This Friday 12th April, Nirvana are set to release their legendary concert ‘Live At The Paramount‘ on vinyl for the first time. To celebrate, we revisited the album and the performance and discussed Nirvana’s massive influence…
WORDS: JO COSGROVE
It becomes almost law for all alt rock fans to have an education in Nirvana. Gaining themselves an almost untouchable reputation in such a short span of time is nothing less than miraculous; many bands of recent times give credit to them for inspiring them to pursue music and helping them settle on a sound they feel most comfortable with.
In short: Nirvana was legendary. And no moment feels as powerful and fitting of a legendary status as their 1991 live film, ‘Live at the Paramount’.
‘Live at the Paramount’, as the title gives away, was filmed at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington – the hometown of Nirvana and in tow, the birthplace of grunge – on the night of 31st October 1991. This was what many would call the height of their popularity and fame throughout their career, as 1991 brought the world the release of their bestselling album, the tough and timeless ‘Nevermind’. In fact, the entirety of the live show was finally released on 24th September 2011; allowing fans – young and old – to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album in style.
“no moment feels as powerful and fitting of a legendary status…”
There was something gritty yet gorgeous about the overall aesthetic of the 90s grunge scene, especially that surrounding Nirvana when considered as a collective of artists rather than just three kids who want to play music. The creativity that was flowing around frontman Kurt Cobain’s mind alone, he intrigued and confused the world with his own thoughts, views, and the stories he told through the band’s music. That is why it shook the world and turned the industry upside-down when news broke in April of 1994 about his sudden death. It was a dark time for the band, Cobain’s family, and his hardcore international fanbase.
Nearly coinciding with the 25-year mark since the singer-songwriter’s passing, ‘Live at the Paramount’ will be released on vinyl for the first time, available to purchase in black or in special edition orange. For those who may be unfamiliar with the 1991 Halloween show, or unfamiliar with how the band gave the performance of a lifetime that night, this 2-LP set may be the greatest gift in the world.
The show was simple, with a 19-song setlist made up with a mix of ‘Nevermind’ tracks and singles, older and newer songs that were not on that record, and a couple of covers thrown in. Nirvana loved a cover in live shows: they opened the set with a cover of The Vaselines’ ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam’. The reason this worked as an opening number for the show is the reason every song sounds so exciting live when it’s from this band: it’s raw, it’s personal, and it will strike lifelessness and liveliness within the heart to prepare for what was to follow.
“the live sound of Nirvana is an experience that is difficult to replicate with more modern rock and alternative acts”
The visuals and audio can work hand in hand – that is what can lead to the beauty that is a live concert film – but the live sound of Nirvana is an experience that is difficult to replicate with more modern rock and alternative acts. It’s something to perhaps link together with the seedy subculture of grunge, but there was a sense in those drum beats and basslines that being unedited and unpolished was the new perfection and conformity.
The sounds of mumbles and randomised phrases being thrown out – from bassist Krist Novoselic’s out-there blurts such as, “White boy funk sucks” to Cobain confessing how “beautiful” the crowd is before him – to plucks and strums of the guitar strings between songs give that feel of planned unpreparedness. A phrase that only makes sense when fitting with this context.
The group worked well with the aesthetic of making it up as the show went on, and plenty of the band’s stunts and speeches were far from planned and even further from being repetitive. The key word with Nirvana is nearly synonymous with the band name: grunge. The genre, the subculture, the lifestyle of the teenagers and young adults who would be brought into the pull of this new force in music. When rock and roll was starting to feel dated and one-sound-fits-all as the 80s ended, grunge was what gave the youth of the time their space to let out their anger, fear, depression, and the budding rebellious nature that was growing in their souls and taking over their spirits.
“…grunge was what gave the youth of the time their space to let out their anger, fear, depression….”
And to this day, there are still young people who are living and breathing the freedom that these subcultures gave out for the taking. The numbers are sizeable, and will increase as time passes. As another kid discovers their sibling’s or their parents’ record collection. As a developing music student researches the sounds that took over the airways of decades before theirs. As someone is discovering in the most closed-minded of families what the world is through a short three minutes of singing, wailing, and screaming alongside an electric guitar.
This show was almost thirty years ago, and to this day the legacy that Cobain and the rest of Nirvana remains alive in every punk kid’s heart. Whether 16 or 60, the spark of breaking rules and expectations is still alive and burning and no one can take that away from them – and that should be treasured, nurtured, embraced, and celebrated.
Grunge is far from dead. Rebellion is still the key to evolution and improvement. Self-discovery should never be discouraged. Nirvana will never just be a band and ‘Live at the Paramount’ will never just be another live recording.