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Nirvana - Live at Reading DVD/CD

by Kevin Wierzbicki

It's probably a good thing that this legendary, highly sought-after concert film has been kept under wraps for seventeen years. It's now been long enough that the viewer can simply enjoy the performance for what it is without having all the thoughts of Kurt Cobain's tragic demise running through their head.

Widely bootlegged and constantly raved about by those who were in attendance, this is the first official release of this entire concert from England's Reading Festival in 1992 (only two of the songs/video clips have been released before.) So this is like Christmas time for fans of the ground-breaking trio and Santa Kurt and company bring a sleigh overflowing with rocking presents.

The show begins with a bit of tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery as Cobain is pushed on stage in a wheelchair wearing a hospital gown and a long blond wig. He wobbles to the microphone and jokingly sings the first line of Bette Midler's "The Rose" before falling over on his back and lying prostrate for a moment. The lights go out and under the cover of darkness Cobain grabs his guitar and rips into the opening chords of "Breed."

From there on out it's a non-stop display of power as the boys perform almost all of Nevermind along with little gems like "Tourette's" which is the first-ever live performance of that song. Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic are all clearly having a ball this night; Novoselic tells jokes and jives around, Cobain often sports a rare ear-to-ear grin and goofs around musically by doing things like intro-ing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with the opening riff from Boston's "More Than a Feeling."

There's one spot in the show where emotions threaten to take over but the moment turns out nicely instead. Cobain addresses the crowd about how he and wife Courtney Love had been getting a lot of bad press at the time and how Love felt like everyone hated her. So in all seriousness Cobain asks the crowd to shout, on the count of three, "We love you Courtney!" They do and Cobain is visibly moved before not-so-coincidentally launching into "All Apologies."

Nirvana's loosey-goosey attitude on this evening may have had something to do with how hot they play; the show is riveting from beginning to end based on sheer musicianship and not stage antics.

The show ends with the band playing tribute to Fang and the Wipers with covers of "The Money Will Roll Right In" and "D-7" respectively and then a version of "Territorial Pissings" that devolves into a (carefully orchestrated) stage destruction and a Cobain rendering of "The Star Spangled Banner" a la Jimi Hendrix. It was an interesting choice of songs to close out a show in England---many in the crowd may not have recognized the tune or the nod to Hendrix---but they didn't much care. They had just witnessed one of the best rock concerts ever, period. This DVD and its CD counterpart can be purchased separately or bundled together.

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