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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