Nirvana Live and Live Covers: 1992-1994

After the happy peak of 1990-1991, it feels sad to bring this little series crashing back down. The following graph shows the sum total of Nirvana originals appearing in set-lists for the final two and a half years of the band’s existence:

New Originals_1992-1994

As pointed out the other week in a blog comment, there’s a rumour that I Hate Myself and I Want to Die was played in 1993 — I’ve stuck to the Nirvana Live Guide as it stood in December 2012 for the time being. It’s intriguing really to see the band revert to a pattern most similar to 1987 or 1988 where they weren’t playing many shows…But the reduction in workload also seems to have reduced the amount of new works being creating. There’s a idiom my mum uses sometimes “the less you have to do, the less you do,” that sometimes pressure helps get results. Nirvana’s live shows derail the pattern of 1989-1991. 1992 gives the impression of a rabbit in headlights, too scared to move in any direction for fear of what might happen:

Cover Songs_1992-1994

The work rate of 1989-1991 required a band that were practising solidly, working up new covers and so used to playing together night-after-night that they could readily lock into each new selection seamlessly. The band could still pull out a solid cover if they’d practiced (Seasons in the Sun, The Money Will Roll Right In, The Man Who Sold the World) but most of these covers are bare skin n’ bone. The January 1993 deluge in Sao Paolo was the result of Kurt barely being willing to play; the band had to swap instruments, Kurt on drums, and plod through covers just to fill their contractually obliged stage time with Krist lobbing his bass at Kurt and storming off in sheer frustration at one point.

While 1989, 1990 and 1991 were so busy each year required its own screen shot, the full summary of 1992-1994 is as follows:

New Live 1992-1994

Each year from 1989-1991 the band had been knocking out twelve new original Nirvana songs a year on stage, in 1992, they manage one, in 1993 they rocket up to eight…Then nothing. 1992 is a write-off, 1993 relies on cover songs to maintain the stepped momentum, 1994…

No words.

Another way of looking at it is to examine how many new songs or covers Nirvana knocked out in how many shows:

Nirvana New Live Divided

Of course 1987 is irrelevant given how skewed it is by their first performance (all new!), also 1988 suffers from the extensive gaps in the set-list record. The pattern across the succeeding years are fairly solid, however, Nirvana were cranking out a new song ever two/three shows 1989-1991, even the large number of set-lists available for the extensive touring in 1991 can’t substantially dilute the result — this was one hard-working band. It does make 1993 look like a resurgence, heck, Nirvana are pulling fresh originals on stage at the same rate as they do in 1991, roughly one new song for every five shows. The cover number is buoyed up to a ridiculous level by Sao Paolo and MTV Unplugged in 1993. In fact, removing those two shows, each a special circumstance, from the equation and just looking at their ordinary gigs would bring the stat down to 0.14, a fresh cover appearance every ten shows or so, the same as 1992, the same as 1994.

As usual, it all depends how you look at things, how you want to see things…What the hey. It’s fun to play with the point of view.


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