Nirvana’s lasting imprint on music and pop culture is one tainted with deep sadness and lingering thoughts of “what could’ve been?”, as like many before them, Nirvana’s story is centred in tragedy. The suicide of the band’s mercurial leading man Kurt Cobain in 1994 will forever render the band’s contributions with a certain melancholy but his life and his power of performance will be what lasts in the memories of Nirvana’s fans.
One such powerful performance recently unearthed itself to us. Though it has been knocking around for a few years, the clip is a rarely seen view of Cobain on his last ever performance as the leading man of Nirvana and likely one of the last times he ever played his guitar for an audience again.
Though many people will point to the band’s poignant 1993 MTV Unplugged show as Nirvana’s last performance, the truth is there was another. That last ever gig taking place on March 1st 1994 at Terminal Einz, an aeroplane hanger fit for 3,000 in the German city of Munich as the finale to a string of shows. Not exactly an ideal venue for a rock show the acoustics were suitably terrible. Cobain didn’t notice until the band started to play, having missed soundcheck. The singer was seemingly in a different mindset as his brain drifted from Nirvana to his increasingly-tempestuous relationship with Courtney Love.
The band opened the set with a sarcastic version of ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and had to re-start when a power-outage cut ‘Come As You Are’ short on the first go. Reports suggest that Cobain’s vocals were experiencing serious issues when performing. The footage from local television camera shows Kurt with a lot of extra strain in his eyes and vocals, seemingly nearing the edge of his rope.
Watch below the footage of Nirvana complete with Dave Grohl and Kris Novoselic as well as a session guitarist and soon-to-be Foo Fighter Pat Smear, as they perform some of the band’s live favourites. One particularly dispiriting moment is not on videotape though. It’s the final song to ever be sung by Kurt Cobain to an audience. The audio clip comes sees Kurt perform a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ as part of the gig’s final encore.
The power of the performance is not from Cobain’s vocal dexterity, nor his commitment to the art of rock music. The spine-tingling turns to a shuddering stillness when realising the sounds you are hearing are the guttural yelps of a genius, a singer, a poet, but most importantly a human being, who is at breaking point. The final moments of the clip are Cobain thanking the audience amidst a wave of feedback and crowd noise. It was clear Cobain was not in a good day and the rest of the tour was cancelled.
Kurt Cobain would go on to shoot himself with a shotgun on April 5th 1994, just a few weeks following this harrowing performance. Despite such a tragic end to the band, Nirvana and Cobain’s legacy continues to grow more strongly than ever before, and while it can feel easy to label the band a drag, or a grunge emo band, or a downer – it’s worth remembering that the heartening moments of joy in the band, however strangely they may show themselves to you. Whether it’s the sadness and solemnity in his vocal providing connecting and comforting synapses in one’s mind, or the angst-filled poetry heartening one’s resolve, these are the moments which set Cobain out as an icon, a mega-star, a hero. It’s these moments of life which bring fans to Nirvana’s work.
So while you take a moment to listen to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s last ever performance, remember the life he has given to so many through his music.