It seems crazy to think that before I was even In Utero, a small, little-known grunge band from the outskirts of Seattle were about to emerge in a way that would shape youth culture for decades to come. Now Nirvana have left a smoking crater in their wake.
Their 1992 Saturday Night Live performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit that year was a show which became iconic – Kurt Cobain, centre-stage, pink hair, belting out lyrics and riffs that would become the lasting anthem of youth, anger and years later – nostalgia for a time we never experienced.
We’d later find out that this, much like many of Nirvana’s greatest moments, was underscored by Cobain’s ongoing struggles with self and substance, as the 2001 biography Heavier than Heaven revealed Cobain’s heroin overdose in the hours following their first SNL appearance.
25 years ago Nirvana released Nevermind, a record which took the little-known Seattle grunge act and saw them evolve into a fully-fledged global sensation.
Just weeks following the band’s most iconic record hitting number one in the States, they travelled south of the equator, visiting our shores for the first time in their short, yet sharp run as a band.
It would become Nirvana’s only Australian tour ever.
Inconvenient timing for their fans back home (and their record label no doubt), but a welcome delight to Aussie fans who well and truly lost their shit across their seven-date tour.
The band’s Australian tour accounted for only a blip of their time in the spotlight. By the time they arrived on Aussie soil in early 1992, Kurt Cobain had become the mouthpiece and reluctant pinup boy for disaffected youth the world over. We were no exception.
As time presents the ultimate obstacle in the vast majority of us ever seeing the iconic act live, below are a few interesting tidbits from Nirvana’s only Australian tour.
Hottest 100 1991
Smells Like Teen Spirit came in at number one on Triple J’s third-ever Hottest 100. According to former Triple J Producer Jen Brennen, the band agreed to have the song to feature on the station’s Hottest 100 compilation CD despite their disinterest in appearing on compilations.
On ya, Dave Grohl
Nirvana opened the majority of their Aussie sets with the booming drum-heavy track Aneurysm. I can’t even begin to imagine how this felt live.
The Phoenician Club
Nirvana played their first Aussie gig on January 24 1992 at the Phoenician Club in Ultimo where Melbourne outfit The Meanies opened for the American rockers. Big Day out was the next day.
The worst interview ever
The interview with former triple J presenter Jen Oldershaw was so excruciatingly awkward that it went un-listened to for 20 years, and after the master was destroyed, survived only through keen listeners recording directly off the radio. Triple J re-ran the painfully uncomfortable interview as part of their 20th anniversary special broadcast.
We’re gonna need a bigger venue
A number of venues were changed at the last minute to accommodate the massive interest in Nirvana after Nevermind made such an impact.
Cooggee Bay Hotel
They played their last Australian date at the Coogee Bay Hotel. Reportedly at this gig they played a slightly altered version of Endless, Nameless which featured some extra rare jams.
Australian National University
Nirvana played at the uni bar in ANU, Canberra. That’ll fucking do me. Due to the restrictive size of the bar, apparently hoards of close to 1000 people lurked outside the venue rocking-out to what they could hear going on inside.
Big Day Out #1
Nirvana’s only Australian tour also saw their single Aussie festival date, as they played the first ever Big Day Out alongside Violent Femmes, Yothu Yindi and You Am I.
It’s hard to measure the complete impact of Nirvana. Not only did they lift the grunge-rock genre out of suburban garages and into mainstream popular culture, they also redefined the way we dressed, spoke and acted, and reaffirmed exactly the way certain music can represent the core emotions of an entire generation.
The echoes of Nirvana’s only Australian tour are still heard. and there’s no arguing that the grunge scene in Australia is alight right now. Bands from across the country, and around the world, are continuing to surf the wave Nirvana brought to the surface. Tapping into the zeitgeist of youthful malcontent that Nirvana defined in the early 90’s.
Whilst many of us who now prescribe to Nirvana’s sound were never given the opportunity to see them in the flesh, the noise they created is damn near timeless.