Recorded in November of 1993, and airing a month later as a Christmas present, Nirvana’s appearance on MTV Unplugged encapsulated almost everything that made them a great band — only the noise was missing — and provided a tantalizing glimpse to the future as well.
Like all things Nirvana, it’s nearly impossible these days to look at it as a performance in and of itself without trying to dissect it for clues, but I’m convinced that it would still be remembered as a classic performance even if it hadn’t become a inadvertent self-provided eulogy.
Split half between covers and originals, featuring the three best songs from In Utero, and only one single from Nevermind, what I take away from Nirvana’s performance is generosity. Generosity in terms of explaining who they were with the covers — and bringing out the Kirkwood brothers because Kurt wanted to make sure you realized how much he loved Meat Puppets II — as well as exploring new avenues in the music.
“Good evening,” Kurt says at the outset, “This is from our first record. Most people don’t own it.” Which — technically — was true about Nevermind, as well, though most certainly wasn’t the point he was trying to make with that offhand comment.
On Bleach, “About a Girl” stood out like a sore thumb, even as Kurt’s poppier aspirations got buried in a pile of poorly-recorded sludge. But on MTV Unplugged, it felt like the perfect opener: obscure but catchy as hell, with just a hit of menace in both the chord changes and melody line.
I need an easy friend
I do, with an ear to lend
I do, think you fit this shoe
I do, but you have a clue
With Kurt doing the “I do” call-and-response vocals on his own, switching seamlessly from his crooner voice to his raggy voice, “About a Girl” almost glides forward in and out of its verses and choruses, all the while maintaining an almost otherworldly sense of calm throughout. It’s most apparent on Kurt’s thoughtful guitar solo, which plays along the margins of the verses for awhile before just strumming the chords of the chorus.
Message: look, we know that it’s a weird couple of fucking years, but right here right now everything is … pretty cool. Here are some songs, please enjoy.
“About A Girl (MTV Unplugged)”
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