Monday, November 9, 2009

Nirvana's "Live at Reading" Rating: 5/5

Rating: 5/5

It’s been over 15 years since Kurt Cobain took his own life, and since then the legend of Nirvana continues to grow, alienating as much as it compels. In other words, it’s very easy to leave Nirvana off your list of favorite bands, or go a year or two without pulling up Nevermind on your iTunes. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are so important and ubiquitous within the landscape of popular music that it may not even seem possible that there could ever have actually been a time when their brilliant Beatles meets Black Sabbath meets Sonic Youth sound was exciting, innovative and new. But there was…and this is it.

“Live at Reading” will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest live albums ever released. Recorded on August 30th 1992 at the Reading Festival in the United Kingdom, this is Nirvana at the very peak of their popularity; you could probably argue that this performance is the climax of their career. Nevermind had hit number one on the Billboard 200 earlier that year. The album was a massive, entirely unexpected hit, heralded as the watershed moment alternative rock had been destined to have. Meanwhile, the rumors surrounding Nirvana, and particularly those concerning Cobain’s drug use and relationship with Courtney Love, were reaching a fever pitch, and his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, had been born only 12 days prior to this concert. And somehow, all of this comes through on this incredible recording. You can practically feel the excitement and uncertainty in the band’s performance; these guys went from nobodies to superstars, scruffy, punk rock rejects (from Seattle, at that) to the spokesmen of a generation, in less than a year. Cobain’s performance is passionate and riotous, heartfelt and joyous. This was just before things went sour within the band, when the media attention, the drugs, and the feverish devotion of the fans (the very fans that can be heard literally drowning out Kurt’s voice during an astonishing performance of “Lithium” on this recording) ultimately imploded both Cobain’s personal and professional lives.

To me, this is what rock and roll is all about; their performance is combustible, defiiantly imperfect, beautiful and fun. Furious numbers like “Breed”, “School” and “Negative Creep” display the band’s relentless punk sound, while “Lithium” and “All Apologies” are sure to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; you may even shed a tear. And forgive me for being cliché, but the real stunner here is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” No one blames Kurt for inevitably wishing that this song would disappear from earth forever, but when the opening riff starts midway through this album, and you hear the massive audience erupt in giddy pleasure, you will too. There may never be a more perfect hard rock song, and everybody knew it; Kurt did too.

Hard Rock hasn’t been the same since this band ceased to exist, so I don’t blame anyone that ignores the most recent releases from the genre. But if you’re even a casual fan of Nirvana, you have no business not owning Live at Reading. As a matter of fact, if you only buy one rock album this year, do yourself a huge favor and make it this one.


No comments: