The live album is a tricky proposition. Done wrong, it can be disastrous: it’s all too easy to rush a live collection like a cheap cash-in, ending up with a murky-sounding record of a band or artist playing their greatest hits, but faster and less good. So many bands succumb to the urge, churning out live releases that only the most fanatical followers would want to listen to,
Done right, however, the live album can be spectacular. They can capture the majesty of an act at its best, especially captivating for fans of legacy bands or late artists. They can serve as more interesting collections than the standard greatest hits packages, adding deep cuts to fans and going beyond the obvious.
At their best, they can capture a time and place like no other in music, turning good songs into great ones and great songs into majestic testimonies of the connection between artists and the fans that give them meaning.
As live music finally becomes viable again, there are a slew of new performances ready to be captured for posterity. With these Legendary releases, however, they have a lot going for them.
Given their short time as a unit, it’s surprising that Nirvana has as many live albums – three – as studio releases. While all three are worth it, however, the gorgeous Unplugged disc is the pick of the bunch.
Recorded just five months before Kurt Cobain’s death, it’s a fragile and haunting work for large parts, with the band focusing mostly on their quieter, downtempo numbers as well as choice covers. “About A Girl” (one of the band’s best songs) opens things up, and the career retrospective continues with “On A Plain” and “Something In The Way” from Nevermind and “Dumb” from In Utero, an album that stands out for its magnificent funeral. cellos.
The covers are among the most memorable cuts; Nirvana is joined by the Meat Puppets in howling through a trio of Pup tracks. The best of the show is the closer traditional “Where did you sleep last night” number. This is quite possibly Cobain’s greatest vocal performance ever, going from bluesy drag to beastly roar.
Indeed, one of the great joys of Unplugged is bringing to light the melodic abilities of Nirvana – and Cobain. They were much more than noisniks, and the stripped record is the best proof of that.