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NIRVANA - Live At Reading   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 04 November 2009

The Cobain Cash Cow Carries On

 Cobain Cash Cow Carries On


At the time, you don't realise you are living through history. If is the middle word in life, and if Kurt Cobain hadn't blown his head off as the useless and selfish junkie moron he had become, Nirvana's Reading appearance in 1992 would not have taken on the mythological status it currently occupies, but seen for what it was : a band wrecked by fame and a singer quadraspazzed on drugs achieving a rare moment of clarity and doing a days work.

Of course, strip away all the context, and what you have is a “An Evening With”. For the first time, a full electric Nirvana concert has been officially released – capturing the band at the very height of their noteriety and popularity. For those who were around at the time, myself included, it's unsettling to see a somewhat normal performance lionized by context and historically reappropriated as something far more important than it actually was. What it was, and still is, is a one shot performance of three men performing some brilliant music with enthusiasm. It's a fairly basic recording, captured on the fly for Japanese TV, and thus, free of any of the specific intentions of an officially shot performance intended for release. This show – 80 or so minutes of fine music that does not betray the internal economic, egotistic, or narcotic tensions of the group – was never intended to be immortalised forever as the definitive Nirvana concert document. And it certainly isn't.

The video and audio is competent but no more than that. Every other band that has ever performed at the Reading festival possesses similar material. It is only that the singer is now dead and the estate requires more money that this has been allowed out, 17 years after the event. For those of you who were there, the performance was regarded by fervent fans as godlike ; for the less than devout, it was a cold, windy day stuck in mud where most of the performance drifted away in the gales. Not that you would necessarily know that from this. Nirvana were not the best band in the world that night ; they weren't even the best band that played the festival that weekend. Not by a long chalk.

Everything always looks better looking back. On disc, this resembles a pretty exceptional performance by a band at its artistic height. But it was not exceptional, amazing, or in any way any more than a confused band performing to 30,000 people on a summer night in a suburban field. History is always written after the fact, but it is important to remember that, for those of us who lived it, that “Live At Reading” wasn't all THAT. It's a competent document but not necessarily worth release, and what worries me is not that it has been released, but how many more artistically worthless and exploitative concert and out-take releases of sketchbooks and shopping lists are to be foisted on us by those who see Nirvana as nothing more than a useful revenue stream to keep them in mansions, Yoga lessons, and millionaire tantrums. The legacy was fine as it was, and all these continual re-releases, re-issues, and invalid concert releases do is devalue the currency and economy of the Nirvana identity. Still, the money will roll right in.

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