Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: In Utero

Those who are aware of my minor league fixation on the Incesticide compilation and its subsidiary status as a component of the Nirvana catalogue may be surprised I haven’t exercised my Excel fixation in relation to that particular release and this particular exercise. The reason is fairly simple; a chronologically organised release with all but one of its 1989-1991 songs on Side A and all its 1988 tracks (plus one 1989 outtake) on Side B has been arranged with chronology taken into account so, reasonably enough, Side B wins four early shows; Side B wins the remaining 230 complete set-lists of Nirvana’s entire career from 1989 onward. No surprise so I won’t count it.

In Utero is far more crucial; the final piece. In the case of Bleach, we could waive the Side A preference claiming that there were more songs (true!), in the case of Nevermind we could claim commerciality (arguable!) but In Utero was the definitive break away from commercial impulses, the attempt to recapture the underground spirit. Was Side A as important and if so, what can we conclude? Well, In Utero first pops up at the incredible show Nirvana performed on November 25, 1990 with Dumb and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter both appearing; a draw. 1991?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 In Utero

In Utero songs were played on 31 complete set-lists in 1991; six wins for Side B and seven draws…But still, that means Side A was played more on 18 occasions (58%) and won/drew even on 25 (80%.) It’s a full year of tit-for-tat, one song or another song; I admit I find it interesting that Nirvana were so consistent in ‘rationing’ the number of new songs they would shove into a set-list, it makes me wonder if Pennyroyal Tea, Rape Me, All Apologies and Dumb were already associated in Kurt Cobain’s mind; certainly Rape Me had its parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit while Dumb was derived from Polly so there is a connection at least between those two tracks. 1992 continues the easing up:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 In Utero

Songs from In Utero were played eight times across 28 complete set-lists — in a reversal of fortune it’s the one year ever when Side B of one of Nirvana’s three studio albums was played more than Side A and quite defiantly so. It doesn’t last, however:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 In Utero

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994_In Utero

From the very start of 1993, Side A dominance reasserts itself absolutely; 37 set-lists, Side A wins in 32 of them and draws in 5, Side B doesn’t win even once. In one of the few surprises ever thrown up in the history of Nirvana’s 1994 tour, there’s at least one single win for Side B, plus three draws, leaving 14 wins to Side A. As percentages we’re looking at an 86% win rate in 1993 for Side A, or 100% if we wrap in the draws; 78% in 1994 or 94% including draws.

So, here are the totals for In Utero:

Side a_Side b_In Utero Overall

Again, even though the pattern is weaker, we’re still dealing with very solid Side A dominance; 65 of 95 shows were Side A dominant (68%), 14 were Side B dominant (15%.)

What does this amount to overall? Well, tallying up the results, across the songs from three studio albums, across seven years, 513 of 571 shows were Side A dominant (90%), 551 shows (97%) were a Side A win and/or draw. Is that a sufficiently hefty trend to suggest something may have been inherent in the way Nirvana structured albums? Let me reverse the stats for full clarity; only 20 shows (6 for Nevermind, 14 for In Utero) ever featured more songs from Side B, that’s a mere 3% in total. Including draws, Side B won or achieved parity 58 times (10%).


Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: Nevermind

OK, so we’ve shown that Nirvana played more songs from Side A of Bleach on a consistent basis — so what? Well, let’s keep digging before pre-emptively drawing conclusions. I totally admit that I’ve always enjoyed Side A of Nevermind more than Side B, I’m very aware that’s a personal preference and I’m totally desirous that endless repetition may have drained a little life from the songs therein…But it made me wonder…

Even though it risked skewing the results I wanted to make this as full an exploration as possible so I commenced stat-gathering from the moment the first song to feature on Bleach, Nevermind or In Utero came into existence — I do feel what’s most pertinent is what the band played once the full album was built but…What the hey, 1989!

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Nevermind

OK, fine, the year is Side A orientated because that’s what’s in existence. And 1990?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Nevermind

1990, again, is totally dominated by Side A — the main surprise is how little of Nevermind even appears at all; In Bloom and Stay Away appear in April/May surrounding the Smart Studios session, Lithium isn’t recorded as making an appearance until October, likewise Something in the Way in November — Lithium potentially makes its first showing on a date we don’t have a full set-list for, 1990 has a lot of holes. Surely 1991 offers more to this query?

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Nevermind P2

It does…But once again Nirvana is decisively Side A focused. Of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana plays more songs from Side B on four occasions (Sept 20, Sept 27, Nov 6, Nov 29) and only achieves parity at further ten show; in other words, at 55 of 69 shows Nirvana played more Side A tracks — that’s 80% of the time. I counted Endless Nameless as part of Side A, reasonably enough, despite its bonus track status, but without its presence what we’d be seeing is a year in which, of 69 full set-lists, Nirvana played more songs from Side A on 62 occasions and only played more songs from Side B on a grand total of two dates — 90% domination.

Removing Endless Nameless from 1991

So, how did things change after the release of Nevermind? If anything it got worse, here’s 1992:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Nevermind

There’s one occasion all year when Nirvana played more songs from Side B, seven draws — again, the removal of Endless Nameless from consideration would deduct significantly:

Removing Endless Nameless from 1992

What the hey; we’re looking at a year with 28 complete set-lists in which Nirvana preferred Side A of Nevermind on either 20 occasions or 23 occasions and Feb 22 is the only date Side B won. In 1992 it isn’t just that Nirvana preferred Side A, it’s that they’re regularly playing the whole of that side; they do so on twelve occasions and only once do they drop below five.

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Nevermind

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Nevermind

Above we’re looking at 1993 and 1994 respectively and the trend continues; 37 full set-lists in 1993, only one in which Side B features more (they play only one song from Nevermind on August 6) and only four draws — 32 wins for Side A or 86% of the time in other words — while in 1994 this alters to a complete 100% record in favour of Side A. On 39 occasions Nirvana played the whole of Side A, no wonder Kurt Cobain was bored of it, but still, that was the preference.

So, what to conclude? Well, start with the simple numbers:

Side a_Side b_Nevermind Overall

In the case of Bleach, OK, the Side A dominance could be explained away by the fact that there were more songs on Side A. But on Nevermind there are more songs on Side A yet more songs are played from Side A on 207 of 235 set-lists (88%)and more or even on 229 of 235 occasions (97%) on which Nevermind songs are played; that’s crushing dominance to Side A yet again.

In the case of Nevermind, one argument (derived from something someone stated on the LiveNirvana forum) could be that Side A was Nirvana’s more commercial material; that would imply Nirvana were either playing the crowd-pleasers or were being forced to do so; or, as I simply believe, I think Nirvana played the songs they knew were their best. You choose. And anyways, we still have In Utero to consider but so far Nirvana preferred Side A (adding together number of occasions on which Bleach tracks appeared plus number of occasions on which Nevermind tracks appeared) on 448 of 476 occasions. Side A was a win and/or a draw on 470 occasions (99%); there were only six occasions EVER where Nirvana favoured Side B of Nevermind. So…How about In Utero?

Live Set-Lists and Side A Dominance: Bleach

Often my excursions into the online Nirvana forums are motivated simply by an early inkling of something that might end up here on the blog — a testing of the waters. Similarly, a lot of material that I place here is the equivalent of letting you see my working out — I want to give you all the data so you can work it all out for yourselves and use it as you wish.

While examining the 1992 set-lists I diverted, on a sudden whim, into another area. What I’d noted was that despite the increasingly recurrent complaints about fame and Nevermind and the demanding nature of audiences, Nirvana were solidly wedded to that album throughout the year; there was only one occasion all year, January 24, when the band played less than eight songs from Nevermind and on 17 occasions played ten-eleven songs, virtually the full album! As usual it seems that complaining to the media wasn’t the same as taking any action. It was fun, to me, to see how totally dominant Nevermind was that year.

But there was a deeper oddity. I’ll leave it to one side for the moment and simply show the outcome of the data work I engaged in to explore the idea. I worked only with the fully complete set-lists in order to avoid skewing results via incomplete set information. This is the preference for Side A/Side B of Bleach across 1987-1988 (green equals Side A, red equals Side B):

Side a_Side b Dominance 1987-1988 Bleach

Total victory for Side A of Bleach. And 1989:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1989 Bleach

So, in 1989, the only occasion where Side B came close to parity with the prevalence of Side A is at the notorious show at the Piper Club where Kurt dumped his guitar and threatened suicide and one show where the band quit early. And on into 1990:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1990 Bleach


Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P1

Side a_Side b Dominance 1991 Bleach P2


Side a_Side b Dominance 1992 Bleach

And, finally, 1993 and 1994:

Side a_Side b Dominance 1993 Bleach

Side a_Side b Dominance 1994 Bleach

What am I saying? I’m saying, that there is never, at any point in Nirvana’s entire career, in the full record of 241 live shows where Nirvana played more songs from Side B of Bleach, not one. It makes July 12, 1989 one of the most special Nirvana gigs, simply by virtue of the fact that they played more of Side B on the date, four songs, than on any other known occasion.

