Nirvana played some 67 original Kurt Cobain/Nirvana compositions in the seven years the band performed live. Yet it becomes very clear how low on fresh material the band were getting in the years post-fame. A grand total of 58 of those new additions to the set-list came prior to the end of 1991. To borrow a phrase from the British monarchy, it emphasises that 1992 was Nirvana’s annus horribilis with only Tourette’s, a song that almost counts as Nirvana’s only officially released instrumental (the lyrics aren’t exactly a priority with that track), entering set-lists. 1993 rapidly ran out of steam too but that’s well-known; post-October not a single new Nirvana original. What concealed the weakness of Nirvana’s archive was the way so much material was carried over from prior to fame, enough material to fuel half of the In Utero era releases. It also emphasises how many of the new songs developed in late 1992/early 1993 were considered throw-aways even by the band, jammed together at the last-minute thanks to an album deadline; Moist Vagina, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die never enter the set as far as can be seen.
It’d be more understandable if performances of new songs in the early years were missed; there are greater gaps in the available record of set-lists. Post-1991, however, at least 75% of set-lists are known for each year – it’s far less likely there’s an error or that fans have overlooked a song. As the clearest example, as described in the book Dark Slivers, it’s highly likely that Big Long Now was played sometime in the first half of 1989 given other supporting evidence and despite the absence of an actual live recording.
Nirvana were also comprehensive in their use of the live arena to road-test material. In fact every Nirvana song released on a compilation or single appeared in concert…Until 1993 where we’re missing Marigold, Moist Vagina and I Hate Myself and I Want to Die – only the well-known (and persistent) Sappy reappeared. In the early years it’s only the songs that Kurt never shared with the band – Don’t Want it All, Beans, Creation/Bambi Slaughter/Bambi Kill (unknown real name) – that don’t appear though Mrs. Butterworth never, apparently, made it out of the rehearsal room. That desire to enliven the band’s own experience playing live, by playing songs they hadn’t attempted before or often, was a very strong feature of the ‘fun years’ of Nirvana. But it apparently went missing on the In Utero tour…The stability and lack of freshness is so clear.