Certain concerts create a legend as soon as the final note ceases to ring. Nirvana's headlining appearance at the 1992 Reading Festival is one of these shows, a concert that arrived at precisely the right moment and stands as testament to a band at the peak of its powers...and right before things started to turn sour within the Nirvana camp. Despite the happy news of the birth of Frances Bean Cobain a mere 12 days before this August 30 festival, rumors swirled around Nirvana right up until the band hit the stage.
So many posthumous recordings—especially live recordings—are released with the sole intent of excavating the vaults in order to satisfy fans of an artist taken prematurely that it’s easy to be suspicious whenever a new one makes the rounds. More often than not, chances are that had the artist in question not left us before his or her time, these albums would never see the light of day. To a disheartening extent, these releases are frequently bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings from a scarce recording legacy, and with so much demand from grieving fans and so little supply due to a career cut short, we’re forced to make due with what we’re left with.
The line between cool and uncool has never been less defined: We live in a world where Hall and Oates have become as influential to emergent indie-rockers as Joy Division, and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" has become as much of a hipster-bar last-call anthem as "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out". And yet, even in an era of omnivorous musical consumption and boundless genre tourism, the sight of a computerized Kurt Cobain belting out Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" in a recent Guitar Hero 5 demo reel was enough to revert the good/bad taste divide back to 1988 borders. For Nirvana fans, the Guitar Hero scandal was more than just a case of a dead rock-star's visage being exploited for the sake of peddling product.
From the opening of ”Breed” through the Hendrix homage that caps ”Territorial ? Pissings,” this DVD-plus-CD is — no other way to say it — straight-up awesome. Recorded at England’s Reading Festival in 1992, Live at Reading presents the band at its post-Nevermind peak. Watching Kurt Cobain radiate so much life is bound to trigger some tears.
The most influential band of the ’90s at its gloriously grungy peak In an age where Twitter feeds, YouTube footage and Brooklyn Vegan-esque blogs guarantee over-documentation of any concert mere moments after the lights go up, the official release of Nirvana’s headlining performance at the 1992 Reading Festival feels at once indescribable and quaint. For fervent fans like my teen-spirited self, the Aug. 30 concert felt untenable—it existed only via hearsay how Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain appeared in a hospital gown and wheelchair before unleashing an incandescent and triumphant performance of nearly every song from Nevermind (with a switcheroo of “Teen Spirit” and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” for good measure), Bleach and the bittersweet “All Apologies” (dedicated to his 12-day-old daughter).
Nirvana's 1992 Reading headline slot is one with a place in rock mythology both definite and vague. Let's start with the definites, several of which are confirmed by the rather tardy issue of this DVD/CD package. It was definitely the last gig Nirvana ever played in the UK. Everett True definitely pushed a mock wheelchair-bound Kurt Cobain onto the stage.
"Bleach recorded in Seattle at Reciprocal Recordings by Jack Endino for $600." Twenty years later, that liner note expanded into a mini picture book, Nirvana's first album now sounds like the United States Mint. Toasty as vinyl, comparable to Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's CDs of Nevermind (1991) and In Utero (1993), firstborn Bleach reiterates its place not at the front of the line but in between its two older brawlers. Kurdt Kobain, Chris Novoselic, and drummer Chad Channing, as the Aberdeen, Wash., act was originally listed on its debut and remains on this economical deluxe reissue, had both songs (Nevermind) and pure punk brawn (In Utero).