Buzz Comes Alive: Nirvana Unplugged In New York (1994)

Unplugged In New York debuted at number one on the Billboard charts on November 1st, 1994, nearly seven months after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain killed himself in a small upstairs room at his Washington home. The album was a way to hold on; a recording of the successful televised MTV acoustic set that had aired the previous December. By then, even the look of the session had become famous: a room filled with white lilies, lit by tall black candles and a crystal chandelier. Kurt Cobain reportedly dictated the look of the session himself, asking for the stage to be set according to his specifications, “a funeral” vibe at the taping of Nirvana, Unplugged In New York.

Originally recorded in late November 1993, Nirvana agreed to play MTV’s Unplugged series as long as they were able to play by their own rules. They had long been approached to do an episode of MTV Unplugged, but didn’t like the way that bands would “treat it like a rock show” and play their hits, merely subbing their instruments for acoustic guitars. The band wanted to play lesser known songs and covers, have musical guests of their choosing, and create a session that actually had an intimate acoustic feel. As a result, 6 of the 14 tracks on the album are covers, and 3 of the covers have the band The Meat Puppets joining Nirvana onstage to perform. The only massive Nirvana hit to be played that evening would be “Come As You Are.”

Unplugged In New York opens with “About A Girl“—a 1989 track off the album Bleach penned by Cobain about his girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander. The song hit number 1 in 1994, and is the sole commercial single from Unplugged. Cobain obliges the crowd with “Come As You Are” before moving onto back to back covers: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam“—a Vaselines version of a traditional Christian song, and “The Man Who Sold The World“—a David Bowie cover that continues to enjoy heavy radio play to this day. “Pennyroyal Tea” and “Dumb” are both singles off 1993′s In Utero, followed by three of Nevermind‘s lesser-played tracks, “Polly,” “Something In The Way,” and “On A Plain.” All three evoke noise from the crowd upon the opening chords and has everyone singing, “I love myself better than you, I know it’s wrong but what should I do,” along with Kurt on the latter track. The Meat Puppets join the band onstage for three covers of their own songs: “Plateau,” “Oh Me,” and “Lake Of Fire” before Kurt launches into the highly raw and emotional “All Apologies” towards the very end of the set. The final song is a Lead Belly cover—whom the band collectively calls their favorite performer as they gear up to play the track—of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Kurt refused to perform an encore because he was certain he could not top the performance of that song.

The session was recorded amidst Kurt’s attempted drug withdrawal and massive tensions rose throughout rehearsal. Producers feared the outcome of the taping, and at the final rehearsal Kurt refused to play. But Unplugged In New York aired, and was heavily played in MTV’s rotation after Kurt’s suicide in April 1994. When the record was posthumously released, fans were able to listen to the haunting tracks over and over again. But when the morbid fascination of the ghost of Saint Kurt’s last recording faded away with the passage of time, listeners were left to see Unplugged for what it truly was: a truly magnificent live album, regardless of the events surrounding it.The intimate album has sold millions of copies worldwide and continues to be a beautiful part of Nirvana’s legacy. It’s available on iTunes and on CD.

  • Buzz Gigs

    • 11/5 NY: Interpol United Palace Theater
    • 11/6 LA: Florence & The Machine The Wiltern
    • 11/6 NY: Dandy Warhols Webster Hall
    • 11/7 LA: Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation Gibson Amphitheater
    • 11/7 NY: Guided By Voices Terminal 5
    • 11/8 LA: Florence & The Machine The Wiltern 
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    Buzz Comes Alive: Nirvana Unplugged In New York (1994)

    Long after the morbid fascination of the ghost of Saint Kurt's last recording fades away, Nirvana Unplugged is still a truly magnificent live album.There's More »