NPR logo Old Music Tuesday: Nirvana's 'Unplugged'

Old Music Tuesday: Nirvana's 'Unplugged'

I was a huge Nirvana fan, and Kurt Cobain's suicide (while not entirely unexpected) knocked the wind out of me. It's the only time I've ever felt grief over the death of a celebrity. Like a lot of fans, I spent the days and weeks immediately afterward repeatedly listening to In Utero and Nevermind, partly searching for clues that might have foreshadowed Cobain's death and partly to hold tight to the connection I'd felt with his songs.

As the years have passed, I've listened to Nirvana less and less. These days I only think of Cobain's death when some ridiculous gossip story about Courtney Love comes out.

I never owned a television in the '90s so I never got to see what many consider to be Nirvana's greatest performance: their acoustic set for MTV's Unplugged series... though I did buy the CD of it when it was posthumously released in 1994. Now, nearly 15 years after it was recorded, Geffen is finally releasing the complete performance on DVD, along with some amazing extras, like 5.1 sound, outtakes and rehearsal footage.

I got a demo of the DVD recently and finally watched it over the Thanksgiving break. I found it absolutely mesmerizing. I gazed wide-eyed at the show for more than an hour. It's a remarkably intimate and deftly orchestrated set of Nirvana's best work stripped bare. Of course, I'd heard most of the songs before. But being able to see Cobain perform and interact with the audience was almost haunting at times. You can sense he was troubled. There's a distance in Cobain's eyes and tension in his jaw. He's not entirely comfortable being there. But his performance was stunning and flawless. At some point it occurred to me Cobain was only 26 at the time. He looks much older.

It's a moving and memorable production... and amusing, too at times, if only to see all the flannel shirts and ratty cardigans in the audience. Thanks to Geffen Records for sharing this clip of "All Apologies."