Tom Morello recalls his “Nightmare” Performance

Published : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
Posted under: Stories
RaTM at Reading 1993.

Tom Morello, the acclaimed guitarist known for his work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, is revered for his technical prowess and innovative use of effects pedals. However, even the most skilled and experienced musicians can make mistakes, and in a recent interview with Google (Talks at Google on YouTube) Morello described what he calls his “worst performance ever”. While playing a guitar solo for the song “Bullet in the Head” at Reading Festival in 1993, something went terribly wrong and left him confused.

RATM at Reading Festival 1993

Rage Against the Machine played at the Reading Festival for the first time in 1993. The band played on the second stage on the Saturday of the festival, which took place from August 27-29 of that year. This was part of the band’s first European tour, which followed the release of their self-titled debut album in November 1992.

The band played nine songs during their set, and “Bullet in the Head” was second to last.

Tom has a pretty unique way of playing the solo in that song. In the first part, he usually rushes to his guitar amp and plays around with feedback and his toggle switch, while moving his hand across the strings, sort of like DJs used to move vinyl records back and forth to create that scratching sound.

During the same solo, but in the second part of it, Tom usually stands up, and walks over to his wah pedal to create a different sort of sound.

But, as Tom explains it, at that point he had recently discovered that he could make another unique effect by unplugging his guitar and touching the metal plate on his guitar with the jack. Pretty much anyone who at some point made the mistake of connecting a guitar to an amp while the amp was on, will recall the annoying loud buzz created by touching anything metal with the jack.

Turning a Bug into a Feature

Tom explains how he had the plan to manipulate this buzz in his own way, with the intent of “wowing” the crowd.

I’d worked out a new guitar redefining trick on the guitar, where I take out the jack of the guitar and then I tap it to the metal on the guitar, and it makes like a noise, and I’m going to manipulate it. And it’s like – minds are going to be blown.

Tom Morello – Talks at Google

This buzzing noise is apparently caused by some grounding issue, but what Tom didn’t realize is that it only works in the United States.

I’m ready for my solo on “Bullet in the Head”. the Tv camera zooms in and i unplug the jack, and what I don’t realize – it’s some grounding that makes the steel jack go buzz. What I don’t realize is that the power in England is different than the power in the United States.

Tom Morello – Talks at Google

There is apparently a difference in how the UK and the US deal with grounding. The grounding system in the US uses a “neutral-ground bond” that connects the neutral wire to the ground wire. In the UK, the electrical system uses a “TT” or “earthed neutral” system where the neutral wire is grounded at the point of supply and at each individual building.

In any case, the trick didn’t work. Tom can be seen visibly confused, checking his guitar cable, trying to figure out what’s happening.

As soon as he realizes there’s nothing he could do, Tom decides to “step down” a notch and go for a simple “Chuck Berry lick” as he calls it, and close down the solo.

So, with a cocky confidence, I walk to the front of the stage, as the camera zooms in for my heroic guitar redefining moment. i unplug the jack, I touch it to the thing, and it goes “ptt”.

And then I just sheepishly plug the guitar back in, take a few steps back, and play a couple of Chuck Berry licks.

Tom Morello – Talks at Google

If you would like to watch the interview with Tom Morello in full, you can find it at the following link – The Atlas Underground | Tom Morello | Talks at Google. The interview is available for viewing and you can enjoy the complete content of the conversation.

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