OK, I’m accepting of the fact that Side A had seven songs compared to Side B’s five but it’s still the level of dominance that is of interest to me; as early as December 21, 1988 Nirvana are playing five from Side A; in 1989 they play the whole of Side A at nine of 43 known shows and six of seven Side A songs at a further THIRTY shows; even as late as September 1992 they’re still kicking out five of seven. By contrast, the reappearance of Swap Meet and Scoff for seven dates in June-July 1992 was the first time since October 6, 1991 — 56 shows and eight months back — that Nirvana played anything at all from Side B of Bleach, with July 2, 1992 being the last time the band would ever play anything from that side of the album.

It lends weight to the story that Sub Pop insisted on Nirvana placing their songs on Bleach in order of preference; their favourites to the front. As a second thought; Side A was heavily loaded with the older Nirvana songs, ones that had benefitted from more time and energy. This can be seen in the way that Love Buzz and Floyd the Barber were already present in 1987, Paper Cuts was added by January 1988, Blew by March then School in October. Side B, by contrast, didn’t begin to build until the March 1988 appearance of Big Cheese with Mr. Moustache and Sifting arising for the summer single recording session then appearing in concert in October. Though each side needed more songs, it was Side A that had the most complete and honed material earliest suggesting that the rushed material was shoe-horned onto Side B to get the album up to twelve songs.

Side a_Side b_Bleach Overall

Remember, what we’re looking at here is not a question of aesthetic quality; it’s simply a very basic question of how many songs from Side A/Side B appeared — answer? Side A won 241 times across seven calendar years. But what of Nevermind and In Utero?

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1992 Part 2

As a starting point for our work today, remember that in 1992 all but seven shows are completely known of the 25 that took place. There’s a clear break in the year also that is of note; in January-February the band played an average of 17 songs a night across the fourteen known set-lists (a maximum, hit on two occasions, of 19). In the 14 known set-lists (of 16 shows played) covering June-October, the average jumped to twenty with Reading in particular standing out with 26 songs performed. So, how many songs is it likely we are missing?

The five dates incomplete or missing in January-February benefit from the relative consistency of that period; the shortest show as 14 songs, the longest 19, the norm 16 — we’re therefore likely to be missing a range of between 70 and 95 songs with 23 already confirmed. We’re in a different situation with the two shows missing later in the year. No set-list from June onward featured less than 17 songs (and that only on one occasion); the norm was over 21. But both missing shows are benefit appearances; Nirvana had a habit of pulling something different for ‘special events’ and both of these qualify. Ordinarily I could forecast between 34 and 42 songs, not in these two cases even with 19 of the songs played already known.

What’s noticeable is the absence of the usual ‘couplets’; in other years the presence of one song seemed to invariably lead to the playing of another. It’s gratifying to see the Negative Creep/Blew pattern persisting but it’s an increasingly twisted threesome with Been a Son. Those three songs may only appear alongside each other only five times, but there are only six shows where all three don’t appear. Even more noticeably, on the 26 of 28 fully known set-lists on which those songs (whether two or three of them) appear, there’s never more than two songs separating them. That’s impressive consistency across a very fragmented year.

Whats Left_1992_NC-BaS-Blew

There are no more consistent units to which I can turn to predict order and position beyond the opening songs as described yesterday plus the NC/B a Son/Blew trilogy. But that doesn’t mean we are scuppered with a mere 20 songs added to the record. Instead, let’s look at how consistently songs were performed across that era, how much flexibility was there? The table below indicates how consistently certain songs were performed. Firstly, remember there are 14 wholly known set-lists:

Whats Left_1992_Flexibility

So, in total, there are nine songs that are played at every single known show plus Breed which is played in 13 known and one partial set-list. How does that map to the unknown set-lists?

Note that in the figure below, from Feb 9, the line up of songs is almost identical for a full 14/15 songs with the exceptions being simply the addition or subtraction of Something in the Way and, on one occasion, the flipping round of Territorial Pissings and Drain You; that makes it very easy to confirm the missing date on Feb 21.

