Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Listen: Nirvana, Live at Reading

I'm not sure why I bought this. It is certainly exactly what I expected.

I have never been a member of the Cult of Cobain. I will grant him his place in history - Nirvana hit at exactly the right time, selling millions of copies of an album that was, at the time, too loud and angry for radio. Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic basically forced the mainstream to accept what they did, and kicked open the door for dozens of others who did the same thing.

And Cobain's suicide cemented that place - had he remained alive, he would probably be Billy Corgan right now, watching relevance as it disappears in the distance. But we'll never know. Cobain's early death turned him into an icon, and his band into one of the most acclaimed ever.

But man, they weren't very good, and Live at Reading proves it. Nirvana played loud, sloppy Pixies-lite stuff, and on stage, they evidently didn't do it very well - they weren't tight-but-faking-loose, like the Pixies; they were really just amateur players. Live at Reading captures their set at the Reading Festival in August of 1992, just after Nevermind made them superstars, and they run through most of that album, much of superior debut Bleach, a couple from the gestating In Utero, and some covers.

And it all sounds like garage-band noise. The songs are okay, for what they are, but they don't belong anywhere near a "Best Songs Ever" list. And the performance is... well, there's an argument to be made that Cobain and company were ironically pretending to be this lackadaisical - see the missed notes on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or the horribly-played "Star Spangled Banner" at concert's end.

Of course, the other argument is that they just kind of sucked. And I think Live at Reading, for all its sound and fury, makes that argument convincingly.

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