Because Nirvana’s legacy has been so widely hailed since frontman Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide, it can be hard to simply enjoy the band’s songs amidst the hype and hyperbole. Still, Nirvana Live at Reading should go a long way in helping people reacquaint themselves with this impressive band’s potent catalog. Chronicling the trio’s August 1992 performance at the Reading Festival, this DVD captures the group at the height of their popularity, and it ably demonstrates what a ferocious live force they were. Even better, these performances of now-familiar songs are so vital that they make 20-year-old tunes sound new again.
A Legendary Show
Nirvana’s show at the Reading Festival in the U.K. was much praised in its day, but after Cobain’s death this performance entered the realm of Greatest Concerts of All Time territory, just another example of how everything this band ever did is now canonized within an inch of its life. With that said, though, it makes sense why this specific show was so lauded. Reading was (and remains) a renowned music festival, so Nirvana’s appearance offered them a large international showcase at a time when they had conquered the world with their 1991 album Nevermind. So in a way, the Reading show wasn’t just a concert but also a coronation. The band members – Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl – were adjusting to the idea of being superstars, something that they probably never expected to have happen to them, but the group rose to the occasion, delivering a stirring set that drew on most of Nevermind, some earlier songs and a few tracks that would later be included on 1993’s In Utero. It may not have been Nirvana’s Greatest Show Ever or The Greatest Concert of All Time, but it’s a pretty extraordinary one.
Why You Need to See (Not Just Hear) This Show
Nirvana Live at Reading is available in three different formats – as a CD, as a DVD, and as a CD-DVD combo package. The live sound on the CD is superb, but if you’re really curious about this concert, you owe it to yourself to make sure you get the DVD as well. For one thing, the DVD offers the full Reading performance, including some of the between-song banter that fleshes out Nirvana’s onstage personality. (Novoselic played the tall, goofy, sarcastic clown, while Cobain was a man of few words, which makes his request at one point that the audience send out a message of love to his then-wife Courtney Love all the more touching.) The footage itself is not slickly produced, but it’s largely free of cutaway shots to the audience, instead letting the at-home viewer fully immerse himself in Nirvana’s performance. On occasion, the editing becomes too hyperactive, needlessly overselling the band’s higher-energy songs by cutting frantically back and forth between band members, but for the most part, Nirvana Live at Reading serves as a fantastic document of a strong show, one that’s helped by actually seeing the band rip through these songs. What emerges in the footage is the sense that these guys weren’t just Kurt Cobain and two other blokes but, rather, that they were a talented trio that played beautifully off each other. Grohl’s drumming is taut and impassioned throughout, and Novoselic’s bass becomes the emotional anchor for so many of these tunes. Nirvana Live at Reading illustrates how crucial a band’s chemistry can be to their success – it certainly was for this group.
Hear Nirvana's Songs Again for the First Time
Rock radio has so overplayed Nirvana’s greatest hits that it can be difficult to hear classics like “In Bloom” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without feeling blasé. Nirvana Live at Reading reintroduces fans to these and other songs through the group’s electric performances. While it’s clear that Cobain was already becoming disinterested in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by this point because of its massive popularity, the band’s lethal live rendition restores its power. And the same goes for many Nevermind tracks – one of the great benefits of concerts is when bands remind you of why you loved a particular song in the first place, and that happens again and again on this DVD. Plus, tracks from the yet-to-be-released In Utero – including “All Apologies” and “Dumb” – are startling in their freshness. Getting to see and hear Cobain try out new tunes, with different lyrics than the ones we now know by heart, is a revelation. In this way, Nirvana Live at Reading helps give Nirvana back to their fans by restoring their intense immediacy. There’s no sense of history being made here – it’s just a magnificent band plowing through their magnificent songs. For a brief moment, we don’t have to deal with legacies or canons or anything like that. We just get to enjoy Nirvana. It’s a simple thing, but on Nirvana Live at Reading that enjoyment is immense.
Release date – November 3, 2009
Release date – November 3, 2009
Universal Music Group