Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

Unplugged In New York, Revisited

By Evan Rytlewski
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Unplugged In New York, Revisited What the DVD outtakes tell us about Nirvana This summer, I wrote a blog post begging for a deluxe edition of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York, and my wish came true (mostly). Last week, Geffen finally released a DVD that packages the entire concert, the abridged, 44-minute cut MTV broadcast of the concert, a quick documentary and some insightful rehearsal footage that affirms the concert's off-the-cuff feel wasn't staged. For anyone who came of age during the alternative nation's heyday, the concert is already almost painfully familiar. MTV used to broadcast it incessantly after Kurt Cobain's suicide, and its filled with iconic images any flannel-clad teenager from the early '90s can probably picture just by closing their eyes: the candles, the cello, Dave Grohl's greasy hair, Kurt Cobain's itchy wool sweater, Krist Novoselic's left-field accordion and subsequent goofy grin. It was this performance that fundamentally changed how Cobain was viewed post-death. After "Unplugged," he was no longer the screaming, disaffected rocker, but a tortured, tragic figure. Nirvana's singles, which they largely avoided during this set, were deliberately vague—their words were often indecipherable, their meanings debatable. The sentiments in the covers Cobain selected, however, were less ambiguous. They dealt directly with all the themes fans would soon associate with him: alienation ("Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam"), regret ("The Man Who Sold the World"), mortality ("Lake of Fire") and loneliness ("Where Did You Sleep Last Night.") Through other people's songs, Cobain fully exposed his hand. Some critics posit that this show was the first phase of Nirvana's planned image reinvention, a hint at where the band would have gone had Cobain been able to carry on. The DVD's rehearsal footage seems to negate this argument, though: This performance couldn't have been that calculated. Cobain was particularly moody throughout the rehearsal, complaining that the band is nearly an hour behind schedule. That inadequate rehearsal time explains why during the concert the band seemed to be figuring out arrangements as they went along, and why poor Grohl seemed so clueless about the set list. Rushed and on edge, Cobain bared more of his soul than he probably intended. After bellowing the final notes of the final song, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," he breathlessly gazed up from his guitar, his giant blue eyes swollen with sadness, fear and desperation—a look far removed from the poised rock-star face he normally wore. You can't stage that kind of expression.
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