Remember When: Nirvana Sabotages Their Own Show to Stick Up for Their Friends

By many accounts, Nirvana’s performance on the night of October 30, 1992, was not their best show. In fact, it was possibly their worst. The band was late to arrive on stage. During the first verse and chorus of “Come as You Are,” Kurt Cobain repeatedly said “Hey” for each word instead of singing the lyrics. For “In Bloom,” he sang some of the lyrics in an exaggerated drawl. On two different occasions, he and Dave Grohl sloppily launched into the opening bars of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” only to never play the rest of the song.

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This was not some ordinary “off night” for Nirvana, however. They were angry because of how Calamity Jane—the Portland-based band who opened for them on this occasion—were treated by the crowd, and they let those in attendance know of their displeasure.

A Cool Welcome…

The setting was the Coca Cola Rock Festival at Estadio Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, and it was one of the largest audiences Nirvana had yet to play to; it was also their only appearance ever in Argentina. Further, it was Calamity Jane’s first stadium show. The first band to play that night was Argentine rock band Los Brujos, who were well received. They were followed by Calamity Jane, and at some point during the band’s first two songs, they began to notice that people in the crowd were throwing coins, ice, and clods of dirt at them. Then came chants of “putas!” (a Spanish word for “whores”) and members of the audience exposing their penises.

Calamity Jane vocalist and guitarist Gilly Ann Hanner explains to American Songwriter how the situation unfolded. “People were there to see the phenomenon of Nirvana…Add to that the long lines to get in and a considerable wait before the band was to take the stage. Enter a scrappy-looking band of non-traditional-looking female/queer/trans punk rockers from Oregon.”

Soon the barrage of projectiles thrown at the stage made it impossible for Hanner to play. She and her sister, bassist Megan Hanner, rushed off the stage, but with the encouragement of Courtney Love, they returned to attempt to finish their set with the rest of the band. Calamity Jane’s performance would not last more than one more song, however, as the abuse continued. The band smashed their guitars, and the Hanners, along with guitarist Joanna Bolme and drummer Marcéo Martinez, left the stage.

…So, a Not-So-Cool Performance from the Headliners

Nirvana were angered by the crowd’s behavior and considered not performing at all. They were particularly upset that it was Calamity Jane getting targeted with abuse. The bands had shared the stage previously in Portland, and Gilly Ann Hanner’s relationship with Cobain and Krist Novoselic went back several years. Nirvana and Hanner’s band Sister Skelter performed a show at Hanner’s house in Olympia, Washington, on her 21st birthday. And members of Nirvana and Calamity Jane, along with Love, had enjoyed a reunion in Buenos Aires prior to their appearances at the festival, hanging out together at a karaoke bar.

[RELATED: The Story and Meaning Behind Nirvana’s Infamous Smiley Face Logo]

Ultimately, Nirvana kept their commitment to play the show, but they did so reluctantly. They opened with an improvisational song that was later identified as “Nobody Knows That I’m New Wave.” After close to a minute of distortion and noise, Cobain began singing, Sure, I can shit anywhere / And I promise that here I will shit on the stage. The lyrics only got nastier from there. While Nirvana did play several tracks from Nevermind, which had been out for more than a year, they also performed several relatively obscure non-album tracks. For their encore, they played the yet-to-be-released In Utero track, “All Apologies,” and a particularly noisy version of “Endless, Nameless” that concluded with Cobain repeatedly slamming his guitar against the stage until it snapped in two.

Calamity Jane stuck around to watch Nirvana’s “revenge” performance, having switched into hoodies, so they could hide their faces and go unrecognized. Gilly Ann Hanner says she felt “pretty numb” during Nirvana’s set. She added that “seeing Nirvana mess with the crowd was complicated. It was culture shock wrapped in rock-star-dreams-turned-nightmare for me, and I think the rest of the band felt similarly. It was a bit of solace to feel that our comrades cared what happened to us, but it confirmed that we as musicians are subject to the audience.”

Moving Forward

Though Hanner, who has been active in recent years recording and performing with Desír, No. 2, and BrailleStars, has had brief conversations with Novoselic and Grohl since Cobain’s suicide in 1994, she says their discussions centered on being “glad to see each other still alive and playing music.” That night in Buenos Aires was one Hanner and her former bandmates would probably just as soon forget. The experience was so devastating for them that they never performed together again until a one-time-only reunion show in 2016. As for Nirvana, the show was not a particularly memorable moment in their all-too-brief history, though they sabotaged their own performance for all the right reasons.

Photo: YouTube screenshot (“Nirvana live 1992-10-30 Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires, Argentina UPGRADE”)

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