How could I possibly let a week go by without taking time to play with a spreadsheet at some point or other? This would be a surprising, nay, shocking occurrence. Today’s question is rather a simple one; based on the data available at http://www.nirvanaguide.com which album did Nirvana play most on stage?
I’ve talked before about album dominance in terms of how long it took for the number of songs played from Bleach to decline (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/05/08/how-long-did-albums-dominate-on-stage/) and about the total dominance of side A of each of Nirvana’s albums on stage (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/03/28/live-set-lists-and-side-a-dominance-nevermind/). This time it’s a more detailed, yet also simpler comparison of the thirteen songs on the 1992 CD of Bleach, versus the thirteen songs on the 1991 CD issue of Nevermind, versus the thirteen songs on the 1993 (European) CD of In Utero — plus sidebars on Incesticide and non-album Nirvana originals while we’re on the topic:
I wish, to be honest, I’d had this data put-together when I wrote the Dark Slivers book last year regarding the Incesticide album — it’s a notable point that the songs making up the Incesticide album were a far more significant component of the live history of Nirvana than those on In Utero which, entirely due to its late positioning in the history of the band, ends up being a relative rarity. The overall trend, quite visibly, is one based on longevity; Bleach, the earliest album is played more than Nevermind, which is played more than the pieces that came together on Incesticide, which is played more than the final studio effort In Utero.
On the other hand, the lengthening set-lists of Nirvana’s later period does have an influence in that, despite being released a full two and a half years after Bleach, Nevermind’s songs make only forty fewer appearances than those of its predecessor. In Utero would have caught up, at least to Incesticide, relatively quickly given the 20+ set-lists of 1994 in which Incesticide was racking up only single appearances, Bleach only three at most per show.
I think of this less as data and more as a reason to cherish certain songs’ rare appearances.
And what of the non-album tracks…? It’s always been very clear that Nirvana’s live selections were substantially guided by their degree of satisfaction with the songs. The result is that those songs that never made a Nirvana album don’t even make significant appearances live:
In total, buoyed substantially by Spank Thru’s 31 appearances, the overall total is still a paltry 72; lose that one song and we’re down to 41 known appearances in seven years by the fifteen other Nirvana non-album original compositions. That’s how clear Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were about how strong or weak their material was — and also how professional they were — nothing that needed major work stayed outside of a studio rendering for long nor survived long if not up to scratch. Given the existing ratio of appearances — album tracks appeared twelve times for every one appearance by a non-album track (72 versus 927)— there’s little reason to expect many unseen performances of these songs. Cherish them.
Just as amusing, showing the relativism inherent in any game with data on the move, if Nirvana had kept touring, Bleach would have been superseded by Nevermind as the most played Nirvana album within just eight more performances given the fact that throughout 1994 Nirvana were playing nine songs from Nevermind per night in comparison to Bleach’s three: