One of last year’s best releases, Live At Reading captures the world’s greatest grunge band sounding their best. In their natural habitat of the live stage, Nirvana prove themselves totally talented and totally tireless.
Their final song, “Territorial Pissings,” has the same sonic boom as their opening number, “Breed,” 24 tracks earlier. “Drain You” gives Krist Novoselic, the forgotten member, a chance to show off how well he could bounce his bass notes off of whatever Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl were playing with dissonant authority. The bass player shows off through out this live offering how much he contributed to Nirvana’s monster sound and this new insight into his dimension makes each tune feel fresh and new.
In no time Nirvana will have listeners feeling what it might have felt like to be at one of their live shows. Grungy chords come alive here and the lead phrases and riffs are charged with an extra lightning bolt as these live renditions are like live wires with crackle and spark slithering with dangerous electricity.
This live set also reminds us why grunge pushed hair metal bands off the map. There is a palpable angst in Cobain’s lyrics that resonate with greater clarity here. Repeating the chorus “Grandma Take Me Home” in their “Sliver” tune speaks volumes of youthful insecurity and isolation.
Nirvana’s radio classics “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” get an extra dose of adrenaline. Guitar phrases in each thrust like a sword in Cobain’s hands. The Reading Festival audience are clearly loving this trio and the crowd is throwing a lot of love back at the band. Band-audience synergy has always been the winning secret formula for the best live albums. When Cobain has the crowd singing along to every word in “Lithium” we find that rapport in full bloom.
It was Nirvana’s willingness to rock hard with fearless, live for today abandon that gave them their edge they needed to surpass the rest of the popular music released in their day. Moments of mad genius boil over during the chords to “About A Girl” and then during the gentle strumming and mellow chorus of “Polly.”
Likewise, “On A Plain“ showcases how much this trio owes to their garage band experiences, the free for all session of young players everywhere, in which every song they attempt, pop, punk, rock, and hard rock come out of their amps with enough enthusiastic distortion to sound like a melting pot of each genre. Nirvana was lucky to be born out of that free for all jamming on whatever the hell any one of them felt like playing. It is what gives their music authenticity. Only in a live setting could such a band show its roots. It makes sense that the front cover art to this CD features Kurt Cobain in mid-air after he jumped off an amplifier.