Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: Bleach

Often my excursions into the online Nirvana forums are motivated simply by an early inkling of something that might end up here on the blog — a testing of the waters. Similarly, a lot of material that I place here is the equivalent of letting you see my working out — I want to give you all the data so you can work it all out for yourselves and use it as you wish.

While examining the 1992 set-lists I diverted, on a sudden whim, into another area. What I’d noted was that despite the increasingly recurrent complaints about fame and Nevermind and the demanding nature of audiences, Nirvana were solidly wedded to that album throughout the year; there was only one occasion all year, January 24, when the band played less than eight songs from Nevermind and on 17 occasions played ten-eleven songs, virtually the full album! As usual it seems that complaining to the media wasn’t the same as taking any action. It was fun, to me, to see how totally dominant Nevermind was that year.

But there was a deeper oddity. I’ll leave it to one side for the moment and simply show the outcome of the data work I engaged in to explore the idea. I worked only with the fully complete set-lists in order to avoid skewing results via incomplete set information. This is the preference for Side A/Side B of Bleach across 1987-1988 (green equals Side A, red equals Side B):

Side a_Side b Dominance 1987-1988 Bleach

Total victory for Side A of Bleach. And 1989:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Bleach

So, in 1989, the only occasion where Side B came close to parity with the prevalence of Side A is at the notorious show at the Piper Club where Kurt dumped his guitar and threatened suicide and one show where the band quit early. And on into 1990:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Bleach


Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P2


Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Bleach

And, finally, 1993 and 1994:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Bleach

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Bleach

What am I saying? I’m saying, that there is never, at any point in Nirvana’s entire career, in the full record of 241 live shows where Nirvana played more songs from Side B of Bleach, not one. It makes July 12, 1989 one of the most special Nirvana gigs, simply by virtue of the fact that they played more of Side B on the date, four songs, than on any other known occasion.

OK, I’m accepting of the fact that Side A had seven songs compared to Side B’s five but it’s still the level of dominance that is of interest to me; as early as December 21, 1988 Nirvana are playing five from Side A; in 1989 they play the whole of Side A at nine of 43 known shows and six of seven Side A songs at a further THIRTY shows; even as late as September 1992 they’re still kicking out five of seven. By contrast, the reappearance of Swap Meet and Scoff for seven dates in June-July 1992 was the first time since October 6, 1991 — 56 shows and eight months back — that Nirvana played anything at all from Side B of Bleach, with July 2, 1992 being the last time the band would ever play anything from that side of the album.

It lends weight to the story that Sub Pop insisted on Nirvana placing their songs on Bleach in order of preference; their favourites to the front. As a second thought; Side A was heavily loaded with the older Nirvana songs, ones that had benefitted from more time and energy. This can be seen in the way that Love Buzz and Floyd the Barber were already present in 1987, Paper Cuts was added by January 1988, Blew by March then School in October. Side B, by contrast, didn’t begin to build until the March 1988 appearance of Big Cheese with Mr. Moustache and Sifting arising for the summer single recording session then appearing in concert in October. Though each side needed more songs, it was Side A that had the most complete and honed material earliest suggesting that the rushed material was shoe-horned onto Side B to get the album up to twelve songs.

Side a_Side b_Bleach Overall

Remember, what we’re looking at here is not a question of aesthetic quality; it’s simply a very basic question of how many songs from Side A/Side B appeared — answer? Side A won 241 times across seven calendar years. But what of Nevermind and In Utero?


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