Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

March 28, 2013

Nirvana ~ MTV Unplugged In New York (live)

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: live, grunge
Year: 1994
Label: Geffen
Home: Seattle, Washington (disbanded)

Members: Kurt Cobain ~ vocals/guitar
Krist Novoselic ~ bass/accordion/rhythm guitar
Dave Grohl ~ drums/bass/b. vocals

Additional: Pat Smear ~ guitar
Lori Goldston ~ cello

Guests: Cris Kirkwood ~ bass/b. vocals
Curt Kirkwood ~ lead guitar

Is it fair to call this an album for non-Nirvana fans? Are there any non-Nirvana fans out there? Is it also fair to call this a highlight, an unexpected one no less, from the Nirvana catalog? Is it further fair to call this a show that defied expectations for all involved? When I was a junior in high school Kurt Cobain committed suicide. I had numerous friends that wanted to follow, but I wasn't that big of a fan so I didn't understand the adoration & on some level I still don't. But, I won't deny I see Cobain as nothing less than the John Lennon of my generation in terms of his status ... though Lennon is the better songwriter & political activist. While, ironically, the music of neither of their spouses interests me much. Cobain might also be the last iconic figure who changed music & set a generation alight. Was he in the right place at the right time? It's hard to say what pushed him to such levels, but no one has come after him. Amy Winehouse? She didn't spur a whole musical genre that would collapse every down before it. Lady Gaga? What's her musical movement? The genre of imitation? Doesn't count. I remember my friends bringing over Nirvana's Nevermind for weekend poker nights. We'd play it over & over & over. That was actually the first time I heard the album complete. Though, I was always partial to their raw debut Bleach & the final studio release In Utero, though I can't exactly say why. Perhaps the fact I didn't hear those songs played constantly like the ones on their debut Nevermind or perhaps it was because the music was so different than their debut. As for their acoustic moment on MTV, which actually came after a poorly sold tour, this was something skeptics probably thought the band couldn't pull off, even with the addition of a second guitarist & strings. Surprise, three chord rock might never have sound so good acoustically, considering how many far more talented bands with thick arrangements have failed in the unplugged spotlight. It's not the best unplugged. There's songs that sound more demo-ish & lacking some depth, even more raw & barren than we might want them in repeated listens. While a few songs, such as David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World," are almost un-Nirvana sounding in their complexity. Somewhere in between is an array of songs that shoot right from the hip & bring the music back to earth, bring back the Nirvana we love. Nirvana is from the gut music that is the motto of a disenfranchised generation tired of musical excess & cliches & pretentiousness. None of that is here. What makes this concert so good is that it's modest, unpretentious & with a diverse set-list that might have shocked some casual fans ... numerous cover tunes & a lack of recognizable hits. There's also a tenseness here, even apparent at the time, like Cobain is singing for his life & is being serious for the first time ... & in retrospect maybe he was, considering this was released after his death & who knew how he saw the future. Some say the seriousness was due to Cobain coming down from a drug high, but this is far more than that. Thus, compared to notorious Nirvana concerts this is simple, straight-forward & starkly intimate. Honestly, Cobain is not a guitar hero by far, nor the greatest hero plain & simple, while his lyrics tend to be more simply constructed than not & leave much up to the listener, but there's something absolutely appealing about this concert & it might just be that intimacy that blankets over the weaker parts. Or, maybe not & we just want to hear the strengths & ignore the weaknesses in light of all that would follow. Certainly, watching the video is better than just listening to the audio, particularly with the funeral-esque stage setting, but the audio stands up well on its own. Though, be warned, however glorious this is, it is a difficult concert to listen to. It might be the hindsight that haunts the show, but even at the time I remember it was riveting like the world was watching something that shouldn't be happening. It's stark & barren as if Cobain is putting his music out there in a way he doesn't want to & are suffering through it & we're witness to their suffering. Any moment he's going to walk off stage because the intimacy is just too much for him to take. This was the first album to come after Cobain's death. Of note is that unlike most MTV Unplugged performances the show was done in a single take for TV.

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