Whats Left_1992_Ten Songs

This is where the ‘flips’ between set-lists in January and February begin to cause doubts for those few remaining songs. After Feb 9, the set-list becomes extremely structured so our only areas for doubt are whether to add Lounge Act AND Territorial, or just one or the other, and whether one more additional song was squeezed in possibly with an Endless Nameless finale. Prior to that date, a number of songs — Negative Creep, Been a Son, Blew, On A Plain — were more usually part of the second half of a show rather than part of the start. Yet those songs were not consistently present, the set flexed. Similarly, I’m sure we’re looking at a number of performances of Love Buzz and Territorial Pissings, but how many is a matter of doubt. Beyond that it’s hard to see; maybe Something in the Way, a chance of Stain — then into the realms of unpredictability, one or two rarities at most. In total, what we’re looking at, at most, is:

Whats Left_1992_Total

From those five dates, we knew 23 songs, were missing a further 47 to 72, and can work out a potential 66 of which 39 are certainties, the others are a curious bunch; either Jan 27 saw Nirvana switching over from Floyd the Barber to Sliver (I think this is likely) or Sliver will have to appear later in the set; Feb 23 will definitely feature Blew but it may also include Something in the Way. Next, all the early dates will feature some derivation of the Been a Son/Negative Creep/Blew/On a Plain mix, with the choice on a number of dates to include Love Buzz/Territorial Pissings and maybe even Endless Nameless at the end.

Whats Left_1992_The Doubts

Ending on a high…October 3 and 4 are the other missing dates in 1992; what the Hell to do with set-lists where the known songs blend in Mexican Seafood, Beeswax, D7, Talk to Me, Curmudgeon, plus early showings of Dumb and Pennyroyal Tea… Basically, I’m going to hope the rest of each show turns up because what I think we’re looking at are the two most desirable incomplete performances left in the Nirvana live record.

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1992 Part 1

It’s a heartening experience looking at the live record for 1992 and realising that, in the doldrums of what was a highly uncomfortable year for Nirvana, the three gentleman concerned retained a chemistry so powerful that there’s barely a single night where the set-list remained unchanged. During what I’d always thought of as a fallow period for the band, the latter half of 1992 — cancelled tours galore, curtailed recording sessions, band strife over money — they were constantly introducing or reintroducing songs to the stage. I recall interviews in which Krist Novoselic claimed the band couldn’t play much new in 1992 because they were getting bootlegged all the time (he seems to have had a real thing about bootlegs given that featured in his explanation for Incesticide too.) Frankly it belies how much unusual stuff Nirvana did.

1992 should be a relatively easy year to study by comparison to 1989; firstly there are as many show in the year as in just the second half May-Dec of 1989, secondly, there are only seven gaps in the record, a mere 20% of shows compared to 1989’s 48%. I admit I set off with high hopes then rapidly ran into difficulty. The problem is that each time the band pause in 1992 they tweak the set-list. Instead of the rigid order present across the first seven songs in most late 1989 performances, or the barely flickering order on the In Utero, the set-list in 1992 isn’t a diktat, it’s more of a spine around which the band swap and switch elements. It doesn’t make it impossible to predict what happened — there’s still only a limited number of songs appearing consistently — but it limits how many songs we can place in a set location in the sets:

Whats Left_1992_Definite Locations

As usual, it’s those opening songs that are most predictable; three performances of Aneurysm, two of About a Girl, one each for Floyd the Barber, Drain You, School, Sliver, Negative Creep, Been a Son and On a Plain. Compare the pattern to 1989 or 1993-94. The opening trilogy changes in January, in February, in June, in June again, in August, in October, then in October again — that’s remarkable compared to May-Dec 1989 when there were ‘blips’ for one show in May and one in August and otherwise only two consistent opening sets on display. That is a consequence of the more regular pauses in touring compared to prior breakneck years.

In terms of ‘historical events’, January witnesses the death of Floyd the Barber as a consistent presence in the band’s set. This holdover, written in 1987, makes its final appearance for the year on February 5 but it’s likely either January 26 or 27 was the last time it was a core component of the repertoire — it’s fun being able to see, to within a 48 hour period, where the changeover happened.

I admit I’m determined to finish this exercise…There’s vast space for unusual arrivals and I want to establish as much of it as possible. I admit it’s long-winded, at times you’re seeing my full ‘working out’. Also, I’m very aware that there are things that can’t be predicted due to lack of evidence or comparable examples; in those cases what I’m looking for is whether the predictable songs fail to add up to the lower edge of the predicted numerical range. Such a situation reveals a gap that hints at other songs, whether covers or rarities, having crept into the set-list leaving these ‘ghosts’ — a gap of nine, ten, however many songs that ‘should’ have been performed if we’re even to meet the lowest predicted number.

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1989 Final Part

Anyone else bored of 1989? I’m so bor-or-ored of the ‘eight-ty-nine’…Friday at last.

Having laid out the trends across the year, having filled a little of the early 1989 gap, the second half of the year gets far simpler. I’m willing to bet hard cash on the 133 of 143-187 for the spell up to November 15 — what about those last few? And what about the rest of the year?
Firstly, to reach my limit on the eleven missing/incomplete dates running up to November 15, 1989 — the set-list creates uncertainty. After October 6 it’s rare that a set-list was fewer than fourteen songs while prior to that a maximum of thirteen is the norm and most likely. That may put me out by a song or two but I feel save working to that limit given the rarity of them exceeding or underachieving those norms.

So, what do I think? I think Been a Son, Breed and Paper Cuts were all possible additions on October 7 and 23 based on surrounding comparisons. On October 13 only Been a Son and Breed that constitute the likely candidates given Paper Cuts was already on the set-list. November 4 is likely missing an appearance for Token Eastern Song and from Been a Son (given Been a Son and Stain had entered a spell of being played alongside one another prior to the Negative Creep/Blew cluster — we covered how common this foursome was last week.) That’s as far as I can see. The show played either on October 4 or 5 may have finished either with Paper Cuts, or the premier of Breed, or the premier of Been a Son — no clues. You’ll see my last additions and my last uncertainties below bringing us to a total of 133, plus a number I’ve highlighted in yellow where I’m just not sure but believe the songs mentioned are likeliest:

Whats Left_Aug-Nov 1989_Final

There are only four more missing dates in 1989; a show on November 21 that the band wrapped up in just over 30 minutes — about a third shorter than usual — then November 23-24 and 30. The set-lists, as mentioned, are flexing quite a bit at this point, essentially Nirvana had been playing hard for a couple months that Autumn-Winter and were demonstrating how good they were (and perhaps how bored) by dropping new things in and out. Remember, of course, that I’m leaving out cover songs if they were one-offs, likewise jams. Unless they were regulars their very nature makes them unpredictable — they wouldn’t be one-offs otherwise:

Whats Left_End of Year 1989_1

Those four dates are still going to yield somewhere around fifty performed Nirvana songs. What’s beautiful is I can start with something unprovable but possible — we can’t tell if Vendetagainst received another airing on November 23-24. There weren’t enough performances of it at the time to make it a trend, on the two occasions it made an appearance that year it was slotted in at the end as an optional extra so given we can’t predict the lengths of three of the Nirvana performances, we can’t say how likely it is. Tantalising timing though.

Strangely, though we’re only working with four performances, these four present us with a lot more difficulties than the previous eleven. OK, the opening five songs are totally predictable, likewise I think Negative Creep/Blew made the end of Nov 23-24, I can’t bet Negative Creep/Blew finished Nov 30 because of the flexing immediately before on Nov 29. Likewise, the fact that the triumvirate of Polly/Big Cheese/Spank Thru had also broken means I can’t be sure of those songs all being played together.

That doesn’t mean we’re blind, however. Spank and Breed remain solid presences, likewise the set-list may shift but there’s still a solid core to most performances — About a Girl, Big Cheese, Been a Son are all dead certainties; note the purple on yellow entries below are not predicting positions in the set:

Whats Left_End of Year 1989_2

So what of the ten or so gaps I’m sure exist? Well, add it up; the songs that could fill those spaces are Polly, Sappy, Molly’s Lips, M. Moustache and Stain — but where? No idea.

That’s what I take as a heartening experience from this exercise; unlike in 1993-1994, there’s a little more room for uncertainty, there’s space for rarities in the early part of the year — like Swap Meet or Big Long Now — and a little space in the latter half of the year — for Vendetagainst for instance. We’re at the heart of Nirvana here and there’s a little room for mystery to occur when the band had so much live chemistry they could flex as they wished.

