Jumat, 09 September 2011

Nirvana: Unplugged In New York

Thanks to the legal hijinks that dragged on long after Kurt Cobain's death, anything Nirvana-related was put on hold. After the legal resolution a couple of years ago, a 3-cd set of unreleased recordings saw the light of day (With The Lights Out), not to mention the obligatory "best of" (Nirvana). Now finally comes the somewhat legendary "MTV Unplugged" show. This set still draws some mixed reactions, even if most fans agree it's brilliant. Taped just months before Cobain's suicide, it's both startingly raw and disturbingly planned, with the band playing amongst candles and flowers (stargazer lilies, to be precise)--more than a few people noted it seemed like a funeral, and indeed that's the way Cobain intended it.
Other details that stand out include the fact that while most of the band sit propped on wooden stools, Cobain sits in what appears to be a standard swiveling office chair ("I have very bad posture," indeed!) and the presence of ex-Germ (and future Foo Fighter) Pat Smear, who backs Cobain up as a second guitarist. Anyway, for all its emblamatic status, "Unplugged" also gave a somewhat false impression of the band, and Cobain in particular. Instead of the decidedly plugged in punk the band was known for, Cobain was transformed into a pained-looking, cardigan sweater wearing ghost warbling about how Jesus didn't want him for a sunbeam. Another MTV broadcast, taped just a few months before "Unplugged" the suitably-named "Live and Loud" show, could restore the balance somewhat, but of course it hasn't been officially released on DVD yet. Nevertheless, "Unplugged" retains an almost atavistic hold on the viewer, and is still one of the most intense musical performances ever broadcast on television. Instead of a basic acoustic run-through of their hits, the band used the opportunity to put a new spin on some of their album tracks. The songs "Polly" and "Dumb" were pretty much unplugged before, but in the context of this show became brillianty-etched character studies. The main character, however, was always Cobain, and his songs constant references to death and alienation became all the more chilling here. "Unplugged" is, therefore, something of an audiovisual suicide note. No suicide note has been as exhilerating as this one, though. If you never believed in the concept of catharsis, this might chance your mind.

The band also used the show to highlight some of their own favorite music, and five of the songs here are covers, all of them given new life by their inclusion here. David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" now seems like Cobain speaking from his grave, even if he wasn't dead yet. The tradional ballad "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" was performed by one of Cobain's favorite bands, The Vaselines, but this version was both tribute and personal statement. Three songs from Meat Puppets II, with Chris and Kurt Kirkwood from that band joining in, also seemed handpicked for their metaphorical content, most notably the damnation-themed "Lake of Fire."

What makes this DVD more than just a keepsake is the fact that the entire performance, complete with between song banter and mistakes, are included, as well as the original broadcast version. The uncut "Unplugged" also has 14 songs, compared with the broadcast version's 12. Of course, all the songs can be found on the CD version (MTV Unplugged in New York), but now it's available in full 5.1 glory (and done remarkably well, I might add). The long version also includes a very brief, abortive version of "Sweet Home Alabama," done as "the Brothers Meat" (as Cobain says) were setting up. While the retrospective documentary also included here is disapointinly light on information, it does include a short clip of Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo, who was at the taping. So while this is pretty much essential for fans, even the curious will want to check this out. Hopefully, some of Nirvana's electric performances will be released soon, but this is still a unique performance that easily transcends the era when it was done.

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