At the risk of sounding like a filthy hippie droning on about the sixties and how you had to be there to understand it, the same could pretty much be said for the early nineties. The eighties were discovered to be an insanely vacuous era that by the turn of the decade had started to smell like anything but teen spirit. Unbeknownst to the general populace, the souls of music fans were slowly ebbing away in the tide of MC Hammer and Michael Bolton. For those of us that didnt listen to mainstream radio, it nonetheless became exhausting to try and avoid being inundated every second of every day with such numbing pablum. For those of us looking for a change, Nirvana was the answer.
Those of us that lived in the Pacific Northwest already knew who Nirvana was before Smells Like Teen Spirit broke over the MTV snore-waves. We already knew about The Melvins. We already knew about Soundgarden. We already knew about Mudhoney. But still, with the exception of a few us, no one really cared. A brief history lesson for those too young to remember: Nirvana changed everything. I say this without irony. I say this without embellishment. They are the reason for the rise of independent music labels and college radio. They are the reason there is an alternative classification in music because thats what they provided - an alternative to the shit that people were listening to.
Bear in mind, this band from Seattle (or Aberdeen, WA to be more precise), set out to do none of these things but they were responsible for it just the same. They didnt want this responsibility. Frontman Kurt Cobain had no interest in becoming a role model for the disenfranchised youth of the day, or Generation X as the oh-so-clever media labeled us. So long story short, Nirvana redefined mainstream music as it was then known with the release of Nevermind, moving it far left of center from its fulcrum of mediocrity. They released a follow-up album in which most reviews were less-than-kind with the term commercial suicide being bantered around for the second time that decade (the first time referring to Faith No Mores Angel Dust album), and with the tragic suicide of Cobain, dissolved into forgotten lore but by those true fans not ready to accept the loss.
Six months previous to his death, Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl recorded one of the best live albums ever recorded, Unplugged in New York. Another in a long line of unplugged concerts for the MTV series supplying some good (Elvis Costello, R.E.M.), some bad (Roxette, Soul Asylum) and some just plain ugly (Winger? Jesus! Really?). There was the redundant (Elton John unplugged? Oh, if only TIVO were invented!) and then there was the essential. Nirvanas unplugged session transcended all previous entries in the series, showing just how truly great a band could be without all the bells and whistles that got them noticed in the first place.
This DVD is not the truncated concert as originally aired in December of 1993. This is the complete, uncut show played for a small group of people in a New York studio one month previous. Fourteen songs spanning the groups career including Something in The Way and Oh, Me, both deleted from the original airing. Sure, they were included on the CD release, but watching Cobains recital of Underneath the bridge / top has sprung a leak with head forward, eyes closed takes the song to that higher level of beauty and melancholy as when you first heard it on Nevermind.
The between-song banter remains intact with everything from Kurt deriding The Meat Puppets for taking too long to tune to his assurances that he will screw up the bands version of Bowies The Man Who Sold the World. The show is basically one big highlight reel for all involved. Novoselics endearing if not-quite in tune accordion playing on Jesus Dont Want Me for a Sunbeam, Grohls very competent backing vocals on Polly, a tiny hint of what was to come later on in his career as a Foo Fighter. And second guitarist Pat Smears ever-present smile, grinning like a kid on Christmas - a nice juxtaposition to Cobains unassuming dry wit.
The big one for me of this performance has always been the bands cover of Leadbellys Where Did You Sleep Last Night. To take a deeply personal song of a black delta blues artist of the 1950s and have it performed by a white rock star almost half a century later sounds like a laughable, borderline-offensive concept. Cobain might not have had the same struggles to relate to, but he conveys the passion of the song flawlessly - the final notes of shiver the whole night through still have the ability to send chills down my back.
Also included on this disc are five songs from the rehearsal Polly, Plateau, The Man Who Sold the World, Pennyroyal Tea, and Come As You Are. The rehearsal footage shows Cobain in a somewhat different view - a man that appeared to be shyer when the spotlight was off but still very confident in his role as the leader of a band as when he tries to hurry the proceedings along because theyre an hour behind schedule.
Fourteen years later, Unplugged in New York winds up being a brilliant coda for a band that will always be overrated in some circles, underrated in others, but yet always seemed to be misunderstood. Maybe we overanalyzed it. Maybe what the band was trying to accomplish was nothing more than putting out great songs that will stand the test of time. Sure, most bands will try to achieve that, only to have their songs become as disposable as that morning's newspaper. I suppose its ironic that the poster band for the so-called hopeless generation would end the way it did. What wasn't predictable, however, was that they could still leave a legacy that deserves to be rediscovered for generations to come.
9.4 / 10
It's strange that, while numerous memories have vanished from my mind over the years, I can still remember where I was when I learned ...
It’s easy to read a posthumous reissue as a mining of a band’s demos and outtakes. Nirvana saw the deluxe treatment of Nevermind a few years back and now, celebrating 20 years ...
Some anniversary reissues are like tapas. Small, manageable servings of exactly what you want and you wind up leaving utterly satisfied. Others are like going to Country Buffet. More food ...
Posted Oct. 27, 2013, 9:27 a.m.
16 Toronto bands have teamed up to release Milkin' It on Hand Drawn Dracula. The record is a tribute to the now 20 years-old In Utero and includes covers from ...
Posted Aug. 5, 2013, 7:20 p.m.
Details continue to premiere about the upcoming 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana's In Utero. Similar to Nevermind, which was recently re-issued, there will be multiple packages and box sets ...
Posted July 11, 2013, 8:43 p.m.
A promo clip for Nirvana's In Utero has been released via YouTube to promote the third studio record from Nirvana's upcoming 20th anniversary this September. A special deluxe ...
Looking for the SPB logo? You can download it in a range of styles and colours here:
Click anywhere outside this dialog to close it, or press escape.