What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record

I hold out little hope of many genuine Nirvana originals remaining unreleased, though it’d be nice to draw together more polished versions via an official channel of the remaining pieces left from the studio record and to expand the rehearsal and home demo pool. I feel, however, that I’ve underestimated the live arena as a potential source of intrigue…

Firstly, a thank you to my comrade Shrikant for doing so much good work for me — the inspiration for this exercise and the data work required to visualise it and express it. The completeness of the record of Nirvana set-lists and performances is remarkable as demonstrated by a glance at the Nirvana Live Guide. It is not complete though. It’s the gaps between knowing that are of most interest here. The table below inverts one that I’ve used regularly and instead of showing how many performances are known it shows how many aren’t:

Unknown Shows_Number-Percentage_1987-1994

That’s a curious thought, that the two-thirds of known shows have exposed a wealth of unusual jams, covers, a few alternative versions — but that there’s a third of Nirvana’s shows, 128 gigs, that could, theoretically, still be found.

We can go further and actually suggest how many songs there are lost within that realm to at least a moderate range of possibility. The fully known set lists allow us to define an ‘average’ number of songs played per gig throughout the band’s career — of course the range from peak to trough is wider so an alternative is to look at the normal range to try and give a more stable indicator of what might be possible here. Discounting 1987 (the average is nine given the two known live gigs, not counting the radio performance, featured eight songs and ten songs respectively) we can work out roughly how many more Nirvana live songs are out there:

Average No of Songs_Range_1987-1994

So. If, by a miracle, it turned out that Nirvana had been scrupulous at retaining tapes of their own live shows or set-list records, and the Nirvana camp were willing to open up that archive to fans, there are three figures that we could consider to stoke or temper our fervour. If things stayed tight to the average we’d be looking at 1,971 as yet unknown song performances. If the remaining shows strayed toward the lower end of the range, then we’d only be dropping down to 1,506 songs, but if our dreams were realised and the treasure trove hit the higher end of the normal range then there could be the amazing sum of 2,445 unheard Nirvana performances waiting to be savoured.

It’s a comforting thought. It’s lovely knowing that whatever dissection and parsing I conduct here, there are still somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 ways my more gloomy conclusions could be proven badly wrong. Brilliant! In the meantime I’ll keep an eye on the Nirvana Live Guide and keep hoping for ever more people to come forward filling in the gaps.


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