Something In The Way (Osaka, JP 02/14/92)
Morten Madsen considers, "[P]robably the most atmospheric Nirvana song out there." The pre-In Utero tour live renditions featured the juxtaposition of eerie verses with screeching feedback choruses. Despite being possibly the band's slowest number, and the whole song using just two chords, this arrangement gives genuine gravitas.
The Osaka rendition was the most popular, just ahead of Minneapolis 10/14/91. One half of this rendition is also featured on the official live video Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! Rolf Fassbind adds, "I'm sure my LTSO tape is worn out during this song. It sounds so weird and the lights fit perfectly." "Nirvana doesn't get much better than this," adds Alex Vance; "Just pure bliss," sums up Brian Robb.
Territorial Pissings (London, UK 12/06/91)
"Just amazing. [No other rendition embodies] words like 'energetic' or 'intense' better than this performance." Rolf Fassbind this describes this famously harsh, loud and fast version, played to a TV studio expecting 'Lithium'. The band rush off stage after a hurried destruction like naughty schoolboys. Jonathan Ross's bemused expression at the climax ads to the effect.
Christopher Allen claims, "No other version comes close to topping the intensity of this performance. One of the classics Nirvana did. The best performance of the song I'm sure we all agree."
Votes also for: 03/08/91
Rape Me (Sacramento, CA, US 06/18/91)
Early versions of this song were slower and had a different arrangement. Alex Vance explains, "The solo is really cool, and it's slower/darker than later versions." Ambarish Maharaj reckons, "Noise solos are definitely more punk than bridges."
The Sacramento rendition was the song's premiere, and was marginally more popular with readers than the Seattle 10/31/91 version, which had a similar arrangement. Chris Hickman vividly describes the scene in Seattle, "Kurt tells the crowd that he's about to play a song that's 'about hairy, sweaty, macho, redneck men.' To Kurt's horror, the crowd cheers at this prospect. So he serves a piping hot serving of crow to them by adding two choice words to this declaration: 'who rape.'"
He continues, "What follows is the most harrowing version of this song ever. Later versions would be hurried, because everyone would misunderstand this song for different reasons (they would think it's pro-rape, or they wouldn't get any message at all and just cheer at the anthemic qualities of the tune), but this early version, slow, powerful, shows how much the message of this song meant to Kurt."
Aneurysm (Seattle, WA, US 11/25/90)
"Intense! This is the best song during what many consider to be Nirvana's best show ever." Erik Sieckman shares his thoughts on Aneurysm's extraordinary first performance.
This rendition was by far the most popular with readers. The last word goes to Christopher Allen, "Does anyone else notice the best performances of a song are usually the first or second ever? I can only summarize this one up in two words...GOD DAMN!"
Scentless Apprentice (Rio de Janeiro, BR 01/23/93)
"[T]en minutes of this unique performance." Felipe Souza notes the salient feature of this version - the extended feedback jam in the middle of the song. NIRVANA very seldom interrupted their songs in this way. This particular rendition even features bodily fluids, as Christopher Allen explains for us.
"The second ever performance of the song. Kurt playing in PJ's to a energized Rio crowd. I never knew sounds like that could come out of any human being. Just listen to the man scream for rice cakes! Krist and Dave continue on, while Kurt spit shines the cameras and for one he even wiped one camera with the Loch Ness Monster. After all that and a few more ear drum shattering screams he says "Thanks, Good Night" and walks off. Leaving the crowd floored I'm sure."
The New York 07/23/93 and Seattle 12/13/93 renditions were also highly rated. And if we include the album version, Gina Scarlet exclaims, "Until I hear the other January 1993 Brazil show, these are the only four copies of 'Scentless Apprentice' ANYONE needs."
Over to Brian Johnson, "The 12/13/93 rendition is hard, fast, and very good, but [the 01/23/93] version takes the duke. Kurt's screams sound nothing like anything except maybe a goose being sodomized. (Not that I would know what that would sound like...)"
Votes also for: 12/31/93
Smells Like Teen Spirit (New York, NY, US 01/11/92)
"The night that brought Nirvana to the television sets of millions. Also, the day that Nevermind jumped from #6 to #1 and knocking the "King Of Pop" off his thrown of music. This is a solid performance of the song, but the thing that makes this performance so great was that they were the biggest band at the moment and they didn't act or look like it." Christopher Allen on this rendition and the events of the times.
Chris Hickman describes the zeitgeist from Kurt's position. "He was in love, and his love was pregnant with their child. Also, Kurt's stomach pains that had plagued him in October and November 1991 were gone, largely due to his increased heroin usage (which had come under little scrutiny thusfar). Things couldn't be better for Kurt and Nirvana, and in hindsight, it was downhill from there. But for one magical night, Kurt was king over 25 million people."
Smells Like Teen Spirit was one of the most popular live songs with LN readers, but choosing a favorite version was highly controversial: almost everyone voted for different renditions. Second place went to the premiere of the song, Seattle 04/17/91, and is also worth a mention. Back to Christopher Allen for this one: "The first performance of one the most influential songs of the past 30 years. The mangled opening chords. This version clocks in around 5:30 or so. This was the only time minus some summer '91 performances of the song that Kurt actually sounded like he was having fun playing it. I'm sure the audience was floored when they first heard just like we were when we first heard it on Nevermind."
Lithium (Los Angeles, CA, US 09/09/92)
The author's personal favorite. The band clearly had some professional soundmen on hand to help, for Cobain's voice never sounded this good live again, and Grohl's cymbals clattered like never before.
