When British journalist Everett True wheeled Kurt Cobain on stage in a wheelchair at Reading festival, 1992, the aim was to parody the journalists who had branded Cobain a past-it, narcotic-addled failure. The statement was made: Cobain would keep his hospital issue nightgown on for the rest of the set, and, along with his band, go on to play one of the most important gigs of his career.
The night went down in musical history as a seminal performance. Kerrang said it was ‘something you had to see, and if you didn’t see it then it was something you pretended you saw’, and it was one of the most bootlegged gigs of all time. Finally, it’s been made available on reformatted DVD, in all its ferocious glory.
Of course, live performances gain notoriety only in retrospect. Joy Division’s last gig before Ian Curtis committed suicide; the Manics’ last concert at the Astoria before Richie disappeared; the Sex Pistols performance on a boat on the Thames that ended in a chaos of arrests and tabloid frenzy. Reading 1992 was to be Nirvana’s last performance in the UK, and coming as it did in the wake of speculation about Cobain’s health and ability, the focus on the explosive set would only grow and grow. It helped that the performance was quite astonishing. Sloppy as hell at times and brilliantly exhilarating at others, the set showcased almost the whole of Nevermind as well as songs that would appear two years later on In Utero, including ‘All Apologies’, ‘Dumb’ and the first ever public performance of ‘Tourettes’. Extra treats include five songs from Bleach, including ‘Blew’, ‘About A Girl’ and ‘School’, and three songs that would appear on the Incesticide compilation later in the year.
Seeing the fresh-faced Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain attack these songs with passion, despite the distance in the latter’s eyes, is remarkable. The sound is fantastic, and the mostly static camera shots of the band (no panning crowd shots or arthouse angles here) only adds to the sense of historical place. The intensity is rarely broken: Cobain only smiles once or twice, but when he does it’s for a quick cover of Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’ and other such japery. The jokes don’t take away the sense of noisy seriousness, or the brilliance of this band who still sound so relevant and fiery fifteen years on.
We don’t want to give away all the quirks of the gig, but blood-covered guitars and Grohl’s game of drum-kit Jenga rate highly. The sight and sound of Nirvana’s relentless, broken rock songs inevitably strongly evoke the early nineties and the grunge scene, a sweetly nostalgic place in the consciousness of many thirty-somethings. It’s a strange sense of loss when the end credits come up, because that’s the thing about the past, isn’t it – it teases you, and when you go out and try to find it, it disappears under your nose.
Nirvana live at Reading is out on November 2, followed by a 2 LP version on November 16, 2009
2. Drain You
6. In Bloom
7. Come As You Are
9. About A Girl
12. Lounge Act
13. Smells Like Teen Spirit
14. On A Plain
15. Negative Creep
16. Been A Son
17. All Apologies
20. Stay Away
21. Spank Thru
22. Love Buzz*
23. The Money Will Roll Right In
25. Territorial Pissings