Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York

“For the final line, ‘I would shiver the whole night through,’ Cobain jumps up an octave, forcing him to strain so far he screams and cracks. He hits the word ‘shiver’ so hard that the band stops, as if a fight broke out at a sitcom wedding. Next he howls the word ‘whole’ and then does something very strange in the brief silence that follows, something that’s hard to describe: He opens his piercingly blue eyes so suddenly it feels like someone or something else is looking out under the bleached lank fringe, with a strange clarity. Then he finishes the song.” – Wallace Chamingsalbum cover

I decided that I needed to listen to Nirvana today. I will admit that I partly chose this album because of the recent auction of Kurt Cobain’s sweater from this appearance. Yes, it sold for somewhere around $140,000….for a sweater. Crazy!

Now, I have never listened to a lot of Nirvana because I just assumed that it would not be my thing. I heard one of the tracks from a different album a couple weeks ago and found that I enjoyed the music. After I discovered that it was Nirvana, I found that I was a little more excited to listen to some of their stuff.

Let’s back up a little. I have friends that are Nirvana fans and friends that are huge Kurt Cobain fans. I never understood the pull. I basically thought “whatever.” Over the years, I have read a little about Kurt Cobain and watched some documentaries. I understand a little of what went down and why he was so huge back in the day. I was so young when Nirvana was making music. I was quite young when Kurt Cobain died. I think that is a huge part of my apathy on the subject. My family did not listen to this music and I am 100% certain that my parents would have never bought me this music had I asked.

On to my listen of this album today. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. True, I am a huge acoustic fan. I will listen to most anything if it is billed as “unplugged” or “acoustic.” This sound just appeals to me. My favorite track was “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” I also really enjoyed “Plateau” “Come As You Are,” and “Lake of Fire.”

I do not have anything really remarkable to say about this album, other than give it a chance or two. If you think you are not a Nirvana fan and never will be, take a listen. Start here and then work your way to their other albums.

This album is a live album taped in NYC at Sony Music Studios on November 18, 1993. This was a mere five months before Kurt Cobain’s suicide. FIVE MONTHS!  This album was the first Nirvana album released following his suicide. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. It even won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996. It is ranked #313 on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Rolling Stone also named it the 95th best album of the 1990s.

The set list of this show was composed of lesser-known material and cover versions of songs, and featured the Meat Puppets as guests.

I think that the preparation on Nirvana’s part for this performance is significant. At least, it adds a bit of perspective for me.  Nirvana had been in negotiation with MTV for quite some time but did not want to do what the bands typically did when they appeared on MTV Unplugged. The idea of performing an entire acoustic show made Cobain super nervous. The band had two days of rehearsals. The band ended up running into some performance problems with some of the songs. Cobain, during this time, was disagreeing with MTV about how their performance would be presented. The day before the show, Kurt Cobain refused to play. He was going through drug withdrawal and exhibiting a good deal of nervousness. There were a whole lot of people worried about his performance (for good reason). He did show up to the play the show at the studio the next day but there was no joking, no sense of fun. What follows is this show that is remarkable. It is dark and emotive and filled with more musicality than I would have ever expected from Nirvana.

I am glad I listened to this album. So glad that I may listen to it again tomorrow.

Nirvana Personnel

  • Kurt Cobain: lead vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Krist Novoselic: acoustic bass, accordion, acoustic rhythm guitar
  • Dave Grohl: drums, backing vocals, acoustic bass

Additional Musicians

  • Pat Smear: acoustic guitar
  • Lori Goldston: cello

Meat Puppets

  • Cris Kirkwood: acoustic bass and backing vocals on tracks 10, 11, 12
  • Curt Kirkwood: acoustic lead guitar on tracks 10, 11, 12

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3 thoughts on “Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York

  1. The best unplugged album ever. Technically MTV let them slide on “The Man Who Sold the World” having a slight part that wasn’t “unplugged” but hey, who cares.. you take that song out and its still the best ever.

    • I agree that it is a fantastic album. I have a question about the album’s “unplugged” quality. Can it technically be considered unplugged if Cobain ran his acoustic through an amp? Either way, I love the album the more and more I listen.

      • Yeah, good question. I had to double check, but after seeing that and also watching Alice In Chains unplugged, its basically the same. It seems that its okay as long as its an acoustic instrument; so I’m guess its okay like that because they aren’t really distorting the sound at all where an electric guitar has pickups etc. I know with my electric acoustic, if I hooked it up to the amp, it would sound exactly the same, but with an electric guitar in the amp, it does more than just make the noise louder, it actually changes the sound.

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