“I guess the one thing to say after 20 years is — who wouldn’t want to come on stage and play this?” said Kurt before his band launched into Nirvana’s signature hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
It wasn’t Kurt Cobain making the announcement; it was Kurt Bloch, guitarist for The Fastbacks, in their opening slot at “Nevermind Live,” a show that both celebrated the 20th anniversary release of Nirvana’s classic Nevermind album, and was a benefit for Susie Tennant, a Seattle rep for Nirvana’s label, DGC, in 1991, who’s currently battling with cancer. The event was held at Seattle’s Experience Music Project museum, currently hosting the comprehensive “Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses.” Next week sees the reissue of Nevermind, in a variety of editions, most with bonus material.
Thirteen local bands each played a track from Nevermind, followed by a second set of bands performing songs from the rest of Nirvana’s catalogue, with Nirvana’s bassist Krist Novoselic making two guest appearances. The quality of the bands — and the live sound mix — varied considerably during the show. And the changeovers between bands, though fairly quick, did kill the momentum as the event still dragged on for over three hours.
But there was no denying the feel-good nature of the event, which drew several prominent members of Seattle’s music community, both in the acts on stage (producer Jack Endino, who produced most of Seattle’s grunge acts, including Nirvana) and off (Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, Alice In Chains’ Sean Kinney). The atmosphere was that of a high school reunion for the “Class of ’91,” with people swapping stories, participating in a silent auction, and taking breaks from the show to check out the exhibit.
Judging by the audience response, Loaded (featuring former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan) was one of the night’s biggest hits, the band turning in a burning version of “Lithium” (Novoselic was seen shaking McKagan’s hand afterwards). Visqueen’s take on “Territorial Pissings” and Tacocat’s “Lounge Act” were also strong, largely due to the compelling vocalists. And Vendetta Red’s lead singer Zach Davidson won over the crowd by his furious raging during “Stay Away,” which had him leaping around the stage with abandon; his were the best screams of the night.
The sentimental favorite was clearly The Presidents of the United States of America, who performed two songs with Novoselic on bass. During “On A Plain,” lead singer Chris Ballew managed to crowd surf throughout most of the number while not missing a single lyric. “Sliver,” the last song of the night, was equally giddy, and saw Ballew bringing Tennant on stage for a little bit dancing. Highlights of the second set included “Heart-Shaped Box” by Pigeonhed (featuring Nirvana producer Steve Fisk) and “All Apologies” by Shelby Earl, two performances that rivaled each other for poignancy. There were also solid renditions of “About A Girl” (by The Young Fresh Fellows), “Been A Son” (The Tripwires), and “Negative Creep” (Tom Price Desert Classic).
Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer, made a surprise appearance via video, and shared a humorous anecdote about the times he’d visit Tennant and knock over her stacks of Nelson and Guns N’ Roses CDs with a bowling ball. And after thanking the audience for coming and supporting Tennant, Novoselic asked the crowd to give “a special cheer, and I want you to give it all you’ve got. Let’s hear it for Kurt Cobain!” After the tumult died down he paused and smiled. “I could say so much about Kurt,” he said. “But I think you just said it all.”