The 25 songs which make up Live At Reading, a CD/DVD bundle of Nirvana‘s revered Reading ’92 headline gig, have appeared in one form or another over the years post-Kurt.
Live! Tonight! and Unplugged In New York followed within six months of Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah followed two years later. But while these collected live material over a period of years, Live At Reading is a timely portrait up there with Unplugged in capturing a moment.
The show, on 30 August 1992, was at a time when the band were arguably at their peak. Nevermind had been out for a year, they were the biggest band on the planet and Cobain had become a father a few days before.
With Cobain’s high profile marriage to Courtney Love and all the baggage which goes along with being unwillingly cast as the voice of a generation, on top of a gruelling tour schedule, the band cancelled a North American tour citing exhaustion, leading to unwelcome speculation as to whether they would honour their remaining commitments, including Reading. Cobain’s state of mind and whether the band would remain together were also called into question.
Nirvana themselves took a deadpan view of this at Reading, with Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl egging Cobain on as he was pushed out onstage in a wheelchair sporting a wig and patient’s gown, croaking into the mic and collapsing in a heap before staggering over to a guitar and hammering out the chords to Breed. That entrance is still recounted to this day as one of the festival moments.
With Nevermind getting a full airing, a handful of the harder moments from Bleach and the “newies” that were works in progress for In Utero, it’s one of the strongest Nirvana sets that could be wished for. Strange then that watching the DVD on a screen is actually a little underwhelming.
If your memories of Nirvana are of chaos as the band and crowd trade places, of bodies and instruments flying across the stage and amps turned up beyond belief, then prepare yourself for wedding camera vision, lighting like a mobile disco and the band ploughing on with little interaction, at least until All Apologies when Cobain proudly declares the birth of his daughter and encourages the crowd to send a “we love you” to Courtney, watching back home.
The CD version serves truest, with the remastering translating much better in fidelity and projecting the rawness of the band live. Reading ’92 would turn out to be Nirvana’s last UK performance. Whilst not an essential, it has enough in it to please both collectors and casual fans, offering another angle on a band that refuses to slip quietly from the collective memory.