Nirvana’s Last Concert: Audio/ Video Recorded on March 1, 1994

Yes, it’s been over 20 years now since Nir­vana played their last show, and if you’re old enough to have been there, go ahead and take a moment of silence to mourn your lost youth. Giv­en the rel­a­tive pauci­ty of raw, authen­tic-sound­ing gui­tar rock these days, it’s tempt­ing to roman­ti­cize the nineties as hal­cy­on days, but that kind of nos­tal­gia should be tem­pered by an hon­est account­ing of the tedious flood of grunge-like also-rans the cor­po­rate labels released upon us after Nirvana’s main­stream suc­cess. In a cer­tain sense, the demise of that band and death of its leader marks the end of so-called “alter­na­tive” rock (what­ev­er that meant) as a gen­uine alter­na­tive. After Nir­vana, a del­uge of grow­ly, angsty, and not espe­cial­ly lis­ten­able bands took over the air­waves and fes­ti­val cir­cuits. Before them—well, if you don’t know, ask your once-hip aunts and uncles.

And yet, there is anoth­er narrative—one that holds up the band as rock redeemers who broke through the cor­po­rate mold and, like the Stooges or the Ramones twen­ty years ear­li­er, brought back authen­tic anger, dan­ger, and inten­si­ty to rock ‘n’ roll. That Nir­vana became the cor­po­rate mold is not nec­es­sar­i­ly their doing, and not a turn of events that sat at all well with the band. Their last show, in Munich, 1994 (see it in part above), “was any­thing but immac­u­late,” writes Con­se­quence of Sound, a fact “almost trag­i­cal­ly fit­ting.” As if pre­sag­ing its leader’s decline, Nirvana’s final con­cert went from strained to worse, as Cobain’s voice fal­tered due to bron­chi­tis, and the venue tem­porar­i­ly lost pow­er. “Unde­terred, they con­tin­ued acousti­cal­ly, but end­ed up cut­ting what would’ve been the sev­enth song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’” the track that launched a mil­lion grunge garage bands three years ear­li­er. With tongues in cheeks, they open—at the top—with The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” (and a few bars of their “Mov­ing in Stereo”). Sure­ly both an homage to a great ‘80s band and a punk decon­struc­tion of major label radio rock of the pre­vi­ous decade.

In a fore­bod­ing remark after the pow­er went out, bassist Krist Novesel­ic quips, “We’re not play­ing the Munich Enor­mod­ome tonight. ‘Cos our careers are on the wane. We’re on the way out. Grunge is dead. Nirvana’s over.” The remain­der of the tour was can­celed, and Cobain went to Rome, where he over­dosed on Rohyp­nol and cham­pagne and tem­porar­i­ly fell into a coma. One month lat­er, after a failed rehab stint, he was dead. Almost imme­di­ate­ly after­ward, a cult of Cobain sprung up around his memory—as much a tri­umph of mar­ket­ing as an act of mourn­ing. T‑shirts, posters, trib­ute albums… the usu­al mass cul­ture wake when a rock star dies young. What sad­dened me as a child of the era is not that the band’s last tour petered out, or even that Cobain fell apart under the famil­iar pres­sures of fame and addic­tion, but that in death he was turned into what he hat­ed most—an idol. But if the wor­ship­ful merch of twen­ty years ago seemed tacky, it was noth­ing com­pared to t‑shirts sell­ing just weeks ago with Cobain’s sui­cide note print­ed on them. (These have since been pulled due to com­plaints.) And while we may some­day hear the demos of Cobain’s planned solo record, we might also have been treat­ed to some­thing else—“our next record’s going to be a hip-hop record,” joked Novesel­ic. Now that would have been a nov­el­ty. Instead we got these guys.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain on the 20th Anniver­sary of the Musician’s Sui­cide

Kurt Cobain’s Home Demos: Ear­ly Ver­sions of Nir­vana Hits, and Nev­er-Released Songs

The First Live Per­for­mance of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” (1991)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • John says:

    I nev­er under­stood the fuss about Nir­vana. Still don’t. I always sus­pect­ed there was a need for some­one to be hyped, and they fit the bill. That’s as good as they ever were. Need proof? Just re-read what you wrote: ”And yet, there is anoth­er narrative—one that holds up the band as rock redeemers who broke through the cor­po­rate mold and, like the Stooges or the Ramones twen­ty years ear­li­er, brought back authen­tic anger, dan­ger, and inten­si­ty to rock ‘n’ roll.” Peeu­uw! That men­tal­i­ty falls right into the mar­ket­ing meat-grinder of pop­u­lar cul­ture con­sumerism. The “sale” of music because it rep­re­sents some roman­tic myth and image of teenage angst is, as it always has been — a hoax, and to con­tin­ue it bog­gles the mind.
    Addi­tion­al­ly, while I am nei­ther a fan of Nir­vana or Kurt Cobain, I am embar­rassed and insult­ed for him when you say: “…in death he was turned into what he hat­ed most—an idol.” That is utter crap. In the post-Wood­stock (maybe, even ear­li­er) pop­u­lar music envi­ron­ment, no one picked up a gui­tar, formed a band, record­ed any­thing and did a tour with­out think­ing about their own “rock immor­tal­i­ty.” To believe oth­er­wise is crim­i­nal­ly naive, at best. The “puri­ty of artis­tic expres­sion” boat sailed long, long ago. Shame on you for insult­ing Cobain, my intel­li­gence and your­self!
    Final­ly, while I applaud you for hav­ing tak­en a shot at your choice of “these guys,” they were to easy a tar­get. Cobain’s for­mer band­mate-turned-super­star is a more plau­si­ble and deserv­ing tar­get of ire.
    You prob­a­bly are a nice per­son and mean well, but you began with praise of a redeemer, and then lament­ed his alleged denial of want­i­ng idol­iza­tion. Let me know if he was a prophet so I will know whether it’s safe to make satir­i­cal car­toons of him or not.

  • Josh Jones says:

    This is a very agi­tat­ed mis­read­ing of what I wrote. You mis­take my sum­ma­ry of the “redeemer” nar­ra­tive for an endorse­ment. It’s total spin. I no more believe that sto­ry than I believe that Kurt Cobain did­n’t want to be a rock star. I don’t think, how­ev­er, that he want­ed to be a cult fig­ure and cor­po­rate mar­ket­ing tool. I agree with you–that’s pret­ty much what the band became. And that’s more or less what I say above.

  • John says:

    While I con­cede that my com­ment may have had the air of a vitu­per­a­tive cur­mud­geon, I can’t say that, if there was spin, there was much at all. How­ev­er, if your reply suc­cinct­ly sum­ma­rized your intent, then I real­ly must agree with you.
    As far as Cobain is con­cerned — he made his deal with the dev­il. It’s only a mat­ter of time before his estate whores him posthu­mous­ly as the shill he, per­haps unknow­ing­ly, agreed to be. The indus­try sucks and we have allowed music to be reduced to com­mod­i­ty.

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