Fourteen years after Nirvana Unplugged in New York was taped, the acoustic set is finally available in its entirety on DVD. Picking up where the Unplugged album left off in 1994, fans finally get the whole experience with this new disc, which also features MTV’s original version, interviews with some of the production staff and audience members, and a handful of rehearsal performances. This is as close as one can get to Nirvana’s raw and intimate unplugged show without having sat in the front row.
MTV’s original broadcast was closely edited, leaving out more than just an affecting version of “Something in the Way” and a back-porch rendition of The Meat Puppets’ “Oh, Me.” The band’s phenomenal closer, a cover of Leadbelly’s “Where did you Sleep last Night?,” was actually a last-second decision by Kurt Cobain, who is seen cuing the rest of the band on when to enter the song. By trimming down Nirvana’s set, MTV changed the tone of the performance from spontaneous and candid, to one that comes across as more serious, and stiffly “professional;” however, fans can now choose between two markedly different interpretations.
No matter which version one watches, the essence of the concert is still in tact: Dave Grohl is clearly focused as he sits behind the drum-kit, laying down the beat lightly with confident ease, Krist Novoselic dutifully taps his foot as he takes his bass for a walk and sways in time as he plays accordion on a cover of The Vaselines’ rendition of “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” and Pat Smear grins widely the whole time, either playing melodic runs or strumming along with Cobain.
For Cobain, the show turned out to be his very public and still very intimate good-bye, as his death came almost five months after Nirvana Unplugged. From his introduction to “About a Girl,”: “This is off our first record. Most people don’t own it,” to his solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea,” to his soul-transcending tribute to Leadbelly, we see Cobain as he really was: passionate, haunted, and sincere. The nervousness, missed notes, and watch-checking we can now see in the rehearsals (in the bonus material) are completely absent from the actual show, where he is in complete control of his voice and guitar, comfortable on the stage, and not afraid to be witty between songs.
Whether you are a die-hard fan, still coveting your white-vinyl copy of Bleach and keeping your Sub Pop Records Love Buzz/Big Cheese 45 in an air-tight vault, or just now attaining Nirvana, Nirvana Unplugged in New York will not disappoint. The new DVD rounds out the Nirvana Unplugged experience with enough material to satisfy even the most avid fan. Just the same, any music fan who just really likes the intro to “Come as You Are” will enjoy it, too. Nirvana Unplugged in New York still proves that, yes, acoustic guitars do rock. ($12.99 at bestbuy.com, copyright: Geffen Records and MTV Networks)