The Nirvana Live at the Paramount DVD’s looping menu features footage from outside the theater on the night of the show. The names “Nirvana,” “Mudhoney” and “Bikini Kill” on the marquee bring a rush of bittersweet nostalgia as the camera flies and spins and tumbles through a throng of flannel-frocked hair farmers and girls in their dressed-down best.
In the recent TV cult hit Portlandia, Fred Armisen assures viewers that “The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.” Those of us who lived through the decade understand what he means, but we also know better. Kurt Cobain’s songs were the soundtrack of a subculture and his shotgun suicide resulted in massive collateral damage to a slacker revolution that was only beginning to find its place and purpose when Cobain pulled the plug on his music and his life in 1994.
Opening their set with the Vaseline’s “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” the sheer explosive power of the band’s live set roars back to life. Before the first verse is through a roadie rushes from the wings to rescue a crash cymbal that drummer Dave Grohl has nearly blasted right off of his platform. Kurt Cobain steps away from the mic to take a solo that echoes grunge godfather Neil Young’s feedback forays while also sounding like a death knell to the 80’s hair metal that Cobain’s punk-pop onslaught finally crushed.
The visuals and sound here are both outstanding, collecting performances of nearly 20 songs that find the band at the dawn of super stardom – their breakthrough album Nevermind had been certified gold only days before the concert. “Jesus’” is followed by “Aneurysm” – the b-side to the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” single. However, the show first finds it’s wings with the opening notes of “Drain You”. Grohl drives the surging popster forward with a rifle-shot snare and the blurry blending of his back-up singing. One is reminded that Grohl’s gifts were the missing link that took Nirvana from being a Sub Pop flavor-of-the-month to becoming the biggest band in the world.
Twenty years on, Cobain’s songs are still provocative and raw. A creepy quiet reading of “Polly” brings the song’s American psychosis into vivid, visceral relief with excruciating restraint. The bomb blast beginnings of “Breed,” follow. Olympia-based musician Nikki McClure dances on the edge of the stage in the awkward-cool manner of the time – her white t-shirt emblazoned with the word “BOY.” An audience member races past Cobain from behind to dive from the stage.
The legendary, long-lost concert was filmed at the Paramount Theater in Seattle on Halloween night in 1991. The DVD restoration brings crisp detailing to the footage while still maintaining the lived-in vintage feeling of a 20-year-old document. In “Lithium” Cobain lights his “candles in a daze” because he’s “found God.” While no DVD could offer such claims, viewers of this at-long-last release will certainly find Nirvana.