Anyone else bored of 1989? I’m so bor-or-ored of the ‘eight-ty-nine’…Friday at last.
Having laid out the trends across the year, having filled a little of the early 1989 gap, the second half of the year gets far simpler. I’m willing to bet hard cash on the 133 of 143-187 for the spell up to November 15 — what about those last few? And what about the rest of the year?
Firstly, to reach my limit on the eleven missing/incomplete dates running up to November 15, 1989 — the set-list creates uncertainty. After October 6 it’s rare that a set-list was fewer than fourteen songs while prior to that a maximum of thirteen is the norm and most likely. That may put me out by a song or two but I feel save working to that limit given the rarity of them exceeding or underachieving those norms.
So, what do I think? I think Been a Son, Breed and Paper Cuts were all possible additions on October 7 and 23 based on surrounding comparisons. On October 13 only Been a Son and Breed that constitute the likely candidates given Paper Cuts was already on the set-list. November 4 is likely missing an appearance for Token Eastern Song and from Been a Son (given Been a Son and Stain had entered a spell of being played alongside one another prior to the Negative Creep/Blew cluster — we covered how common this foursome was last week.) That’s as far as I can see. The show played either on October 4 or 5 may have finished either with Paper Cuts, or the premier of Breed, or the premier of Been a Son — no clues. You’ll see my last additions and my last uncertainties below bringing us to a total of 133, plus a number I’ve highlighted in yellow where I’m just not sure but believe the songs mentioned are likeliest:
There are only four more missing dates in 1989; a show on November 21 that the band wrapped up in just over 30 minutes — about a third shorter than usual — then November 23-24 and 30. The set-lists, as mentioned, are flexing quite a bit at this point, essentially Nirvana had been playing hard for a couple months that Autumn-Winter and were demonstrating how good they were (and perhaps how bored) by dropping new things in and out. Remember, of course, that I’m leaving out cover songs if they were one-offs, likewise jams. Unless they were regulars their very nature makes them unpredictable — they wouldn’t be one-offs otherwise:
Those four dates are still going to yield somewhere around fifty performed Nirvana songs. What’s beautiful is I can start with something unprovable but possible — we can’t tell if Vendetagainst received another airing on November 23-24. There weren’t enough performances of it at the time to make it a trend, on the two occasions it made an appearance that year it was slotted in at the end as an optional extra so given we can’t predict the lengths of three of the Nirvana performances, we can’t say how likely it is. Tantalising timing though.
Strangely, though we’re only working with four performances, these four present us with a lot more difficulties than the previous eleven. OK, the opening five songs are totally predictable, likewise I think Negative Creep/Blew made the end of Nov 23-24, I can’t bet Negative Creep/Blew finished Nov 30 because of the flexing immediately before on Nov 29. Likewise, the fact that the triumvirate of Polly/Big Cheese/Spank Thru had also broken means I can’t be sure of those songs all being played together.
That doesn’t mean we’re blind, however. Spank and Breed remain solid presences, likewise the set-list may shift but there’s still a solid core to most performances — About a Girl, Big Cheese, Been a Son are all dead certainties; note the purple on yellow entries below are not predicting positions in the set:
So what of the ten or so gaps I’m sure exist? Well, add it up; the songs that could fill those spaces are Polly, Sappy, Molly’s Lips, M. Moustache and Stain — but where? No idea.
That’s what I take as a heartening experience from this exercise; unlike in 1993-1994, there’s a little more room for uncertainty, there’s space for rarities in the early part of the year — like Swap Meet or Big Long Now — and a little space in the latter half of the year — for Vendetagainst for instance. We’re at the heart of Nirvana here and there’s a little room for mystery to occur when the band had so much live chemistry they could flex as they wished.
Why am I so confident about the predictions? Well, it’s a case of quantity erasing deviations; essentially, for these numbers to be substantially wrong, we’d have to believe that Nirvana rewrote their own script substantially several times in the incomplete/missing shows. Given that in 42 known performances from May-Dec 1989 there’s not a single show that differs by more than three songs from those on either side of it, given songs are rearranged sometimes but the most that happens is a few songs are tagged on the end of the existing set-list, there’s no reason to believe in revolutions. But let’s assume that for one night during that phase Nirvana did completely rewrite the template, suddenly played a set-list consisting of a batch of songs from the January 1988 session, plus Blandest, Annorexorcist, Sappy, Even in his Youth, Swap Meet, Big Long Now…Effect? Variation of the numbers below by one single digit — quantity of results minimizes effects of outlying data. Here’s the likely performances I predict we’re missing from 1989: