In my Foo Fighters review, I mentioned that Dave Grohl spoke at length about Nirvana's infamous 1991 show at Mississippi Nights, where a quasi-riot broke out onstage. Turns out, video footage of his speech has surfaced on YouTube. It's a little hard to hear, but Grohl's storytelling skills are funny enough to overcome any technical shortcomings.
After watching this, I decided to watch some live Nirvana clips, because I was feeling nostalgic. Among the deluge on YouTube, I found high-quality videos taken from MTV's "Live and Loud" New Year's Eve 1993 concert, which was filmed in Seattle earlier that month. (I have a feeling I probably watched it when it aired, but I can't recall right now. I mean, I was barely 14, in eighth grade and a huge dork; what else would I be doing with my New Year's Eve besides watching Nirvana?)
Anyway, after seeing these clips, I had a bunch of thoughts (of course).
Despite Nirvana's commercial success -- and, to be honest, the glossy sheen of Nevermind -- there was danger crackling and rumbling through this show. It's palpable even at lo-res through a computer screen, this sense of punk mayhem and unhinged energy. Although time hasn't been kind to Nevermind (mainly because of its production, which sounds horribly dated), the album's songs are timeless; in concert, stripped of any studio wizardry, their rawest, basic elements explode.
I mean, good Lord, people are losing their shit. It's difficult to believe the band ever became hugely mainstream, because it's not as though this music is objectively accessible. It's a revved-up Sonic Youth, or a indebted to underground punk and post-rock icons. And Kurt Cobain, hoarse voice and all, means every word he screams. There's no artifice, or sense that he's playing this music for anyone but himself. He was always on record as not liking the spotlight, and that comes through in his unself-conscious performance.
"Radio Friendly Unit Shifter":
I was always a huge Nirvana fan growing up and was devastated the day Cobain died. I didn't relate as much to In Utero, but after seeing these videos, I see perhaps why I loved the band. I used to crank Nevermind's "Territorial Pissings" up super loudly when I was mad at my parents (cliched, but true story), because the primal frustration, noisy feedback and general angst somehow captured the frustration I felt as a kid, in ways that I didn't know how to articulate. That's not to say that non-teenagers couldn't relate to this music; on the contrary, Nirvana functioned as a release for whatever your situation -- job, family, relationships, disability, school, etc. There was an unspoken, intangible connection between listeners/the audience and the band. Despite the raw exterior (and inward-looking lyrics) Nirvana was easy to empathize with -- and also sympathized with its fans, creating a mutually vulnerable relationship that's not easy to find (or foster) in today's modern mainstream bands.