Nirvana: Unplugged In New York
directed by MTV
Almost fourteen years to the day, and the most famous performance by one of the most influential bands in the history of modern music will finally make its way to DVD, and so into our homes. Nirvana’s legendary Unplugged performance for MTV was filmed just four months before the enigmatic frontman’s death, and its importance in the canon of live concert footage is monumental.
I remember the night this show first aired, November 18, 2003. I finished up my school work early, sat myself down in front of the TV, turned off the lights, and tuned into one of the most captivating hours of television I would ever see. Years later, viewing this same performance (with an added two songs that weren’t included in the original broadcast: “Something In The Way,” and Meat Puppets’ “Oh, Me”), the weight the band carries has magnified. What was once intense and naked with raw emotion is now almost painful to watch. Kurt’s nervous mannerisms, his seeming inability to open his eyes fully, and his twitching jaw make my heart ache – and this is not even including the emotion brought forth when his quiet voice becomes a painful howl.
You’ve all heard this performance (the CD version of this show won a Grammy and was certified platinum five times over), so I won’t run through the setlist except to remind you that, save for “Come As You Are,” it bore none of the band’s big hits and was mostly packed full of covers. This long overdue DVD has some behind the scenes rehearsals that are pretty amusing, as well an MTV special called Bare Witness that is essentially a bunch of MTV hotshots all saying the same thing: that they were surprised that Nirvana’s songs worked acoustically, and how special it was to be a part of history in the making. Blah, blah, blah – I would have rather seen some old interview footage of Kurt and the band, or some live footage from a full-on Nirvana concert to see how stark of a contrast the Unplugged performance really was.
This performance shouldn’t be centered around the downward spiral – and impending doom – of Kurt Cobain, but of course it can’t help but be, as history has played itself out. The defining moment of poignant sadness in this video occurs during the final moments of the final song, Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” There’s this instance where Kurt is bellowing out the chorus “My girl, my girl!/ Don’t lie to me/ Tell me where did you sleep last night?” and his big beautiful blue eyes open wide just for an instant and that inner pain is revealed, raw. When he closes out the song with the final words, “I will shiver… the whole night through,” it’s heartbreaking, And it’s a defining moment in history, preserved.