What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1993-1994

Working from yesterday’s material regarding the scale of the gaps in the live record of Nirvana, I want to lay some hostages to fortune, a few gambles on what I feel may still be there.

Firstly, an easy one, 1994 — there’s not much left to see. There are three incomplete set-lists but no unknowns. I’ve kept the songs in the order they appear in the Nirvana Live Guide — the guide makes a real point of keeping songs in the order of performance — but the spacing added to January 1, 3 and 6, 1994, the three incomplete sets, is my own. It’s fairly easy, in my opinion, to work out the missing songs:

29Dec1993-8Feb1994 Set-Lists

We’re looking for common patterns and regular ‘units’, by which I mean sequences of songs that are almost always played together in a particular order. There are quite a few to observe. Firstly, the opening salvo of fourteen straight songs on the seven surrounding dates we’re using for comparison here are identical. We can go further to reinforce our case, that sequence of fourteen songs varied only three times during the 14 remaining shows in 1994; Rennes in France (a minute and a bit riff on My Sharona then a brief noise jam), Marino in Italy (a brief jam on Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden) and Nirvana’s final gig in Munich (inserting The Cars’ My Best Friend’s Girl as the opener). In each case, the interruption or insertion ended then the normal pattern resumed. Looking in the other direction the shift is just as minimal; Nirvana play the exact same sequence right the way back through December 1993 with the only changes being they skip Lithium on one occasion, they skip About a Girl on another. There’s one other notable exception we’ll return to tomorrow.

It’s the ‘back end’ of any gig where we see the set-lists still flexing a little but there are still discreet units that we can see in the dates around the partially known set-lists. Firstly, the Rape Me/Territorial Pissings/Jesus Don’t Want me for a Sunbeam trio is a rigid feature fitting perfectly into the known details of January 3 and 6 — there’s nothing suggesting that unit would have changed. Likewise, the songs making up the ending are consistent, a combination of All Apologies, On a Plain, Scentless Apprentice, Heart Shaped Box and Blew. These songs do drop in and out — for example, the Nirvana Live Guide states that an attendee reports Scentless Apprentice wasn’t played on January 1, 1994 which would still be consistent with both December 30 and January 4. We have no way of knowing what combination was used but I’d put money on it being an iteration of these five songs on those three unknown dates.

The only unusual feature I’d be willing to gamble on seeing would be the possibility of a single song; we might see Where did you Sleep Last Night. The song was played only once in 1994, in Paris on February 14. That makes the December 31, 1993 performance the penultimate live rendition, unless, on January 1 or 3, that song makes its last but one appearance. That’s what might be hidden here if the available, comparable data indicates realistic possibilities.

Of course…There’s always room for unrealistic possibilities, for wish fulfilment and dreams. Maybe something unpredictable did happen, maybe one of these three shows saw the equivalent of the Off Ramp performance of 1990 where Nirvana hauled out every rarity they could think of; or maybe there was a single rarity or last hurrah (like the one-off appearances Sappy made at the start and end of February); or maybe the band, on a whim, decided to rewrite the entire set-list for one show only — we’ll talk about that tomorrow — but this puts us into the realms of fantasy. Cold weighing up suggests we know exactly which songs were played on those three nights; the first fourteen songs, in order, then the aforementioned trio, then some combination of the closing five possibly with a Where Did You Sleep Last Night.


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