One of the key elements that defined Nirvana’s music was the energy Dave Grohl brought to the drums.
However, this intensity wasn’t always suitable for every Nirvana performance.
After completing their album “In Utero,” Nirvana was invited to play on MTV Unplugged, a show that would go on to become a pivotal moment in their career.
While many artists treated the program like any other gig, Kurt Cobain had a specific vision for the show.
According to Guitar World, Cobain wanted to be recognized as a songwriter on par with other prominent figures emerging from the grunge scene.
He expressed his frustration, saying, “I don’t pay attention to polls and charts, but I thumb through them every once in a while and see, like, Eddie Vedder is nominated the number-one songwriter in some magazine, and I’m not even listed.”
To distinguish this performance from their typical shows, Cobain presented alternative arrangements of their familiar songs and included a few cover songs.
Although the network initially pushed back, wanting more hits, Nirvana arrived with their distinct interpretation of the show, ready for the night.
Recalling the day of the show, Alex Coletti revealed that Cobain had contemplated excluding Grohl from the lineup, explaining,
“Up until the day of the concert, there was talk of Dave not playing at all in the show.
Kurt wasn’t happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn’t like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks.”
Cobain had encountered a similar issue during the recording of their album “Nevermind.”
According to Butch Vig, the producer, Grohl consistently hit the drums too hard, creating difficulties for bassist Krist Novoselic and Cobain to match his intensity.
Vig shared in the documentary “Classic Albums,” “It was hard to get Krist and Dave to play along to Kurt’s performance, and I think I tortured them on it.
I remember when we were recording drums, I could hear Kurt coming in saying, ‘Quieter, quieter.’ I think it’s in Dave’s nature to hit hard.”
During rehearsals for MTV Unplugged, the band faced other challenges in achieving the desired sound.
For instance, Pat Smear struggled to find the right harmony notes for the song “Pennyroyal Tea.”
Despite these obstacles, the band managed to deliver one of the most remarkable performances of their career during the actual taping of the show.
By using brushes instead of drumsticks, Grohl adopted a more subdued approach, providing occasional lifts to the songs instead of overpowering them with loud drumming.
Cobain’s solo rendition of “Pennyroyal Tea” stood out as a significant highlight, with him relying solely on his guitar and vocals to carry the song.
Tragically, the unforgettable performance became bittersweet for the band, as Kurt Cobain was found dead just a few months after the show was filmed.
For many casual Nirvana fans, this performance became one of the last memories they had of the grunge icon while he was still alive.