Nirvana Legacy Blast from the Past: Mapping Nirvana’s Tours 1989 to 1994

Way, wayyyyyyy, in the way-back, I did a series of maps basically amateurishly plotting Nirvana’s touring in the U.S.:

I found it intriguing to conceive of Nirvana’s tours in a more physical way – as movement from one location to the next rather than just gigs or recordings of gigs – a reemphasis on the journeys rather than the outcomes.

Having diligently plotted the band’s first tour down the West Coast in early 1989, I moved on and tracked the summer and autumn 1989 tours in the U.S., then the April/May tour of 1990 followed by the West Coast jaunt in August, next the Sept-Oct tour of 1991, moving on to the October-December 1993/January 1994 tour finally. I don’t think I looked much deeper than that really – I made the maps, followed them round, left them there.

What I didn’t really focus on was the shift in approach across those years – for some reason it was on my mind today. For a start, the band’s complaints in multiple sources and biographies regarding the grim experience of living in a van for weeks, perhaps point to a shift in approach. The first tour commenced in Seattle, carried on through California, then on to the rest of the U.S. – logical huh? Well…No. The reason is that it meant by the time the band reached the east coast and played New York they were simultaneously exhausted and as far from home as they could be. The result was the cancellation of seven shows – a significant portion of a tour in which the band only played sixteen shows outside of State of Washington and California. The original tour plan would have taken them home as follows:

1989 Cancellation

So; Toronto, Newport, Detroit, Champaign, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise – cancelling the tour meant Nirvana basically made the route home in a day or two as opposed to two weeks…But they were still just skipping the path home.

For the September tour they were more focused. They’d played the west coast plenty of time so they simply skip it altogether and instead commence the tour in Minnesota – in other words, a long drive done quickly to start things off rather than the slow progress from the North West. This allows them to polish off the gigs they didn’t do the previous time and makes the entire tour a progression heading ever closer to home – a positive for tired guys.

It’s clear that they’d learnt something from the early experience because the route planning in 1990 reflects the new pattern; they clear the west coast up in February, then come April 1st they simply drive to Chicago from State of Washington and commence there – no ‘long beginning.’ From the time they hit Florida on May 4, they’re on their way home – every gig a step closer. They still overestimate their own stamina – yet again that long in a van means a band member is flung out at the end of the tour. September-October 1991, a full year and a half (and one label change) later and they still kick off by driving all the way over to Ontario, Canada before working their way home, this time going back up the West Coast rather than directly home.

Here’s the bit I realised I’d failed on though…The big change between 1989-1991 and 1992-1994? Well, sure, there’s the bit where they stay home and barely play for months, but more significantly it’s the way air travel becomes a feature of their touring within the U.S. I’d not noticed it because, of course, the band were flying to Europe regularly, but before they hit fame they’re still driving the continental U.S. From 1992 this isn’t necessarily so – it results in the West Coast / East Coast ‘pinging’ in 1992/1993.



The band no longer have to plot out routes, they can fly in for lucrative one-offs and head home immediately (pretty well what they did with the European festivals and South American shows in 1992.) The In Utero tour – while more extensive – still retains that determination to start well away from home, this time in Arizona, before crashing round the East Coast. The route home is still there but it’s a lot more convoluted given they arrive back in Seattle for Live and Loud then head out again from there.

That basic pattern remains; first tour, the tour has a long start and an abrupt finish – they run out of steam. After that they go for the ‘quick start’ somewhere far across the continent and then the ride home. It’s late 1993 before relative comfort stretches that pattern out.


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