Why am I so confident about the predictions? Well, it’s a case of quantity erasing deviations; essentially, for these numbers to be substantially wrong, we’d have to believe that Nirvana rewrote their own script substantially several times in the incomplete/missing shows. Given that in 42 known performances from May-Dec 1989 there’s not a single show that differs by more than three songs from those on either side of it, given songs are rearranged sometimes but the most that happens is a few songs are tagged on the end of the existing set-list, there’s no reason to believe in revolutions. But let’s assume that for one night during that phase Nirvana did completely rewrite the template, suddenly played a set-list consisting of a batch of songs from the January 1988 session, plus Blandest, Annorexorcist, Sappy, Even in his Youth, Swap Meet, Big Long Now…Effect? Variation of the numbers below by one single digit — quantity of results minimizes effects of outlying data. Here’s the likely performances I predict we’re missing from 1989:

Whats Left_Totals_May-Dec 1989

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1989 Part Three

The hole extending through 1988 and early 1989 runs right up to the middle of the year:

Whats Left_End of the Gap_May-Jul 1989

Again, the size of the gap makes it impossible to guarantee specific results, however, the relative narrowness of the core set-list makes it easy to predict likely conclusions regarding the ten missing/incomplete shows between June 25 and July 8. Firstly the set list visible on June 23-24 is still recognizable in the set-lists of July 8-9; we’re likely looking at ten performances all beginning with School, Floyd the Barber and Love Buzz and ending with Negative Creep and Blew. Similarly, though the order is unclear, we’re likely to be seeing; Dive, Spank Thru, About a Girl, Scoff, Big Cheese. Where are the uncertainties? I’m unsure about the fate of Sifting and feel unsteady assuming it dropped out of the set-list, I feel better assuming the Mr. Moustache turn up on July 8 was a one-off given it didn’t become a trend until late October, if I was being optimistic I’d hope for Blandest managing a one-off.

The rest of the year becomes easier — the gaps are shorter — but the conclusions of each show are flexible providing a degree of doubt to each prediction. What we’re looking at are fifteen remaining partial/absent set-lists. The first seven songs are almost entirely static from August 26 until November 15 covering eleven of the missing dates and fitting perfectly into the fragments of set-lists known for the incomplete dates. Given the Negative Creep/Blew unit is broken precisely once in the known set-lists I’ve got no problem predicting it, in whatever order, for the missing eleven too.

Whats Left_Jul-Nov 1989

So, that means, that of eleven incomplete/missing dates, containing somewhere between 143 and 187 songs (based on blunt extrapolation from the shortest and longest known shows of this period) we can tell what 84 of those songs were already plus the 29 definitely sighted according to the Nirvana Live Guide; 103. We can predict a few more definite sightings, for example, Token Eastern Song appears in every known set-list in October, meanwhile Spank Thru appears at all but one show for the entire year — they’re easy additions. Similarly Breed is a consistent presence from November 1 throughout the rest of the year making me confident it was part of the November 4 missing set; that’s another fourteen spaces definitely filled; 117 of 143/187. What are we missing?

Well, matters of debate. Token Eastern Song appears to have been honed into shape definitely after touring ceased in July, probably after the single August date, certainly by the September 1989 recording session with Steve Fisk where it made its first appearance, so there’s a good chance it was in the opening set-lists of the September touring season. Stain is another new arrival and though skipped on October 3 and 25 it’s a good bet for each of the missing dates; that’s two showings of Token Eastern and nine of Stain; 128 of 143/187. We’re still missing at least 15 tracks even if all the missing shows only amounted to the shortest of that period.

Whats Left_Jul-Nov 1989_Pt.2

Well, for starters, the most likely candidates are as follows; Paper Cuts, Mr. Moustache, Even in his Youth, Been a Son — the unpredictable outliers are Sifting and Vendetagainst. Even in his Youth emerged for certain on October 6, its in all the set-lists surrounding the gaps we have on October 7, 13 and 23 leading me to predict with near certainty three more (welcomed) live renditions of the song still to be found. Likewise, for November 4, I’m confident in saying Been a Son will have made the set-list given surrounding examples unless the show was massively curtailed for some reason. On the same date Mr. Moustache is likely given its brief flowering from late October through November. 133. That leaves us only ten definite absences though up to a max. of around 44. We’ll continue tomorrow.

