Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: In Utero

Those who are aware of my minor league fixation on the Incesticide compilation and its subsidiary status as a component of the Nirvana catalogue may be surprised I haven’t exercised my Excel fixation in relation to that particular release and this particular exercise. The reason is fairly simple; a chronologically organised release with all but one of its 1989-1991 songs on Side A and all its 1988 tracks (plus one 1989 outtake) on Side B has been arranged with chronology taken into account so, reasonably enough, Side B wins four early shows; Side B wins the remaining 230 complete set-lists of Nirvana’s entire career from 1989 onward. No surprise so I won’t count it.

In Utero is far more crucial; the final piece. In the case of Bleach, we could waive the Side A preference claiming that there were more songs (true!), in the case of Nevermind we could claim commerciality (arguable!) but In Utero was the definitive break away from commercial impulses, the attempt to recapture the underground spirit. Was Side A as important and if so, what can we conclude? Well, In Utero first pops up at the incredible show Nirvana performed on November 25, 1990 with Dumb and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter both appearing; a draw. 1991?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 In Utero

In Utero songs were played on 31 complete set-lists in 1991; six wins for Side B and seven draws…But still, that means Side A was played more on 18 occasions (58%) and won/drew even on 25 (80%.) It’s a full year of tit-for-tat, one song or another song; I admit I find it interesting that Nirvana were so consistent in ‘rationing’ the number of new songs they would shove into a set-list, it makes me wonder if Pennyroyal Tea, Rape Me, All Apologies and Dumb were already associated in Kurt Cobain’s mind; certainly Rape Me had its parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit while Dumb was derived from Polly so there is a connection at least between those two tracks. 1992 continues the easing up:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 In Utero

Songs from In Utero were played eight times across 28 complete set-lists — in a reversal of fortune it’s the one year ever when Side B of one of Nirvana’s three studio albums was played more than Side A and quite defiantly so. It doesn’t last, however:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 In Utero

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994_In Utero

From the very start of 1993, Side A dominance reasserts itself absolutely; 37 set-lists, Side A wins in 32 of them and draws in 5, Side B doesn’t win even once. In one of the few surprises ever thrown up in the history of Nirvana’s 1994 tour, there’s at least one single win for Side B, plus three draws, leaving 14 wins to Side A. As percentages we’re looking at an 86% win rate in 1993 for Side A, or 100% if we wrap in the draws; 78% in 1994 or 94% including draws.

So, here are the totals for In Utero:

Side a_Side b_In Utero Overall

Again, even though the pattern is weaker, we’re still dealing with very solid Side A dominance; 65 of 95 shows were Side A dominant (68%), 14 were Side B dominant (15%.)

What does this amount to overall? Well, tallying up the results, across the songs from three studio albums, across seven years, 513 of 571 shows were Side A dominant (90%), 551 shows (97%) were a Side A win and/or draw. Is that a sufficiently hefty trend to suggest something may have been inherent in the way Nirvana structured albums? Let me reverse the stats for full clarity; only 20 shows (6 for Nevermind, 14 for In Utero) ever featured more songs from Side B, that’s a mere 3% in total. Including draws, Side B won or achieved parity 58 times (10%).


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