Credit where it’s due, the Nirvana Live Guide is the most remarkable website. I’ve hunted high and low and there isn’t another band’s fans who have organised such a detailed and impressive reservoir of information on the set-lists, locations and movement of a band.
The early years of Nirvana weren’t exactly awash with money. As late as September 1991 Kurt Cobain appears to have been sleeping in his car for certain periods of time; the Sub Pop contract from 1989 was only going to have offered the band a pittance to split between them, doubling each year but still to a less than liveable wage. The deals put in place in 1991 finally bestowed a decent advance, publication rights and so forth but until that money started to flow this was a hand to mouth existence.
I should qualify, however, that there’s a clear line dividing Nirvana’s career:
In 1987-1988 a third and then a quarter of Nirvana’s shows were house parties or in college dorms; this proportion may tail off significantly but as late as 1991 the band, on the verge of worldwide triumph, still plays a local dorm party. Imagine that, Nirvana in your living room.
The early high percentage of shows taking place in peoples’ homes and college facilities simply shows a band, just starting out, needing to take whatever they can get. This wasn’t a band who could refuse shows, it wasn’t a band making vast money performing. This was subsistence musicianship, a band scrabbling for beer money, for any kind of audience. The glory years of Nirvana’s career were 1990-1991 but even then, paying a few dues, getting some casual stage time seems to have appealed. Post-1992 they left it all behind and became what most would think of as a purely professional outfit.