DVD Review: Nirvana: Unplugged In New York

Nirvana: Unplugged In New York
Geffen Records
Available now

It is with a tinge of irony that a band who took The Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud approach to songwriting into the stratosphere found one of their finest career moments on a candle-lit stage with acoustic instruments and backed by a cello. Performed in front of a live studio audience on November 18, 1993, and broadcast on MTV a month later, Nirvana Unplugged In New York is arguably the best episode in the station’s scattered series and as one of the last “officially” recorded releases in Nirvana‘s catalog, a somber reminder of the range and influence the noisy Seattle band had.

While the broadcast was released on CD posthumously at the tail end of 1994, there has never been an official release of the episode. That is, until now. Almost fourteen years to the day of the original recording, Geffen Records is finally giving the fans what they need, and boy have they done it right! It is no secret that what fans saw on television was about two-thirds of the full recording, with two songs truncated from the set list and almost all of the down time between songs removed. Even the CD release, which included the missing songs “Something In The Way” and the third song that Nirvana played with The Meat Puppets “Oh Me,” is still missing almost thirteen minutes of the chatter and tuning in between the songs.

The complete concert, which includes all fourteen songs and clocking in at 67 minutes, is the entire performance from the first tuning to band’s exit from stage. All the banter between Nirvana amongst themselves and between Kurt Cobain and the audience is finally available for us all to witness. The picture is crystal clear and the sound has been arranged in a surround mix to get the most out of your home theatre. It is almost a perfect replication of what it must have been like to be sitting in that sound stage on that historic day. What was just hinted at in the original broadcast, and slightly expanded on with the audio CD, is a band completely relaxed and having a lot of fun, both with themselves and somewhat at the expense of the audience. This version of the concert has no credits, no song names at the beginning of each song, and no fade-to-black cuts for commercials, it is simply a beautiful recording of an enchanting performance.

Geffen has also included the original broadcast as we all remember it. This cut includes the classic MTV Unplugged logo, all of the songs being intro’d with their titles, the fade-to-blacks for commercials from your local sponsors, and the rather blasphemous credits slapped over the last half of the final song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It is nice that this version is included, though there is not much value other than a once through to remember what the television show looked like.

Rehearsal footage is also included, which appears to be recorded shortly before the audience was let into the studio, as the final sound mixing and technical troubles are ironed out. This 22-minute recording includes full renditions of “Come As You Are,” “Polly,” “Plateau” with The Meat Puppets, “Pennyroyal Tea” with Pat Smear (unlike the final performance), and “The Man Who Sold The World.” It is an raw look at the band as they prep, and not only shows their aggravation with dealing with all the tech issues, but just the sheer joy they have in playing music.

Finally, a short retrospective featurette, called “Bare Witness,” takes a look at the night of the performance through the memories of the MTV producers and fans that were there for the performance. The bit comes off as a hoaky fluff piece, and while fans seemed pretty genuine about their time there (Lee Renaldo gets a two-second sound clip, too!), most of the MTV producers and executives come off as still having no idea what they are talking about and are just shills saying what they *think* people want to hear. There is a focus on the set list, and the lack of hits included, and it is nice to know that the producers were bracing for the worst.

Like an old beat up pair of Converse sneakers you find in the back of the closet, Nirvana’s unplugged performance still fits perfectly all these years later and a bottomless well of emotional memories. Though Kurt Cobain would be dead a mere five months after this performance, with “All Apologies” being retrofitted as their epitaph and the funeral-esque stage setting taking on a whole new meaning, it is important, really really important, to watch this with the same eyes as those that watched this for the first time on television — as someone seeing watching a band make an intimate connection with their fans. Tonight, Nirvana is unplugged and live in your living room, and they have never sounded better.

Nirvana Unplugged in New York:

Nirvana Unplugged in New York Video Clips:

All Apologies
About A Girl

Nirvana Official Site:

Official MySpace page:


  1. I love the CD version. Listen to it a lot. Yes, they did looked relaxed. It was a great loss for all of us. The DVD release reminds us, what could have been. Excellent review.

    Comment by Jerry — December 10, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  2. […] DVD Review: Nirvana: Unplugged In New York […]

    Pingback by thornypath — December 11, 2007 @ 5:03 am

  3. Great review. It reminds me how much I miss Kurt Cobain and what he would have been. Love Nirvana and I remember watching this on MTV when it premiered. I never would have thought that 5 months after this, Cobain would allegedly do what he did. And I love his cover of “The Man Who Sold The World”. Just hauntingly beautiful.

    Comment by Fred [The Wolf] — December 11, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

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