, but I wasn't really giving the band a fair shake. You don't buy a ticket to see some guy croak for two hours! That seemed like kind of a rip off.” So if you’re looking for evidence at NIN winning round one, that comes right out of the horse’s mouth.
Just for fun, we recreated the set lists for NIN and Soundgarden on Rdio. Have a listen below.
Check out Soundgarden & Nine Inch Nails' full 23-city itinerary at Pitchfork, including round two at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre on July 27. 2014.