'Nirvana Live at the Paramount': Stand Near This Fire

Nirvana were always like some neighborhood kid's angsty little brother: loud, intense, and thoroughly unguarded even as wise-ass irony leaked through the veneer.


Nirvana Live at the Paramount

Label: Geffen Records
Release date: 2011-09-27

What else is there to say about Nirvana? Any ink that went unspilled during the band's short, tempestuous reign at the top of the world's rock heap was likely spent on the unfortunate event of Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994; surely by now, during the 20th anniversary frenzy of Nevermind, everything that can be said about the band has been said.

Maybe so. But what's left, after all the talk is done, is only this: this band rocked, and they put on a hell of a show.

They didn't rawk the way Guns 'n' Roses rawked, with elaborate staging and cartoonishly outlandish personas. They didn't rock with the cerebral coolness of REM or the surf-punk caterwaul of Jane's Addiction; and they sure didn't rock with the arena-filling bombast of U2. Nirvana were always like some neighborhood kid's angsty little brother: loud, intense, and thoroughly unguarded even as wise-ass irony leaked through the veneer. They were—and this has been said many time already—game changers.

Watching Nirvana Live at the Paramount, one is struck immediately, again, by Cobain's voice. It's been said before but it bears repeating: Kurt Cobain's voice is the reason Nirvana went huge. Sure, there's a nice fuzzy sheen to the hammerheaded guitar thrashing, and yes the drumming is relentless and the bass ties everything together nicely. So what? The same can be said of a thousand other bands. What set Nirvana apart was the hurt in Cobain, the same hurt that eventually ended his life but which, before that sad day, had made thrashy rock into something as nakedly confessional as an Anne Sexton poem.

The DVD wastes little time getting to the set, opening with The Vaselines tune "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam", which the band would later reprise on Unplugged. It's an oddly introspective choice to open this fire-breathing set, but it pushes Kurt's voice front and center, which is where it belongs. Subsequent tunes amp up the ferocity with "Aneurysm", "Drain You" and an incendiery version of "School".

And so it goes, with the music taking center stage and minimal stage banter. Newer songs like "Polly" and "Breed" alternate with older rave-ups like "About a Girl" and "Been a Son". The concert took place just after the release of Nevermind, so it's interesting to watch the crowd response, which is biggest and loudest for early songs like "School" and "Negative Creep". "Smells Like Teen Spirit" earns a roar as well, presumably because it was already known to this crowd even in its early days of taking over MTV, radio, and the world.

The audio on the disc is excellent, at least when heard through quality headphones or home-theater speakers. Nirvana were never about high-fidelity audio reproduction, especially in a concert setting like this one, which likely had lousy acoustics. Nonetheless, the sound here is just fine, with Kurt's cracked warble floating clearly over the midrange guitars and the thrumming bass and drums. The camera remains solidly focused on the band, utilizing primarily close-ups from the stage, while mixing in a good number of audience-eye-views. There are only occasional cutaways to the moshing crowd or the inexplicable, thoroughly annoying faux-dancers bracketing the stage. There's irony for you.

The final part of the 19-song set includes "Rape Me", a song that wouldn't see studio release until 1993's In Utero, followed by a viciously severe "Territorial Pissings" and the noise-sculpture of "Endless, Nameless". Then there's just the mandatory equipment-bashing to get through. The crowd howls, cheers and moshes through it all, but it's unclear whether they have any idea that they've just witnessed a band poised to take over the world. (That's no exaggeration—in 1995 I moved to Morocco, and every second teenager on the street was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt.)

There are relatively few extras here, but the disc doesn't suffer from their lack. Music videos for four tunes are available—"Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Come As You Are", "Lithium" and "In Bloom" are the only features on the DVD apart from the concert itself. Given the raucous nature of the live show, the videos are pale in comparison.

So is the DVD crucial? Maybe not as much so as the band's albums, but this document comes as close any anyone's likely to get to an in-concert experience. Nirvana was one of those brief supernovas of creativity that burned brightly and faded fast. Here's proof. The band is long gone, but this document remains for anyone who wishes to stand, however briefly, near the fire.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.