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arguably the greatest encore I ever saw Nirvana play

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Nirvana Nevermind US tour poster 1991

I saw this performance, absolutely remember it from the time.

I was standing in the balcony at the Marquee Club. I was sated, jet-lagged and sweat-soaked to fuck. I’d only arrived in the city a few hours earlier. I had no idea Nirvana were even on the East Coast of America, much less playing in NYC that night.*

This song sure confused me. Me and my companion, photographer Steve Gullick, couldn’t figure out what the fuck it was. A Nirvana song, minus guitars? Surely, it had to be just that: a Nirvana song without guitars. (In my book, I erroneously marked it down as ‘Negative Creep’.) Afterwards, we couldn’t figure out why it sounded like there’d been an orchestra of guitars playing, despite the fact Kurt clearly wasn’t holding one as he was being passed across the heads of the audience. Sound desk trickery? Prerecorded instruments? Bloody unlikely. Years later we were still talking about that night, that encore.

Many thanks to Brett Renaud for naming the actual song, over at his breakdown of rare Nirvana moments on The Music Fix – as follows:

1. Vendettagainst – September 28, 1991 – New York, NY
This rare song – of which a 1987 radio session demo was released on With The Lights Out in 2004 (as “Help Me, I’m Hungry”) – was the terrifying set-closer to the show at the Marquee Club that night. The US Nevermind tour, which had begun just a week earlier, could arguably be considered the band at their peak.

This particular song is an uncommon gem, with only two performances known to have been recorded with Dave Grohl (both in 1991, and only three days apart). Photographs are available of Cobain performing this song, having disgarded his guitar in favor crowd-surfing and scream/moaning while Krist Novoselic and Grohl maintain a thunderous beat behind his wall of vocal noise. The loud/quiet dynamic is in full effect and this song, despite lacking any guitar, still holds up well against Nirvana’s more angry and violent songs such as “Scentless Apprentice” or “Paper Cuts.” Several audience recordings of this show are available in collector’s circles; with the best quality one being quite listenable.

I mention it in Nirvana: The True Story (with the wrong song title):

‎”At the set’s climax, ‘Negative Creep’, Kurt had no guitar left so he dived into the crowd where they bore him triumphantly aloft, still singing – with only the bass and drums in support. It still sounded like there was an orchestra of guitars playing.”

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*I was on a hunt for Nirvana, that’s how I’d blagged the trip. At a Melody Maker staff meeting a few days earlier, Steve Sutherland had been thumping the table and demanding to know why the NME had got the exclusive Nirvana interview despite the fact we’d been championing grunge for a while now. I spoke up: “Get me out to America, and I’ll get fucking Nirvana for you”.

Later that day, the features editor Ted Mico came over to my desk, and told me I was flying out to New York the next day, to interview The Breeders. Great, I thought, but Nirvana are on the other side of the country. So I was well chuffed when I discovered they were actually in NYC.

The day after the Nirvana show, I dropped by The Breeders’ studio and took Kurt along with me, cos he really wanted to meet Kim Deal. (He was a fan.) He cowered in a corner of the control room while she played guitar, slightly pissed off by his presence. She had work to do.

And no one messes with Kim Deal when she has work to do.

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