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?