Nirvana: Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!
December 4, 2006
So much has already been written about Nirvana – how they changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1990s, how they put the Seattle music scene on the map and so on. This DVD, a compilation of live tracks from their Nevermind tour in 1991-1992 (and previously released on VHS), is a fantastic reminder of what made this band so great in the first place: the music. This material was originally compiled by lead singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain but completed by the rest of the band and director Kevin Kerslake after the singer’s untimely death.
What this compilation does is showcase the jagged, raw beauty of their music with Cobain’s ragged vocals howling pain and dissatisfaction with the world. He tapped into the kind of angst that millions of people were able to instantly relate to and identify with. And this was typified by the opening track, “Aneurysm,” a defiant howl with insanely catchy riffs and hooks that lodge themselves in your brain and don’t let go. Another thing that is readily evident is what a tight band they were: the thunderous drumming of Dave Grohl supported by the throbbing bass lines of Krist Novoselic and then Cobain’s buzzsaw guitar work that completed the trio.
There is a nice variety of footage, from huge festivals like the one in Reading to the claustrophobic nightclubs to the Top of the Tops television show in England. Interspersed between several of the live tracks is footage of the band goofing around backstage and various interview soundbites on MTV.
“Breed” does a nice job of capturing the frenetic energy of the band in a live setting. Nirvana didn’t need a fancy light show or theatrical props because there was plenty to see already as typified by the unpredictable whirlwind that was Cobain. One moment he could be belting out lyrics on a microphone and the next moment he could be trashing his guitar or getting punched by a bouncer. Nirvana had clearly gotten tired of only being known for their monster hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as evident by Cobain’s performance on Top of the Pops where he altered some of the lyrics and sang the entire song in a lower octave while the rest of the band had to mime to the album version. As a result, they purposely exaggerated their performance making for a very memorable appearance indeed.
Nirvana embodied the punk aesthetic of letting it all hang out when playing live. It doesn’t sound like sloppy playing per se but it sure looks like it and this is a good thing – a refreshing change of pace from the polished hair bands of the 1980s. It is fascinating to see this footage again, to see the band clearly enjoying/learning to deal with the phenomenonal success the Nevermind album was bringing them at the time. Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic were never interested in pigeon-holing themselves with labels. They just wanted to play music and have a good time doing it. This compilation is a fitting tribute to that belief.
There are five additional live tracks from a 1992 gig in Amsterdam.