Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York

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.

Comments (11)
  1. My favorite part is Dave’s pretty sincere sounding “That was really good!” following “Pennyroyal Tea,” to which Kurt offers simply, “Shut up.” I laugh just thinking about that bit of banter. And Krist on the accordion! Perfect.

    Also, I probably never would have heard Meat Puppets II if it wasn’t for this, and Meat Puppets II is just the best.

    • I second that. After I heard Lake of Fire, Oh Me, and Plateau I went out and bought Meat Puppets II. That album kills it, every time I listen to it all the way through by the end I feel like I’ve been awake for three days straight.

      I saw them play a few months ago in Rochester, Curt Kirkwood is a wizard with his guitar, he tears apart every song…sucks Nirvana isn’t still around to do that type of stuff.

  2. I mean, if you wanna mention songs he performed echoing his suicide… “The Man Who Sold The World” is one helluva choice cover. Imagine how many people picked up that album after this and got their mind…

  3. I have to agree with the previous 3 posts… The covers were the best. As a young teen, pliable as we are, it’s always good to be turned onto quality music, especially older, obscure stuff that otherwise many of us probably wouldn’t have found.

  4. “Most people don’t own it.” Not “know it.”

  5. I’ve never had the chance to watch the whole show before, that youtube link was great. I can thank this album for a lot of my music taste, introduced me to the world of Bowie. Blew my 15 year old mind.

  6. My favorite part is the proposal of a smoke break at 18:34 and the consummation of this proposal 10 seconds later

  7. Nevermind had a huge impact on me. But when In Utero came out, I didn’t understand it. I loved how melodic Nevermind was – In Utero felt like the giant middle finger that it more or less was intended to be.

    My Nirvana love had definitely subsided a good bit by December, but I decided to watch Unplugged anyway, just out of the curiosity of what the band might do. (The popular question at the time: “Can you imagine ‘Teen Spirit’ unplugged?”) The idea of them doing anything acoustically seemed impossible.

    I remember being completely floored by it. The covers definitely made it – they made Unplugged its own thing rather than the musical retread that some of the other Unpluggeds seemed to be. But the big thing for me – it made me appreciate the In Utero songs for the first time, and gave me an “in” to finally decipher that album.

    I copied Unplugged to a cassette, and spent the next several weeks listening to it repeatedly. I shifted to In Utero in March. I always felt a little bit sad that it took me that long to really get Nirvana.

  8. Btw – not to be my usual pedantic self, but “Something in the Way” isn’t the really the right reference here. That song wasn’t included in the original MTV broadcast, and wasn’t heard by the public until after Kurt died. (It was one of the “unreleased” songs on the CD when it came out in November of 1994.) And the complete set (the one included here) didn’t get a full video release until 2007 – though there was a relatively crappy VHS bootleg of it that started circulating around 1995. (Trade “Something” for “All Apologies” in the article and the spirit would be pretty much exactly right.)

  9. “Where do bad folks go when they die?!!!….They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly…They go to the lake of fire and fry….Won’t see them again ’till the fourth of July!!!”

  10. rip kurdt rip nirvana rip rock rip music rip aw man there goes my sweater

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