When I was fourteen, I was one of those greasy kids that went around in a big black hoodie adorned with a massive print of Kurt Cobain's face and the words 'I hate myself and want to die' scrawled across the back. Yesterday, seven years on from my adolescent grunge rebellion, upon the arrival of Nirvana, 'Live at Reading' on DVD, I literally nearly died of excitement. The faded Nirvana t-shirt came straight out of the wardrobe, the curtains were drawn, gross sugary drinks and complex carbs were gathered and I settled in for an afternoon of sheer, nostalgic self indulgence.
Along with the 'Unplugged In New York' concert of 1993, this headline festival showcase of brilliance is the most career-defining moment of Nirvana's tragically short existence. With 'Nevermind' released one year previously, taking not just the rock world by storm, but really breaking into mainstream consciousness, the Seattle grungers had the universe in the palm of their hand. If this were U2, Bono would have been beamed on to the stage from a multi-billion pound Independence Day style mother ship. Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl, however, are incapable of such pretentiousness. There's no massive backdrop with 'Nirvana' in sixty foot letters, there's no freshly laundered towels arranged in neat piles with ice cold bottles of Evian on hand, there's no projection screens, pyrotechnics, fireworks, orchestras or gospel singers. There are just three guys, thrashing the living daylights out of three instruments, and the effect is mind-blowing.
Kurt Cobain, the prettiest frontman of all time, had his faults, but if he was anything, it was a musical genius and an out-and-out perfectionist. Cobain can never be accused of self indulgence on stage. He knows that people are there to hear Nirvana play the hits and to be able to sing along to the songs they know and he's damn well going to sing them lyric and note perfect and give the thousands of sweaty moshers exactly what they want. Whether its the heavier, rawer, head-banging 'Bleach' classics that you're after or the more universally approachable poppier-thrash of 'Nevermind,' then there's definitely going to be something on this DVD that makes your heart pound and stomach knot in complete ecstasy. For me, the back to back relentless riff-tastic couplet of 'Aneurysm' and 'School' is almost just too much to handle; if I were in the crowd, I would have definitely passed out and would have spent the rest of the set in the back of a St John's ambulance. 'Novoselic's moody, angsty baselines and Cobain's hand-breaking chainsaw-like guitar mastery and his glass-gargling throaty vocals just seamlessly work together to create a blissful assault to the senses.
The twenty-five songs that make up this epic gig include what would have been at the time previews of songs from 'In Utero,' such as 'Dumb' and 'All Apologies' and some of the treasured b-sides and demos collected on 'Incesticide,' like 'Sliver' and 'Been a Son.' Covers of Fang's 'The Money Will Role Right In' and The Wipers' 'D-7' give a significant nod to Nirvana's varied rock influences, and make up the encore. The end of 'Territorial Pissings' signals the point in which Dave Grohl instigates the stage-trashing. Cobain, after letting the feedback from his guitar accompany Grohl's annihilation of equipment, clambers down to meet the crush of exhausted but exhilarated fans, and poignantly, hands his guitar over into their grasping hands.
As a warning, you may well need a lie down after watching this, or at the very least a stiff drink. Nirvana are majestic and electrifying and if you want to listen to real music with a big bloody beating heart, then don't bother with X-factor this weekend whatever you do, watch Nirvana at their peak seventeen years ago when grunge magically ruled the world.