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Five Essential Nirvana Live Performances

Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

April 5, 2012 marks eighteen years that the world has been without the influential Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. His words and music changed the world as we knew it in the early 90’s and to pay tribute, we take a look at some of his finest performances.

OK Hotel – Seattle, Washington




This fan-favorite concert from Nirvana’s pre-‘Nevermind’ days features high-energy performances of tracks like ‘Negative Creep,’ ‘Blew’ and an early solo version of ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’ The performance is especially noteworthy because it marked the premiere of their future mega-hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ It’s interesting to hear this unrefined version of the now-classic track with different lyrics and to see Kurt almost find the solo he would later perfect.


Reading Festival – Reading, United Kingdom




In one of the better quality Nirvana live videos out there, the band rocks a massive crowd at the 1992 Reading Festival with their largest setlist to date. They even tossed in covers of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘More Than a Feeling’ before closing with the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ This was the band’s final UK performance.


Le Zenith – Paris, France




Regarded as one of the band’s best shows from their final tour, Nirvana played tracks from all their albums from ‘Bleach’ to ‘In Utero.’ The set, played just months before Cobain’s death, was closed by an exceptional version of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’


Saint Andrew’s Hall – Detroit, Michigan




Nirvana historians remember this show as one of the most enthusiastic performances of their career. Although it’s not the highest quality recording, you can experience it for yourself in full on YouTube.


MTV Unplugged – New York City, New York




This is easily the best known Nirvana performance and for good reason — it was incredible. A band that is notoriously electric, unplugged their instruments and performed beautifully delicate versions of their usually hard-hitting tracks as well as a number of obscure covers. Highlights include their covers of Meat Puppets’ ‘Lake of Fire’ and David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World,’ as well as ‘About a Girl’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’


BONUS: You Think You Know Nirvana?




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