Miscalculating: Nirvana in Argentina, October 30, 1992

Apparently a new source has surfaced featuring a chunk of the misbegotten performance Nirvana turned in on January 16, 1993 in Brazil…Anyways, it reminded me that I’d been thinking about the Argentina concert and why it was such a mess.

Obviously Nirvana made a deliberate choice and were very overt about saying so around that time – audience sexism toward Calamity Jane being the suggestion. One thing that struck me though, in my ever over-thinking way, is that if the set-list played that night wasn’t an on-the-spot and deliberate act of aggression toward the audience, then it was still a poorly chosen cluster of songs that were almost bound to create an underwhelmed reaction.

Why do I say so? Well, Nirvana seem to have gone to Argentina with little idea about how limited the penetration of underground and indie music into that continent had been. They had complained in 1989-1990 that barely anyone in U.S. could find their Sub Pop releases – well imagine how much worse that situation was in South America; MTV had only just started broadcasting locally, the only songs the audience knew were those from Nevermind because there was no local Sub Pop distribution.

Much comment has always been made of Nirvana’s improvised opening song – a real declaration of intent toward the audience that night. Problem is, only nine other songs were drawn from Nevermind – the rest of the set was utterly unknown to the crowd. Imagine that experience, going to a show at which almost everything played is a mystery so no one can tell the difference between errors on stage, deliberate laxity (i.e., his mumblings of Beeswax) or the way songs were meant to be. The other ten songs played that night consisted of four songs from Bleach (it’s unclear if even the Geffen reissue in April 1992 had made much inroad in this market by October), four songs that would only see wide release on Incesticide which wasn’t out yet, Spank Thru from the Sub Pop 200 compilation and a later single neither of which would have been seen, plus All Apologies, which obviously wouldn’t emerge on record until In Utero a year later. While to a U.S. audience this would have been a perfectly fine line up, it was an odd choice for their first South American gig because for over half the night the audience wouldn’t have known what they were hearing. I don’t know about you, I like hearing something new, something off-the-cuff, something unreleased…But most of a night being dedicated to it?


4 thoughts on “Miscalculating: Nirvana in Argentina, October 30, 1992”

  1. Only 9 songs from Nevermind? You say “only” but that’s almost the full album then!
    The only notable song from Nevermind they don’t play is i ‘Teen Spirit’ which they only teased with instead for the said reason.

    Other than that it’s only ‘Stay Away’ and ‘Something In The Way’ from Nevermind that they don’t play. Not that unsual.They play all the usual suspects (apart from Teen Spirit) along with some lesser known stuff which you mention.

    I’ve always liked the Argentina show for what its worth. Kurt may have been in a stroppy mood and grumpy with the crowd but at least he was not wasted like he was in the Brazil shows and the “Nobody Knows I’m New Wave” jam was a great intro opening.

  2. Sao Paulo show is pretty damn hilarious.
    Complete and utter trainwreck and legendary for being the worst Nirvana show. But on listening it is a funny show and a completely weird one. The covers they do which are many are actually very funny and entertaining. It is the sloppiest i have ever heard Nirvana though and Kurt is clearly off his head that night ballsing up pretty much every song of his own own , missing basic cues , voice is slurred and well he clearly is out of his head and sounds like he’s barely able to stand. The Sao Paulo show makes the Rio show look professional now.
    Still it is quite listenable and entertaining and at least it is not dull.
    Kurt was out of his tree at that show.

    If they had played like that at Reading though they would have been crucified,

  3. I think the reason they do so many “unknown” songs is intentional and meant to bore the audience whether they knew the songs slightly or not. They purposely chose as few “hits” as possible and they got the reaction they wanted.

    1. I think someone else has pointed out that playing nine songs from their main (only) hit record in Argentina is a LOT of songs – very fair point. So, to be fair, Nirvana didn’t have much choice other than to play things that were more obscure to this audience…

      …But you’re totally right that Cobain did have a tendency to eliminate Smells Like Teen Spirit from set-lists when annoyed or fed up so that’s deliberate – he knows the impact of not satisfying an audience’s desires.

      Finally, I just think the band didn’t have any experience of non-U.S./Europe music audiences so little experience of playing to crowds who had little or no knowledge of the indie music scene. They probably didn’t realise how unknown a lot of what they played was. Except Cobain does say several times to crowds in 1992-1994, before About a Girl”, words implying he thinks the audience are unaware of Bleach. So he clearly does feel no one knew of the band’s work before Nevermind…Hmm. Fun!

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