Seated atop a rolling office chair, on a stage covered in lit black candles and clouded in cigarette smoke, Kurt Cobain and NIRVANA tuned their instruments to play their first all-acoustic set for MTV Unplugged. Audience members got up close and personal with the band and Cobain, who was named the 12th best guitarist of all time according to Rolling Stone.
The performance, captured by MTV for its unplugged series, was recorded on November 18, 1993, and has remained one of Nirvana’s most popular recorded albums of all time. To simply listen to this performance and to watch it on DVD are two different experiences entirely. The ease and banter between bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl with Cobain, coupled with his stage presence gives viewers a lens into the best selling band at its peak.
The band, with the help of cellist Lori Goldston and guitarist Pat Smear performed a set of 14 songs, including 8 originals and 6 covers. Swiftly transitioning from their grunge roots in “Come as You Are” to an orchestral sound complete with cello and accordion in “Jesus Don’t Want me For a Sunbeam,” NIRVANA showed off their innate musical abilities. It was alarming how laid back they seemed on stage, making each song feel almost effortless as they transitioned from strumming and chatting and smoking cigarettes to playing.
Cobain’s easily accessible grungy, scratchy voice truly led the way for this incredible performance. Showcasing his talent on a solo version of “Pennyroyal Tea” and most memorably on the final song of the night, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” Cobain sung out every ounce of tone in his voice, creating a miraculously effortless grunge sound. Although Cobain was nervous about playing a fully acoustic set for an audience, the stripped down version of NIRVANA proved to be just as intoxicating as the amplified one.
In addition to the other covers, Cobain brought out the brothers of the Meat Puppets to accompany him on their three songs in the set: “Plateau,” “Oh, Me,” and “Lake of Fire.” The gesture proved that for Cobain it’s never been about the fame or the credit, but about the artistry and collaboration in the rock genre. By integrating so many covers into the set, NIRVANA showcased their artistic talents and showed love for their many inspirations and influences.