Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nirvana: Unplugged In New York

It starts off simple enough. "Good evening. This is off our first record, most people don't own it." Kurt was right. I don't own Bleach and I think I the only record I do own of theirs, aside from Unplugged of course, is a pirated copy of Nevermind.
My relationship with Nirvana was through television appearances, videos, and radio. I watched and listened as they grew over the few years they were in the public eye. I'm not the type to go searching out new music, per say. It kinda has to fall in my lap for me to even acknowledge its existence. That's just what these guys had done. I don't know when or where I first heard them. All I knew is that suddenly they were everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. There is a popular belief in the music industry that they were the first band to reach number 1 because of all the kids who returned the music cd's they had gotten for Christmas of '91 and exchanging them for Nevermind. In January of '92 they shot straight to the top of the Billboard charts, thus bringing so called "grunge" rock to mainstream America...and me. By the time their Unplugged performance aired on Mtv, I was hooked to every move they made.
This album is down right spooky. The black cloud of doom that hung over Kurt during the last few months of his life seems to have been magically recorded on magnetic tape. Naked and full of pain, the band somehow manages to bring as much feeling and importance to the cover songs as they do their own material. This is a band on the verge of a musical breakthrough. This performance gives us only a taste of what could have been. And what other band, still riding the crest of the tsunami they had created in popular culture & music, would abandon their "sound" and step aside to showcase their friends and mentors music?(the Vaseline's, Meat Puppets, & LeadBelly) Phenomenally brave.
Despite the gloom that is present throughout the recording, there are still moments of Rock n' Roll ecstasy. Who else, but Kurt, would use a distortion pedal on acoustic guitar for his solo on 'The Man Who Sold The World'? Brilliant. Kurt's wonderfully defiant "Shut up" in response to Krists' praise of his stunningly solo performance of 'Pennyroyal Tea'. And the Meat Puppets Curt Kirkwood exclamation of "FUCKING NIRVANA!" as he leaves the stage following a sublime performance of 'Lake of Fire". Fuck yeah.
Every song on this record is spectacular. A voice risen from the grave lingers above. More than a single listen in a sitting is difficult, though. Too haunting. Too truthful. Too heartbreaking. 'On A Plain' sounds as if it wants to break free of this world. 'Something In The Way' puts you right there, underneath the bridge. Even the premature vocal by Kurt in 'Polly' sounds...right.
I recall being embarrassed at my fondness for them when around my musician roommates back in the early 90's. When Mtv had what seemed like a 24hr repeating of this performance after Kurts suicide, one my roommates sat in on one of my multiple viewings. In the final break of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night', the shows last song, Kurt looks straight in to the camera and gives a kind of over exaggerated eye roll followed by a sigh of exasperation. My roommate laughed as if it was the phoniest thing he'd ever seen. Maybe it was. But after a performance of this caliber, Kurt could have put on a pink tu-tu and danced to Debbie Gipson and still had my deepest respect.


Blogger Mike said...

bleach is a great record...
me and some other dorm folks at U of H were really into it...
When the CD single for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" showed up in the store I picked it up immeadiately...
ran back to the dorm, grabbed nathan and karl, loaded up a bowl and put it on...
we listened to it 3 or 4 times in a row.
Mostly we weren't sure what we was good, but cleaner...then Nathan said,
"the metal kids are gonna LOVE this."
and he was right.
I was a fan of REM before they were huge, and The Cure, Depeche Mode, but they were still already big, just not huge...
Nirvana was the first band I really watched just explode.
It was wild.

I think the unplugged performance may be the only thing I don't own...

8:23 AM  

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