Nirvana: Coliseum, New York NY

Nirvana Reaches Nirvana

AMIDST THE daily tallying or Nirvana’s multi-million sales figures and the tabloid-dishing of Kurt Cobain and wife Courtney Love’s private lives, what’s often overlooked is what a great rock band Nirvana is. Their set at the New York Coliseum Sunday night lavished as much attention on obscurities like a cover of the Vaselines’ ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’ and early indie efforts like ‘Blew’ and ‘School’ as it did on MTV hits like ‘Lithium’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that their audience appreciated most. The show provided the magnificent, magical and occasionally moronic visceral kick that even the most passionate artists rarely provide.

In fact, after the recent onslaught of publicity, including the recent highly entertaining biography, Come as You Are by Michael Azerrad — which, despite its unauthorized status, appears to have been virtually dictated by the band, and in which the band members spend more time vomiting around the world than playing their instruments — it was almost a shock to see a well-disciplined, rather businesslike Cobain standing upright, tossing only stinging leads and superb vocals.

The cavernous Coliseum, better suited to displaying boats than one’s soul, almost eerily emphasized the resemblance of Cobain’s gritty timbre and elastic melodies to those of the young John Lennon.

On the other hand, the wallop-packing riffs of the rhythm section, augmented for the tour by second guitarist Pat Smear, increasingly demonstrated an affinity for Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. But the heavy metal vibes of ‘Scentless Apprentice’ were dispelled when Chris Novoselic put down his bass and picked up an accordion, then moved on to drums, where he pounded amateurishly while an English journalist friend of the band, whose presence was never explained, rapped incomprehensibly.

The moment didn’t quite help the band work up to their now-familiar Who-like guitar smashing finale. But it did suggest that if the ever-volatile Nirvana can maintain their sense of humor and contain their self-indulgence, the best, rather than the end, is yet to come.

© Deborah FrostNew York Daily News, 16 November 1993

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