This week we’ve been looking at the graphs showing the trends in Nirvana’s introduction of new songs to live performances. To be fair, the sheer quantity of material Nirvana are pulling out of the hat, the amount being created or learned in a relatively tight period of time, it’s unsurprising that sustaining the pace of 1987-1991 would prove difficult if not impossible. Some other time we’ll compare Nirvana’s live touring to that of other bands but, as a statement of belief, Nirvana never exactly spent a vast amount of time on the road, they had many breaks, plenty of time off. That perhaps allowed them the time to learn more material than the average band so while their live ‘presence’ might be lower than that of other bands, the originality of those performances was untouchable for a long time.
In terms of cover songs, the band introduced some 64 songs to their known performances though shreds of other songs did appear (i.e., The Who’s I’m a Boy, Bette Midler’s The Rose for example.) The table below shows every cover song listed on NirvanaGuide.com:
Given the sheer number of songs the band attempted live it’s likely that the unknown set-lists and missing recordings actually conceal a significant number of other renditions. I don’t have that faith that many unheard Nirvana originals are hidden there, but I’m fairly comfortable believing that the band attempted other covers — they seemed to use cover songs as a way of covering up the ‘logistics’ of stage performance whether restringing guitars, checking equipment and so forth. Many of the performances are just snatches, not full songs, but the quantity is impressive. On the other hand, reading the list, it’s hard to equate the hard rock orientated direction with the declarations of punk or alternative rock fidelity — The Wipers, Fang, The Knack, Viletones, The Clash, Black Flag, Melvins, that’s it on the punk front, the rest is firmly mainstream, solidly pop rock.
Sao Paolo, sadly, features as both the most extensive set of covers the band ever did live…But it’s famed as a concert the band could barely be bothered to play. One element I’d draw attention to is that, once fame hit and the Nirvana experience went sour, quite a few of the covers were increasingly sarcastic, sneering jibes aimed at the band’s own success; My Sharona, the whole of the Sao Paolo event, The Rose and The Star-Spangled Banner, The Money Will Roll Right In. It’s a shame the use of cover songs lost so much of its happiness. MTV Unplugged in New York was also another performance of that year that depended on covers but we’ll discuss it later today.
The sheer quantity of songs the band introduced is incredible. At first there’s a cover used in every early month for which a set-list exists which suggests the band was bulking out their set with covers. But the run the band goes on from late 1989 through 1991 is impressive; half of the live covers appear between November 1989 and December 1991.