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1989 Part Two

This exercise all started as an attempt to try and figure out as many gaps in the Nirvana set-list record as possible. To recall the statistic, there are 128 unknown or partially known Nirvana set-lists, roughly 1,500-2,500 missing songs. 39 of those shows are from 1989, the highest overall total representing half of the shows that year. It’s certainly a complex year given the band’s history at that time contained so many breakpoints; finishing Bleach, acquiring and discarding a second guitarist, first U.S. tour, first European tour…

The most disappointing thing for me is the tight clustering of a lot of those absences; there’s no complete set-list for ten shows between December 28, 1988 and May 26, 1989 then a further four near blanks after that date until things flesh out from June 23, 1989. I’ve said before that I’m sure that those ten shows conceal the only live appearances of Big Long Now (I go into depth about my reasoning behind this in Dark Slivers) plus some of the final appearances of the early songs that later arrived on Incesticide. Take a look for yourselves, can we really make something of this mess?

Set-Lists_Late 1988-Early 1989_Gaps

Actually…There’s a good chance we can. For starters, note the coincidence of the Mr. Moustache, Paper Cuts, Mexican Seafood trio appearing at the two December dates and as late as the undated early show in February. I’d prefer more points of comparison but it’s a start. Similarly, it’s amusing to note that the School/Love Buzz/Floyd the Barber trio which formed a key feature of mid-to-late 1989 actually commenced right back in Oct-Dec 1988. Likewise Blew is already Nirvana’s favoured set closer, the impossibility is showing when Negative Creep became its crucial partner. What we can suggest is that on all the missing dates, Blew was the last song. Sifting, About a Girl and Spank Thru are also likely presences, as are the opening trio of School, Love Buzz and Floyd the Barber in some combination. That’s about all we can say.

In the comments section you’ll also note someone rightfully pointing out that Swap Meet is a likely appearance in this spell also. Complete agreement and a very relevant point to be made in this context. How often did it appear? Well, I have a suspicion, based on its non-appearance in the rest of 1989 that it was the equivalent of Lounge Act, or Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, one of those songs that never really caught on as a piece of the live set (self-evidently). Perhaps it did the appear-disappear trick, one of those songs that made a half dozen appearances and died.

Later in the year we’ll have more luck — let’s see next week in Part Three…

What’s Left? Re-examining the Live Record 1989 Part One

Like a lot of ever-so-slightly, teeny-tinily fixated Nirvana fans, I’ve listened to quite a few live concerts by this point. What I hadn’t noticed was how solidly constructed Nirvana set-lists were. I admit I expected to see that prior to the In Utero tour set-lists flexed and varied more often. Instead I’ve had to discard my expectation and observe what I’m actually seeing. What I like about data is that its primarily about pattern recognition; taking familiar information (like the set-lists on and rearranging it thus bringing out new visions. I’d never placed list after list of Nirvana sets alongside one another before. Doing so is allowing me a fresh insight into what whole tours, entire years, entire spans of Nirvana’s existence looked like as live experiences and what is most likely missing from the live record.

1989, as a year, had one abiding feature; School. That song kicked off 41 of the fully known set-lists, interrupted only by Dive and Spank Thru early in the year then a brief jam toward the end. The abandonment of Nirvana’s earliest unreleased songs from January 23, 1988, later featured on Incesticide, was absolute. The sense is of a band reinforcing existing recognition — Spank Thru, Love Buzz, Bleach — taking time to refresh viable spares — Vendetagainst and Blandest — and to work up fresh material — Stain, Sappy, Been a Son, Polly.

Like when we examined 1993-1994, it’s clear that Nirvana knew how to kick-off a show, the greatest rigidity in set-lists is in the openers. It seems to have been a way of ratcheting up the crowd’s excitement, or of geeing up the band, getting them loose, relaxed, over any nerves. In the full set-lists available, from June 23 until July 18, Jason Everman’s final gig, the opening trio is School, Floyd the Barber, Love Buzz for eight shows. The resumption of live shows on August 26 inaugurates what would, with one last change (Spank Thru, for the only time, was the opener on this show), be the core unit in 33 set-lists; School, Scoff, Love Buzz, Floyd the Barber, Dive — Sept 30 until Dec 3 this is the running order of Nirvana originals.

During that two month spell, following Dive, there seems to have been a desire to stage a mid-set break, a breather after what is a fairly intense opening barrage. Polly, and briefly Sappy or About a Girl, gentler songs all, are regularly song six through from August 26 in Seattle right the way until November 15 in Germany. It’s clear, however, that after the opening salvoes with which each concert began, it was rare that a set-list solidified for more than a few shows in a row. As an example, for five shows between October 25 to 30, the first ten songs are in identical order. This corresponds to the final shows of the U.K. tour prior to the move into Europe. This initiated some shifting of orders, a little more diversity; the first seven songs are unchanged until November 15, song eight and song nine meanwhile shift between some combination About a Girl, Spank Thru and Mr. Moustache.

