25 Years Ago: Nirvana Played Their Legendary Set at England’s Reading Festival
As the '80s turned into the '90s, the shape of rock music was changing due in large part to a trio of ne'er-do-wells known collectively as Nirvana. And by 1992, they were a full-blown rock machine to the point where, on Aug. 30, 1992, they performed what would be their final concert in the United Kingdom and one of the most iconic shows of their career at England's famous Reading Festival.
Their headlining performance came at a time when leader Kurt Cobain was under intense scrutiny from the media. Speculation about his health along with the health of his wife – Hole frontwoman Courtney Love – was running rampant. Nobody seemed to know what was up with grunge's star-crossed couple, but that didn't stop people from guessing.
Even drummer Dave Grohl was worried about the band's future at the time. He expressed his concerns in an interview with the Scotsman. "That was a pretty strange experience," Grohl recalled. "Kurt had been in and out of rehab, communication in the band was beginning to be strained. Kurt was living in LA -- Krist and I were in Seattle. People weren't even sure if we were going to show up. We rehearsed once, the night before, and it wasn't good. I really thought, 'This will be a disaster, this will be the end of our career for sure.' And then it turned out to be a wonderful show, and it healed us for a little while."
"Wonderful" doesn't really do justice to Nirvana's performance. If they were ill-prepared and under a mountain of stress, their problems weren't apparent as they put on one of the best shows of their career.
Before the show, Cobain decided to address rumors about his and his wife's health with a little gag. He had friend and music journalist Everett True push him onto the stage in a wheelchair. Then he fell to the stage floor reaching for the microphone. Off to the side, bassist Krist Novoselic offered sarcastic encouragement.
True, who gave Kurt the blonde wig to wear at the last minute, told Clash about the motivation for the wheelchair gag. "The whole stunt had been planned the previous night as a burn on those who’d been gossiping about Kurt and his wife, who’d just given birth to Frances Bean," he said. "Kurt’s in hospital, Kurt’s been arrested, Kurt’s OD’d, Courtney’s OD’d, the baby’s been born deformed."
After all the joking was over, Kurt and company showed that they were doing just fine. They opened the show with a blistering rendition of "Breed." Despite a couple of missed notes here and there, it still holds up. And they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit," of course, although they seemed pretty bored with it.
By this time, they were already playing several songs that would end up on their next album, In Utero, including "Tourette's." They closed out the show with "Territorial Pissings," leading right into a chorus of feedback and destruction. Toward the end of the song, you can see the blood on Kurt's guitar:
Watch Nirvana Perform "Territorial Pissings"
That would be the last time the band would play in England. In 2009, DGC Records released a DVD and album of the event. They both warrant a place in every rock fan's collection.
Nirvana -- Set List, Aug. 30, 1992
"Come as You Are"
"About a Girl"
"Smells Like Teen Spirit"
"On a Plain"
"Been a Son"
"Love Buzz"- Shocking Blue cover
"The Money Will Roll Right In" - Fang cover
"D-7" - Wipers cover
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