Friday, February 22, 2008

DVD: Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

Label: Geffen Records

Released: November 20, 2007

I have long felt that Nirvana is grossly overrated. Bleach was a good grunge album and Nevermind managed to both transcend the genre and be in the right place at the right time, exploding into the faltering world of commercial rock. Even so, it's more commercially important than musically. In Utero, however, is one of the two "Emperor's New Clothes" of 90s rock (the other being U2's Zooropa). After all, who wants to admit that they don't get it? Well, I get it...all too well. It's the bloated ramblings of someone selling their punk rock soul for self-importance. Sure, I'll give Cobain credit for not just spitting out another Nevermind, but it would have been nice if he hadn't believed the hype about his genius, because if In Utero proves anything, it's that Cobain is no genius. His death cemented the album's inflated legacy and protected it from ever being reconsidered outside of the euphoria of having mainstream rock finally say something other than "let's party." To me though, Nirvana was a dead end street at this point, a one trick pony who couldn't learn something new, but was too . Nothing anyone has written or said has ever made me reconsider this. Giving In Utero countless second chances hasn't either. But one thing has: Nirvana's Unplugged in New York.

For such a good idea, MTV's Unplugged had been a spotty affair. There were some great ones to be sure, but most were mediocre reworkings of hts and covers. So, when the broadcast of Nirvana's Unplugged session was on the horizon, recorded just a short time after the release of the, to me, very disappointing In Utero, I wasn't exactly jumping up and down. All of that changed when I saw it. Kurt Cobain's struggles with fame were absent. He seemed comfortable in his now famous skin for the first (and perhaps only) time. The band's ability to translate their loud, abrasive music into this more refined environment and be more powerful speaks volumes about them. Even the three songs they perform from In Utero have that power. The guest appearance by the Meat Puppets doesn't stink of rock snobbery. Instead, it's a natural collaboration that likely would have failed (much like the Meat Puppets' next album) had it appeared on a regular studio album. They didn't play all the big hits. It was intimate. Quite simply, Unplugged in New York was the creative pinnacle of both MTV's and Nirvana's existences. It all went down hill from there.

The original MTV broadcast is on here, but the main feature is the full concert as those lucky enough to be there saw it. The MTV News: Bare Witness feature has some interesting moments, but is largely full of stupid memories colored by years of Cobain worship following his death. The rehearsals show a bit more of the band's personality, a nice bonus, but are certainly not essential. While the bonus material isn't great, it doesn't have to be, because the main feature is still amazing, even for those who, like me, aren't caught up in the cult of Nirvana.

Rating: 10/10

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Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

This is one of few Unplugged performances that I remember -- in a good way. The other was Alice In Chains. Not much of value can be culled from Unplugged otherwise, but you're spot-on: Nirvana was excellent during this. I really dug their Bowie cover, too; it doesn't supersede the original, but is good enough to be afforded praise. I, too, never fell in love with these fellers. I never understood the hype, even with Nevermind. But Unplugged is a pretty solid affair, and it shows a different element to their music, which was pretty lopsided at this point.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Yeah, I remember, this AIC and Kiss being the best of the Unplugged lot, with Kiss being almost to the point of poignancy at times, utterly shocking.

I agree that In Uterus (hehehehe) was a lame horse that tried way too hard to live up to the artistic icon tag Cobain was suddenly heaped with. I think the sound of "Teen spirit" on mainstream radio was so shocking for it's time (I remember going "Holy fucking shit, they're playing punk rock on the radio!") that everyone went outta their minds so that Cobain's influences like the Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, EMF, Chumbawumba (hehehehe, maybe not those last two) weren't given their rightful due...

If anything, this sudden tag of punk rock guru and grand master of apathy forced Cobain into an uneviable position that probably served as catalyst to his depression. Even he had to know that In Uterus just isn't a good album but the cult you astutely name simply went along with it because they were so enamored by him that they expected to ride things out until the next Nirvana studio album.

I hate Cobain for leaving his daughter without a father, and yeah, Bleach is fun but it's a total mess. Push comes to shove, Nevermind is Nirvana's greatest recorded statement, and it's a wonderful album though when you look back on it now, it'd be considered a corporate rock album as much as anything out today. All that being said, I remember this show being deeper than Nirvana was capable of giving in the end. I'll need to check it out again sometime.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Well as you may remember I strongly disagree about "In Utero", I think it's possibly the best album of the 90s but anyway. I've been waiting for this DVD since the day I bought a DVD player. I remember this performance from when I was around ten years old or so and it was this performance that got me hooked on Nirvana. I agree that they are certainly overrated, they aren't the Beatles and by no means are they one of the most talented bands in history. For me however, they are one of my most favorite bands and always ranked amongst my favorites because they were who I grew up with. While I think they are overrated by most I think they are grossly underrated by all of those who discredit them and label them as being some band who became legendary simply because of the death of Cobain. They were a great band who released some incredible material and this Unplugged session really shows their diversity.

9:33 PM  

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