Other ‘units’ of songs existed even in the far shorter set-lists of 1989 (as compared to the twenty plus song 1993-94 extravaganzas.) Negative Creep was followed directly by Blew on thirty-eight occasions, separated by one song on a further two occasions. Those two songs also formed the closing couplet on two-thirds of those occasions. Another unit worthy of mention is the About a Girl/Spank Thru pairing, in one order or the other; they appeared alongside one another 22 times, in fact there’s only one occasion in any of the 43 full set-lists where About a Girl features but Spank Thru doesn’t. On 29 occasions Polly and Big Cheese appeared together, from Polly’s second appearance right the way until end of December.

What’s clearest is Nirvana’s professional stagecraft at work. They worked, throughout the extant record of 1989, to rev up the crowds before breaking into unreleased, just released, whatever took their fancy. That’s where the talent and quality of the band becomes visible, in their ability not just to hone a set-list but then to have the confidence and swagger to simply change the sets over and over again. Basically, while the first part of a set was rigid, the second half was utterly diverse. With sincere apologies for my shorthand, take a look at the next graphic:

Set-Lists May-Dec 1989

The first eight songs of each set were, with exceptions, predictable. The songs after that…Well, in 34 shows the band only manages to finish three consecutive shows in the same number of songs. I’ve scoured these set-lists and the concluding spells of each of these gigs always shift. Oct 27 and 28 are the only two dates where the set list stays the same — but Nirvana still whacked a couple of extras on the end of the latter date.

If you want to know how I spend a lot of nights, well, perhaps you can tell from these obsessively resorted set-lists — a tragic tale I think you’ll agree. But, having noted the Negative Creep/Blew pairing, that led me to a further clustering effect present almost throughout the extant set-lists for 1989; in 28 of 34 shows those songs appeared with Been a Son and/or Stain but, again, this didn’t guarantee it would definitely be one, or the other, or in a specific order:

Set-List_Conclusions_Aug-Dec 1989

That’s where Nirvana were at in late 1989, so well drilled they could flip and switch as they wished.

What’s Left? Wondering if…The 1993 Unknown Song

Shocking day, late post and sincere apologies, sorry peoples…

In total the October-December 1993 touring season contained only two completely unknown set-lists — November 26 and December 15 — plus seven partial incompletes; we dealt with October 19 and October 25, 1993 yesterday. The Fitchburg/San Diego unknown song’s appearances on November 12 and December 29 were separated by a full twenty shows, appearing to show that at least the kernel of an idea was persisting (thank you to the denizens of the LiveNirvana forum for the San Diego audio here):

I’ve tried to show, visually, what else we’re missing from late 1993; I know this is like a magic eye picture but take a glimpse at it:

Nov_Dec 1993

What we’re looking at are variations on a fairly rigid structure; as clear examples the Pennyroyal Tea line straight across the middle is beautiful, while the intro is firmly established and never flexes. By looking at the shows surrounding each of the gaps, accepting that once or twice the band swapped in/out songs or changed an occasional song position, it’s actually fairly easy to predict what was played. I feel that the gaps are all fairly obvious — this covers the missing shows on November 25 and December 15 too. I propose the set-lists we’re unable to see looked as follows — I’d put money on these bets happily:

Oct-Dec 1993_The Missing Shows

The only data we have to go on for these dates is the coincidences with shows preceding and succeeding them plus some shreds of information; for November 28 it’s reported that the band played 22 songs which fits perfectly. In relation to December 16, the report is 24 songs were played of which only 21 are known. As well as adding Breed, I’ve added Blew on the basis it was played in 6 of every 7 Oct-Dec complete set-lists; 29 in versus 4 out. That leaves one song I can’t bet on; my likely candidates are Territorial Pissings (it was a common feature preceding Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam), or Milk It which had been an on-off set-list fixture throughout.

So what of the ‘unknown’ jam witnessed on November 12 and December 29? Well, alas, once again, as the song was used as a closer, we’re still stuck though only December 15 and 16 seem likely given the known finales. Having projected last week that there’s potentially several thousand unknown Nirvana performances hidden in unseen set-lists it’s sad that there are few miracles likely. For completeness, let’s add on the October dates plus the 1994 dates and I think we’re looking at the following MAXIMUM renditions missing from the whole In Utero tour:

Numbers of Unknown Songs In Utero Tour