Judge Brett Cullum wonders what Foo is, and why people are fighting it.
Here we are now, entertain us.
Their career as professional rock legends didn't even last five years, but Nirvana remains the most important band to define the '90s. The prophecy was ragged and rough; their brand of music ushered in the grunge genre which influenced pop culture on every level. I was a radio deejay for an alternative rock station in Memphis, TN when they were at their height. Kurt Cobain's untimely death in 1994 sent shockwaves throughout the industry and the world. I remember Courtney Love in the studio as the grieving widow proclaiming to me and my listeners "Grunge is dead! It blew its head off in a Seattle garage." I didn't believe her, but a decade later I know better. Love was right, and grunge seemed to expire with her husband. Look around at all the bands that no longer seem to matter. When was the last time Pearl Jam had a huge single? Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins? Alice in Chains? The bands that couldn't adapt died along with Kurt Cobain. Even Courtney Love couldn't seem to keep her grunge band together, and Hole disbanded after trying to reinvent their sound. Former band member Dave Grohl soldiers on with his Foo Fighters, but even they sound completely different than his days in Nirvana. The revolution was over, and Marilyn Manson sang the funeral dirge "Rock is Dead" as Britney Spears and her studio wranglers reinvented pop as the main force. But everyone still recalls Kurt.
When Nirvana ended with the suicide of its lead singer, there were still unfinished projects hanging out in the ether. One of these was a concept film chronicling the band's wildly ambitious live shows called Nirvana Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!. Remaining band members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl worked together with editor Steve McCorkle to finish the film in the face of tragedy for a 1994 release as planned. The film documents rare live performances of the band, and has long been available on many video formats. Now we see the release of the official DVD treatment. The footage remains hard hitting and fresh.
The footage for the project was culled from several appearances by Nirvana from the "middle years" during the official Nevermind tour. Their songs were from that breakthrough period and the earliest recordings. Film captures them going from a small packed club gig in Dallas to a triumphant stadium show in Brazil. Yes, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is here in a completely butchered form. Kurt hated the hits, and venom spews anytime the band launches into one. This is true grunge—ragged, unpolished arrangements and in-your-face, middle-finger antics. Interspersed with the live performances are home video and interview clips examining the Nirvana life and legend. They lived like goofy slobs, and the world worshipped them.
The DVD is a quirky, messy, fullscreen transfer thanks to the disparate elements quilted together to create the experience. You're lucky when the camera focuses, and you know it won't last long. If we didn't know all too well who these guys were, you could easily walk away from the film wondering what they looked like. New to DVD is a 5.1 surround mix; it achieves the correct volume even if some of the design is misguided. Bass sounds far too loud, and crowd noise is spun out to the rear speakers, which seems artificial at times. It's an appropriately grungy-ass mix of off-kilter cameras and noise that fades in and out without too much clarity. Ironically, this suits the feature. Extras only include five new songs from an Amsterdam show—"School," "About a Girl," "Been a Son," "On a Plain," and "Blew." There is also an option to create your own order with a "personal jukebox" feature which allows you to pick the playlist in your own order of preference.
Nirvana Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! probably deserved Criterion-level treatment, and perhaps someday we will see that. But until then I am thankful to have this document of what the band was like live in their heyday. It has been twelve long years without Cobain. His genius is on display here in a fashion that he would approve of. You get to see the band rip through tunes like mad poets drunk on their own rhymes with no hint of reason, and then you get to see them acting silly in their downtime. Fans should rejoice, and neophytes should see what they're missing. It's not the world's best DVD, but it shows the world's greatest band of the '90s doing what they do best. Grunge may be gone, but we'll always have a film to hold on to. The revolution can be televised again and again.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Geffen Records
• Five Songs from Amsterdam
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