For some fans, Nirvana’s concert album MTV Unplugged In New York is the definitive document of the band, partially because of the resonance it took on in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The sound of Cobain cooing the desolate “Something In The Way” or howling Lead Belly’s harrowing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is extra eerie knowing what happened later. That grief wasn’t lingering over the proceedings when Nirvana’s edition of Unplugged aired on 12/14/93 — Cobain’s death was still months away — but the special was still a Big Fucking Deal.
Nirvana was the biggest band in the world, having turned both the mainstream and underground upside down. They continued to upend convention with a setlist that eschewed the usual hits-driven approach in favor of mostly deep cuts and covers. As you’d expect from a guy who killed himself a few months later, Cobain was obviously going through some shit at the time of this performance; that much is clear from the sardonic words at the beginning (“This is off our first record. Most people don’t own it.”) all the way through to the shrill, cracked, excruciating finish. But he held it together long enough to give us one last momentous collection of songs in a place so far from where he started, with a sound so distinct from the garage band that put that place on the map.
Watch the whole Unplugged concert below, replete with between-song banter that was cut from the original broadcast, Spanish subtitles, and Dave Grohl’s turtleneck/ponytail combo.