Monday, 2 November 2009



This was the moment for our generation where it all appeared to come together, where everything felt right and that our people had won the culture war regardless of the direction and what was deemed permissible by the industry and our parents.  Of course it was all fleeting and ultimately an illusion but what an amazing time to be part of such a movement.  Nirvana was a band with purpose.  They were stoically to the left but not weak with it.  This was the heaviest band on the planet and somehow their might came coupled with amazing songs and a truly exciting and infectious perceived way of being.  By acknowledging how bleak our collective experience of existence was it felt empowering and a general threat to the old guard in power running thing.  Then three things ruined: Kurt killed himself, the internet ruined everything and 9/11 slammed the door closed on what had felt accomplished ten years earlier.  It happened.

Nirvana headlining Reading 92 was a great thing.  The majority of the set was broadcast on Radio One that week which lent an immediacy to proceedings and managed to capture the moment; helping us stuck in our bumfuck towns feel part of the event.  Over the years however the truth has emerged as to just what a horribly miserable and muddy experience the weekend was.  That said despite the conditions a line-up consisting of Public Enemy, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Beastie Boys, Mudhoney, Pavement, L7, Rollins Band, Public Image Limited, Shonen Knife, Manic Street Preachers, Teenage Fanclub, PJ Harvey, Melvins, Screaming Trees, Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy makes it the greatest rock festival lifetime of our (my) generation.

After much suggestion and rumour over the weekend that the band would not even be performing eventually the band literally rolled onstage Sunday night as Everett True brought out Kurt Cobain in a wheelchair sporting a large blonde wig and a hospital smock.  As Novoselic followed onstage shaking his head in concerned manner this was the “Kurtney”.  From here it rose from the wheelchair to “sing” the first few lines from “The Rose” (which Mudhoney had covered on the Sub Pop 200 compilation a few years earlier) before falling backwards in seemingly an unhealthy state.

Then the band rose and stormed into action opening the set with “Breed” in waspy and ferocious manner.  From here faultless versions of “Drain You” and “Aneurysm” follow as the ball truly gets rolling on one of the greatest sets in rock history.

As the band tear into “School” they are now more than warmed up as one of their oldest tracks also sounds like one of their heaviest with a really nasty sound that resembles a band truly on fire.

After this track the band begin playing up to rumours that they were splitting announcing that it is their last gig “tonight” before declaring that they’re about to do a new record before launching into a tidal wave version of “Sliver”.  It closes with Dave Grohl stating “we practised last night”.

In Bloom” follows which was a rare airing for a song they seemed to seldom play live.  This then leads into “Come As You Are” and after only twenty five minutes of play we have already been handed our arses.

The infamous singalong for “Lithium” occurs next.  Considering that this was around the time of their appearance at the MTV Awards doing this song, this performance is somewhat tighter.  This version was previously included on the “Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!” video originally released in 1994 just over six months after Cobain killed himself.

As someone in the crowd yells a request for “Sub Pop Rock City” (actually a Soundgarden song) Grohl eggs on Novoselic to tell a joke as the band gears up to play “About A Girl”, the first song in the set that fails to growl.

At this point Grohl calls out to the bootleggers to record as they band tear into a song called “The Eagle Has Landed” which actually became the song’s name in various music publications for a while.  The song is actually “Tourettes” and this version of the song actually previously appeared on the “From The Muddy Banks Of Wishkah” live compilation put out in 1996.

Then they play “Polly” and kill it all.

Much like “In Bloom”, next “Lounge Act” gets a rare live airing.  Perhaps it was just a tough song to play live as the version here certainly does sound plodding in contrast to the version on Nevermind.

After this song Dave begins drumming a cover of “Satisfaction” by Devo before Kurt tears into his own cover version of “More Than A Feeling” by Boston which Dave and Chris happily sing along to before Kurt regains control and rips into a wonky version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which remains defiant and powerful despite his apparent nonchalance and sarcasm.  Pixies rip off.  It seemed like Kurt did everything he could to ruin the song on this night but he just could not murder it.

Continuing to chew up the scenery “On A Plain” drops in the heaviest tone followed by a machine gun entrance and incendiary run out for “Negative Creep”.

Prior to another new song Kurt dedicates the track to his “all of day old daughter and my wife” and due some “pretty extreme things being written” about them he says that she now thinks “everyone hates her now”.  With this in mind he gets the audience to yell “Courtney we love you” before the band purr into a version of “All Apologies” that possessed slightly different (and in my opinion better) lyrics to the version that wound up on In Utero.  With all the singing towards a sun/son it feels a very paternal song and even if it wasn’t written about his expectant child it certainly gives off such an impression adding a heavy degree/dose of emotional weight to the piece.  It was so exciting to hear this song at the time, the new material was promising so much and this was definitely a band that appeared to have a huge and great future ahead.  This was why the band was the greatest on the planet at the time and right up until their demise eighteen months later.

From here the band churn into the always muddy “Blew” which was often a set closer (ironically cast considering it being the opening track on Bleach).

When the band return for an encore Kurt wishes “a happy birthday to Dave’s mother” which causes the audience to sing a round of “Happy Birthday” before Dave declares “the power of the bootleg”.  With this the band then strolls into “Dumb” before ripping things up once more with an incendiary play of “Stay Away” motored by more rapid drumming from Grohl.  Listening to this you can almost forgive him his subsequent indulgence with the Foo Fighters over later years.

“Spank Thru” soon follows and as ever never fails to entertain even if this is not the best version of the track that there ever was (that version resides on the Sliver EP).  On this night it just sounded a bit too much like Elvis Presley was on the vocals,

For some reason (probably licensing/royalty/legal) the band’s cover of “Love Buzz” is sadly missing from the CD release of this concert which is a real loss because on this night their performance of the track was by far the greatest I have ever heard.  As Kurt wheels out an extended noisy introduction when the song finally boots in it is as powerful as things ever got.  This version even tops the one that almost saw Kurt lose his life to a promoter early in their career.

After the cover the band roll out a few bars of “Smoke On The Water” before launching fully into a cover of “The Money Will Roll Right In” by Fang which Mudhoney themselves had recently covered and included on a fantastic Sub Pop compilation called Revolution Come And Gone.  Personally I always preferred the Mudhoney take on the track but there was mistaking that the sentiments of the song were prevailing wholesale at that moment in time.

As the band began exhaust their material they chipped in with another cover in the form of “D-7” by The Wipers which had appeared as a b-side on the “Lithum” single in addition to the Hormoaning release in Asia that fans were now shelling out big bucks for.  The lacklustre nature of the song was conducive in signifying the end was nigh.

Then it all comes to a climax as Chris sarcastically rips into his rendition of “Get Together” by Chet Powers before the band tears into “Territorial Pissings” which they charge through in minutes ahead of the inevitably equipment trashing that saw Cobain playing the “Star Spangled Banner” in a modern take on the Hendrix.  Then with Krist banging a snare and Dave swinging around a broken bass guitar it concludes at 11.33PM with Kurt giving his guitar to the audience and the lights coming down as “Bustin’ Surfboards” by The Tornadoes begins ringing around the arena.

This was our once in a lifetime music moment.  How green was our fucking valley?

Thesaurus moment: everything.

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