Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: Nevermind

OK, so we’ve shown that Nirvana played more songs from Side A of Bleach on a consistent basis — so what? Well, let’s keep digging before pre-emptively drawing conclusions. I totally admit that I’ve always enjoyed Side A of Nevermind more than Side B, I’m very aware that’s a personal preference and I’m totally desirous that endless repetition may have drained a little life from the songs therein…But it made me wonder…

Even though it risked skewing the results I wanted to make this as full an exploration as possible so I commenced stat-gathering from the moment the first song to feature on Bleach, Nevermind or In Utero came into existence — I do feel what’s most pertinent is what the band played once the full album was built but…What the hey, 1989!

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Nevermind

OK, fine, the year is Side A orientated because that’s what’s in existence. And 1990?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Nevermind

1990, again, is totally dominated by Side A — the main surprise is how little of Nevermind even appears at all; In Bloom and Stay Away appear in April/May surrounding the Smart Studios session, Lithium isn’t recorded as making an appearance until October, likewise Something in the Way in November — Lithium potentially makes its first showing on a date we don’t have a full set-list for, 1990 has a lot of holes. Surely 1991 offers more to this query?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P2

It does…But once again Nirvana is decisively Side A focused. Of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana plays more songs from Side B on four occasions (Sept 20, Sept 27, Nov 6, Nov 29) and only achieves parity at further ten show; in other words, at 55 of 69 shows Nirvana played more Side A tracks — that’s 80% of the time. I counted Endless Nameless as part of Side A, reasonably enough, despite its bonus track status, but without its presence what we’d be seeing is a year in which, of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana played more songs from Side A on 62 occasions and only played more songs from Side B on a grand total of two dates — 90% domination.

Removing Endless Nameless from 1991

So, how did things change after the release of Nevermind? If anything it got worse, here’s 1992:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Nevermind

There’s one occasion all year when Nirvana played more songs from Side B, seven draws — again, the removal of Endless Nameless from consideration would deduct significantly:

Removing Endless Nameless from 1992

What the hey; we’re looking at a year with 28 complete set-lists in which Nirvana preferred Side A of Nevermind on either 20 occasions or 23 occasions and Feb 22 is the only date Side B won. In 1992 it isn’t just that Nirvana preferred Side A, it’s that they’re regularly playing the whole of that side; they do so on twelve occasions and only once do they drop below five.

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Nevermind

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Nevermind

Above we’re looking at 1993 and 1994 respectively and the trend continues; 37 full set-lists in 1993, only one in which Side B features more (they play only one song from Nevermind on August 6) and only four draws — 32 wins for Side A or 86% of the time in other words — while in 1994 this alters to a complete 100% record in favour of Side A. On 39 occasions Nirvana played the whole of Side A, no wonder Kurt Cobain was bored of it, but still, that was the preference.

So, what to conclude? Well, start with the simple numbers:

Side a_Side b_Nevermind Overall

In the case of Bleach, OK, the Side A dominance could be explained away by the fact that there were more songs on Side A. But on Nevermind there are more songs on Side A yet more songs are played from Side A on 207 of 235 set-lists (88%)and more or even on 229 of 235 occasions (97%) on which Nevermind songs are played; that’s crushing dominance to Side A yet again.

In the case of Nevermind, one argument (derived from something someone stated on the LiveNirvana forum) could be that Side A was Nirvana’s more commercial material; that would imply Nirvana were either playing the crowd-pleasers or were being forced to do so; or, as I simply believe, I think Nirvana played the songs they knew were their best. You choose. And anyways, we still have In Utero to consider but so far Nirvana preferred Side A (adding together number of occasions on which Bleach tracks appeared plus number of occasions on which Nevermind tracks appeared) on 448 of 476 occasions. Side A was a win and/or a draw on 470 occasions (99%); there were only six occasions EVER where Nirvana favoured Side B of Nevermind. So…How about In Utero?


3 thoughts on “Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: Nevermind”

  1. Never really thought of Nevermind as A side Vs B side type of album probably because i had it on CD first. Well actually that’s not quite true – i first had it on a tape copy on one side of a C90 tape.
    That and Nevermind being a pretty strong album songwise throughout i have never really thought of it as a perceived weaker side or stronger side despite all the singles being clustered on side A.

    IMO ‘Drain You’ and ‘On A Plain’ could have easily been singles themselves.
    ‘Drain You’ was always played.
    The only weak song on Nevermind is perhaps ‘Stay Away’ -it’s pretty throwaway tune but still had great riff and for lesser bands would still be somewhat a highlight. They only really played it much at all in 1992.

    It’s no real surprise the six songs of Nevermind A side got more play than the B side.
    Breed – stable great rock track .Makes great live track. 4 singles in ‘SMLTS’ , ‘In Bloom’ , ‘Come As You Are’ , ‘Lithium’ and a staple breather song ‘Polly’ to play live.

    I think its more to do with what songs worked best live.

    As ‘Something In The Way’ electric for instance only really worked in right context as it’s slow and moody. As stuff like ‘Breed’ worked in any context live.
    ‘Lounge Act’ i think proved bit awkward for Nirvana to play live i think. Didn’t Kurt also say something about Courtney Love not liking him playing that song ?

    ‘SMLT’ , ‘CAYA’ , ‘In Bloom’ , ‘Lithium’ were all the ‘hits’ released as singles in 91 and 92 and Nirvana were still to many a ‘new band’ in 91/1992 so no surprise they played their hits a lot but im sure ‘Drain You’ just for instance without counting was played more than ‘In Bloom’.

  2. I’d definitely like to emphasise (I say it about four times in the summary and final comment I’ll put up here on Saturday) that this isn’t about “stronger”/”weaker” or “better”/”worse”. That kinda tabloid reductionism isn’t what I’m trying to show here. Think of it this way, a single limb, on its own would be useless – just as a human body is more than the sum of its parts, so is a good album. Reducing the discussion to the merits or otherwise of one song versus another, again, isn’t what I’m suggesting at all. What I’m suggesting is that there’s something about placing things together that makes something powerful; whether an album or a side of an album.

    In the book Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide, I lay out my case for why Nirvana are so definitively a vinyl-thinking band (Incesticide = two side of vinyl, Nevermind and In Utero both structured as two sides with the ‘hot’ openers then the more mellow side-finishers) so I guess I’ll leave that there – you’re so right, very easy to be so firmly children of the CD era.

    Your point on singles…Exactly as you say, all the singles are on Side A of Nevermind – Drain You could be a single…But it isn’t; why? Likewise, In Bloom is a single but is played less than a non-single – cool, shows they’re thinking.

    I’m trying to stay away from things that can be summed as “in my opinion”,on this one – I mean, is there any intrinsic, factual reason rather than just a gut feeling why Stay Away couldn’t replace Breed (I agree with you about Stay Away by the way)? Why Polly and Something in the Way couldn’t sub for one another on stage? That’s very hard to say.

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