Monday, November 12, 2007

Iconic grungers deliver dynamic acoustic set

Nirvana Unplugged opens to a comforting display of '90s-era fashion—oversized polo shirts, shaggy, low-maintenance hair and the requisite sampling of plaid adorn the figures of audience and band members alike. Fuchsia lights accent the stage as the camera focuses in on Kurt Cobain, the tension in his face doing little to shadow his stoically compelling presence as the band begins with the ever-pleasing “About a Girl.”

This iconic performance, originally filmed for MTV in November of 1993, will be available via Universal Music Enterprises on the 20th of this month, marking the 14th November since the original performance. The DVD includes all the tracks on the best-selling CD version of the concert, plus four rehearsal tracks and behind-the-scenes footage.

If you remember this performance from way back when, if you own the CD, or if you, like me, were too young or too uncool to pay attention to such things in 1993, you will definitely want to view this footage. Cobain, in and of himself, is enough reason to keep watching. His thinly veiled angst, while at times putting the other band members ill at ease, plays into a subtly gripping performance that grows continuously brighter and more melodically beautiful as it progresses.

“Come As You Are” exposes Cobain’s phenomenally growly voice, followed by a cover of the Vaselines’ “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” which delves into a fresh side of Nirvana’s sound, bringing in an accordion and cello. At this point in the show Cobain begins to comment on the likelihood that he’ll screw up, but to his surprise (and probably no one else’s), he does nothing of the sort as he makes his way through David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” A bit of onstage discussion ensues before Cobain ventures into “Pennyroyal Tea” by himself, and despite his tenuous outlook, the song shines forth with remarkable vitality. “That sounded good,” bassist Krist Novoselic offers encouragingly after a momentary silence following the song’s end. “Shut up,” says Cobain, thus establishing his demeanor throughout the show— whether he’s smoking onstage, casually reading a tabloid newspaper or grimacing instead of smiling at the audience, his singular charm and musical sincerity never take a toll.

The performance continues on a high note as the band plays “Dumb,” a richly arranged song with sparkling drums, cello and guitars—a sound that would be current today. “On a Plain” is the first truly upbeat tune of the show, and the band reaches their dramatic peak with “Lake of Fire,” in which Cobain’s crooning turns to wails as he sings, “Go to a lake of fire and fry / See ‘em again till the Fourth of July.” “All Apologies” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” make for a haunting end to the night, and as the show finishes, I finally understand why my brother, eight years my senior, was wearing plaid and learning to play the guitar back in the early '90s. -Cory Robertson