Thrash Hits

November 10th, 2009

DVD: Nirvana – Live at Reading

Nirvana promo photo Thrash Hits

Live At Reading
Geffen Records
02 November 2009

by Hugh Platt

You know what you don’t see anymore? Kids in Nirvana hoodies. When I was a teenager, they were everywhere – getting their ears pierced in that dodgy shop on the top floor of the mall, skateboarding badly up and down in the park, and hanging around outside off-licenses trying to buy cider. But not anymore.

Nirvana Live at Reading cover packshot artwork Thrash Hits

And then the reason why hit me – Kurt Cobain has been dead for 15 years. Some of the precocious little feckers weren’t even born when he committed suicide. And these days, when people don’t care about a band they loved a mere year ago, what hope is there for reverence of a man long dead before they were even a cumshot in their mama’s snatch? Ahhhh fuck ‘em. If this DVD of the newly re-mastered footage of Nirvana’s infamous Reading festival headline set doesn’t educate them, nothing will.

Let’s just be clear from the off: this is the best live recording of Nirvana ever. There. It’s better than any bootleg doing the rounds. It’s better than From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and it’s better than MTV: Unplugged. There’s a damn good reason why this performance regularly tops polls of the the Greatest Gigs of All Time. What is truly striking – and something no bootleg has ever been able to convey in the way this DVD can – is how stripped-down Nirvana’s performance is. It’s just Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl up there playing – there’s no phalanx of touring musicians hiding in the wings – and it still sounds enormous. This could only be a festival headline set – the sound is just too big, too unchainable to fit anywhere else.

Even taking in account how small the old Main Stage at Reading Festival is (and compared to the monster platform needed to support the stage sets of headline acts today it’s tiny), the trio still fill it with a grimy, dirty, over-flowing realism you don’t get from headline acts anymore. And they do it with their presence and music alone – Nirvana’s stage set is nothing but a giant off-white sheet as a backdrop.

Watch the trailer to ‘Nirvana – Live at Reading’

You could never accuse Cobain of being a virtuso, but to look at his playing on a technical level misses the point completely. This is rugged, rabid stuff. From the gutter grooves of ‘Breed’, right on through to the ragged punk grunge of ‘Territorial Pissings’, this is 100 minutes of a band the the top of their game, and that game wasn’t about hitting all the right notes. That sloppy grin Cobain shoots across the stage at Novoselic as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ slips into ‘More Than A Feeling’ for a few bars? It shows that for all their intensity, Nirvana were still good-humoured enough about themselves to deflate their biggest hit with something so impishly playful.

What’s incredible – amazing, even, when you consider the “Cobain Industry” – is that it’s taken this long for this show to be released. Like Nirvana’s performance itself, the DVD is a stripped-down affair, with no extras to speak of (unless you count the post-credits coda where Cobain signs autographs for a child with Leukemia, aware of the irony of doing so while an unlit cigarette hangs from his lips). But when the remastering is as good as this – and considering this is 17 year-old footage, it does look and sound incredible – you won’t feel you’re missing out though. The DVD does, however, manage to (partially) answer one of the big unanswered questions of Nirvana folklore: just ho was that guy who was prancing around on stage the whole time? Well, it turns out his full name is Tony Hodgkinson. That’s something of a relief, I guess.

Watch Nirvana play ‘Smells Like More Than A Feeling’ at Reading Festival ’92

Some of the kids of today will just shrug their shoulders at this DVD release: just something else to download off the internet and forget about. But maybe a couple of them will stick with it for longer than their XBox’d attention spans would usually tolerate. Maybe just a few of them will dig deeper into this dead guy’s back catalogue. And maybe one or two of them will finally discover the band that changed so many of their bigger brothers’ and sisters’ lives.

We’re still not gonna but them their booze though. They can get fake IDs like the rest of us did.


Sounds like: the best live show you never went to
Top Tracks: Smells Like More Than A Feeling….although you could pick any tracks off this as the Top Tracks and it’d still be true

Nirvana – Live at Reading tracklisting
Drain You
In Bloom
Come As You Are
About a Girl
Lounge Act
Smells Like Teen Spirit
On a Plain
Negative Creep
Been a Son
All Apologies
Stay Away
Spank Thru
Love Buzz (Shocking Blue cover, not on CD)
The Money Will Roll Right In (Fang cover)
D-7 (Wipers cover)
Territorial Pissings