Nirvana Refuses to Play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ After the Crowd Hurls Sexist Insults at the Opening Act (Buenos Aires, 1992)

“Anger is an energy,” shouts John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, on Public Image Limited’s “Rise,” the 1986 single written in reaction to Apartheid South African and Northern Irish interrogation techniques. In typical fashion, Lydon succinctly sums up the motive force of punk, in a song, as he told MTV’s Kevin Seal, about “all kinds of torture,” which “doesn’t really achieve anything. Violence doesn’t really achieve anything.”

Some angry energy creates, and some does nothing but destroy. A few years later, Nirvana brought the angry energy of punk back into mainstream consciousness, with a frontman who spoke out frequently against sexism and sexist violence. In 1992, the band—already a global phenomenon after the release of Nevermind and the explosive success of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—performed a particularly pissed-off-yet-creative live set. They did so in reaction to a wave of abuse hurled at their opening act by a crowd of 50,000 in Buenos Aires.

“We brought this all-girl band over from Portland called Calamity Jane,” Kurt Cobain later remembered. “During their entire set, the whole audience… was throwing money and everything out of their pockets, mud and rocks, just pelting them. Eventually the girls stormed off crying. It was terrible, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, such a mass of sexism all at once.”

Enraged, Cobain threatened to cancel, but was talked out of it by bassist Krist Novaselic. Instead, the band took the stage and “openly mocked the audience,” writes Alex Young at Consequence of Sound, “by playing mostly rarities and the backend of Nevermind.” Cobain at least managed to turn the ugly moment into a positive experience for his band.

We ended up having fun, laughing at them (the audience). Before every song, I’d play the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and then stop. They didn’t realize that we were protesting against what they’d done. We played for about forty minutes, and most of the songs were off Incesticide, so they didn’t recognize anything. We wound up playing the secret noise song (‘Endless, Nameless’) that’s at the end of Nevermind, and because we were so in a rage and were just so pissed off about this whole situation, that song and whole set were one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.

The whole show was captured on film by a professional crew, and you can watch it above to see what the experience was like for the audience. The opening track, “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave,” is “one of only a handful of Nirvana songs,” notes Young, “never to be released. Nirvana archivists theorize the impromptu jam was made up on the spot.”

You’ll also see from the tracklist below that Cobain “was misremembering or embellishing a bit here and there,” writes Dangerous Minds. “While they did unearth a handful of rarities from their odds-n-ends collection Insesticide… as well as ‘All Apologies’ (it later turned up on In Utero)… they also played most of Nevermind.” Nonetheless, we can see the show, with its abrasive opening jam (“I promise to shit on your head”) as an attempt to both alienate obnoxious fans and turn rage into a creative force.

Nobody Knows I’m New Wave
Drain You
Spank Thru
Come as You Are
Lounge Act
About a Girl
In Bloom
Territorial Pissings
Been a Son
On a Plain
Negative Creep

All Apologies
Endless, Nameless

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Watch Nirvana Perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Just Two Days After the Release of Nevermind (September 26, 1991)

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

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

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

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