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Nirvana - Live at Reading

  by Kelly Smith

published: 1 / 12 / 2009

Nirvana - Live at Reading


Kelly Smith is impressed by the energy and force of Nirvana's new DVD, 'Live at Reading', which was filmed in 1992 at their headlining performance at the Reading Festival

I can not begin to tell you of the nerves I felt when our editor emailed to tell me that I was actually allowed to review this DVD. “HAHA! Are you serious? Because I seriously don’t know anything about music, and Nirvana... Well, they’re proper music... I love them... But I can’t write about them! I think I’ll put this DVD in a box for a week and see how that turns out.” But it’s a week later and it turns out I can’t really write much without watching it. If this was a live DVD of someone else, anyone else, I think I could be objective and my task would be simpler. Maybe not if it was Beyonce. But I have a borderline criminal obsession with 'Single Ladies', so we should put that aside for the time being, and I will do my very best to talk about this DVD in a proper music journalistic manner. Nirvana, as if I need to tell you, have been defunct for 15 years now, but in that time their popularity has barely waned. If anything, teenagers for the past decade have been as vehement as ever that they are the disaffected ones, that they’re the ones with the shitty lives, that Nirvana were really singing about their lives, actually, so what does anyone else know? This headline show at Reading, in 1992, showcased almost the entire 'Nevermind' tracklist. It’s not like I’ll be surprising anyone here by saying that classics such as 'Lithium', 'Come as You Are', 'Been a Son' and In Bloom sound amazing live. I’ve seen mentioned in a few other reviews of this DVD that the sound quality is exceptional considering the size of the venue, which hadn’t really occurred to me but once pointed out it’s hard to ignore the clarity of the band. Kurt looks perfect. Arriving on stage in a wheelchair and long blonde wig, he remains in a hospital gown for the entire gig. It is genuinely affecting to hear how gentle his voice can sound, on tracks such as 'Polly', compared to the fierce set opener of 'Breed'. He shows the softer side of his personality talking about his daughter and his wife, and the audience show that they would do anything for him by shouting, en masse, “we love you Courtney!” at Kurt’s request. I fear she doesn’t receive that sort of affection nowadays. I hadn’t listened to Nirvana in a while when I came to watch this DVD. They are the musical equivalent of riding a bike, because the songs truly never left me. Notable moments of brilliance are hard to detail, because frankly, the whole thing is just gorgeous. One of my very favourite bits in the DVD comes in the lead up to 'Teen Spirit'. The audience sound like they have been waiting all of their lives to listen to it, but before they are rewarded with the song that has become Nirvana’s legacy to the mainstream, the three of them segue into a beautiful, but brief, chorus of 'More Than a Feeling' by Boston. It’s a small interjection, but I loved it. As ever, Dave Grohl showcases his incredible power on the drums, and bassist Krist Novoselic leaps around the stage like a teenager in his first moshpit. You can’t help but enjoy their energy, even if this is at a time when the trio were struggling with their speedy rise to fame. It’s not like all of this is note perfect, as is the case with many live performances, but even when Kurt is off-key or the timing seems slightly off, the emotions and energy from the band render most complaints useless. Nirvana were architects of a musical genre, of a whole generation, of a new attitude. There is nothing that can be said in a review that would make up for the fact that they can never perform live again. They were, and they remain, one of the best bands of all time. Whether you like them or not, there’s no denying that, and I would highly recommend 'Live at Reading' as a piece of history, if nothing more.

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