Throw in a new arrangement of the song, a new third verse, a special intro for the executives, a taunt to their rival Mr Rose, and Novoselic's 'sensational bass toss', and you have all the elements of a classic performance.
But there's more: it was NIRVANA's first American performance in almost eight months, following months of speculation about Cobain's heroin addiction. And this rendition only came about because the band were reluctant to play their big hit. Christopher Allen sums up, "The best version of the song period. Thank you and good night."
Drain You (Paris, FR 02/04/94)
Nirvana begin their European In Utero tour with a French TV appearance, and dress up for the occasion. The television soundmen were able to sweeten the band's sound, and the performance is spectacular.
Erik Sieckman explains, "This one is best appreciated with the video. You watch as Kurt's guitar fails, he grows frustrated and tosses it aside, and it all climaxes with the best scream in Nirvana's history."
Gina Scarlet adds, "Excellent version of [the track], Kurt looks real frail without a guitar during Drain You. (N.B. His guitar didn't crap out on him, I guarantee it was his smallclone pedal.)"
Again, events surrounding this performance add extra intrigue: the start of NIRVANA's last tour, playing a song they should not have been playing (the TV program was supposed to end at 1:30pm after the band finished Pennyroyal Tea, but NIRVANA carried on, bashing out a rendition of an old favorite, playing havoc with the schedules). Last word to Nulle Part Ailleurs host Antoine de Caunes on this one, "Ah, putain!"
Choosing the best live version was most controversial of all here. Another favorite rendition is Ljubljana 02/27/94 with Matt Reeder and Christopher Allen, who writes, "The second to last ever performance for the band live and for this song live. I'm sure the bands tensions were at a boiling point at the time, but they came together giving us the best version of this Nirvana staple. The longest scream from Kurt too."
Pennyroyal Tea (Toronto, CA 09/20/91)
Early versions of Pennyroyal Tea featured different dynamics and slightly differnt lyrics. This Toronto rendition edged out two other strong contenders. The readers found it more difficult to convey why they liked this version so much. Alex Vance attempts, "What can I possibly say about this version? Its beautiful. It's just amazing." Christopher Allen continues, "Slower and moodier, plus a solo to die for. Simply Nirvana!"
The Chicago performace of 10/12/91 is also a firm favorite with LN readers. Rolf Fassbind talks about this one, "All early performances of this song are great, but this one just has something that makes a little better. Kurt starts to laugh (would love to have a video of this) and it sounds a tiny bit more intense than every other performance." Brian Robb adds, "Anything post 1991 is just lacking something. This one is intense, like a train could roll through any moment."
A close third was the familiar, bare acoustic version from MTV Unplugged. Chris Hickman explains why this is still his favorite rendition, "Any time you put Kurt alone on a stage, magic is bound to happen - witness the Boy Meets Girl (09/25/90) show in 1990 and this magical performance of Pennyroyal Tea in 93. Some would argue that the 02/04/94 performance was better, but I think that this version shows more emotion, and in the end that's what counts for me."
Felipe Souza's point of view: "[P]laying by himself, Kurt took all the risk of fucking the song up, but instead of it, what did he do? Played and sang perfectly!" Michael Shaw wraps things up, "I always liked the interlude riff, but i always felt it sounded so much better on an acoustic. Kurt's voice captures the moment with this song."
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Paris, France 02/14/94)
The best NIRVANA live cut of all time. Roar Aasheim, Matt Reeder, Chris Hickman, and Felipe Souza all have this rendition as #1 on their lists. This performance was the last time the band would ever perform the song. Rolf Fassbind sets the scene, "Kurt's vocals, the cello - everything sounds very emotional."
Felipe Souza elaborates, "Better than unplugged, in my opinion. The deep feeling of pain in Kurt's voice mixed with the perfect way the band played their instruments make of this moment one of the most beautiful ones in Nirvana's career."
Chris Hickman opines, "No performance of any song at any time comes as close to expressing Kurt's raw emotion and pain as this song... he almost seems to be in tears in the first verse, and the feedback at the end of the song sounds like whales crying."
Alex Vance continues, "It was very, very hard to pick between this and the 02/07/92 version, but in the end this one wins because the cello line is so beautiful."
Ambarish Maharaj: "The perfect ending."
Also wildly popular with LN voters was the MTV Unplugged rendition. Indeed, if it had been a different song, it would have been ranked #2 in this list in its own right. Kevin Stillwell mentions, "I like how he screams the last verse."
Chris Hickman is also a fan of this version, "While not as good as 02/14/94, this would be the last hurrah for a television audience in the USA Kurt would make. [Live and Loud] is just an afterthought, in my opinion. Kurt's decision to use lillies and candles throughout the set - like a funeral - is a grim reminder for all as to what was to come in less than 5 months."
Erik Sieckman, however, considers this rendition superior, "The Unplugged concert was perhaps the crowning achievement of the In Utero era, and was capped off by this song, Nirvana's best performance of any song EVER. After many years of owning Unplugged, I still get chills each and every time I hear this. When Kurt says, 'Shiver for me', I shiver."
A few dissenters prefer the electric version of this song, which the band performed on a mere handful of occasions. Christopher Allen is one of them. "The majority here think that 02/14/94 is the performance of all performances of the song. I disagree although 02/14/94 is great, I like the "hard rock" version. The bands last show is Australia ever. A great all around show. I just love the distortion solo of the song. No cello on this performance just sweat and angst."