Album Review: Nirvana - Live At The Paramount
It is easy to forget, 25 years after the death of Kurt Cobain, that Nirvana were once a functioning rock’n’roll band. A band who did normal things that normal bands do, like release albums and go on tours and make videos; you could go and see them live. Cruel fate has left them trapped in amber, forever in the early ‘90s that their music did so much to influence and change, but the existence of perfectly captured snapshots such as Live At The Paramount can do much to help those who weren’t there understand quite what a thrilling, electric force the band could be live, and remind those who were just how lucky they were to see it.
Originally released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011 as part of the super-deluxe 20th anniversary reissue of Nevermind and presented here on vinyl for the first time, Live At The Paramount finds Nirvana at a tipping point. Recorded at Seattle’s 3,000-seater Paramount Theatre on Halloween 1991, a mere five weeks after the release of Nevermind, but before they exploded and topped the Billboard chart the following January (the result of their label’s low expectations leading them to initially ship fewer than 50,000 copies to U.S. record shops), it is the sound of a band with serious wind in their sails, but no idea what’s on the horizon.
It’s partly this that makes these versions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, Breed, Aneurysm, School and 15 others sound so exciting here, but there’s also the louche, slack air and fuck-free approach to what they’re doing that highlights just how different Nirvana were to the glossy, big-budget arena-stomping bands of the time, such as Mötley Crüe and Poison. This was not what a band were supposed to do at gigs. Not if they wanted to be huge. Nothing here is perfect; there are fluffed notes, Kurt’s voice is occasionally several miles from the pitch required, and any kind of showmanship or ringmastery between songs is absolutely absent in favour of drawling, almost sarcastic epithets that sound like the words can barely be arsed being said. But when they play, by god do they play hard.
Nobody there at The Paramount that night knew what was going to happen. It, truthfully, doesn’t even sound like the best show Nirvana ever played. But that’s what makes this special – a truly spectacular band captured without hype, in the moment, just doing what they do. And for a band so steeped in legend, that is a rare thing to have.