Nirvana’s lasting imprint on music and pop culture is one tainted with the deep sadness and lingering thoughts of ‘what could’ve been?’ as, like many before them, Nirvana’s story is centred on the most potent of tragedies. The suicide of their mercurial leading man, and arguably the voice of his generation, Kurt Cobain in 1994 will forever render the band’s contributions with a certain piercing melancholy—but Cobain’s life and the power of his searing performance will be what lasts in the memories of Nirvana’s fans forever.
One such powerful performance recently unearthed itself to us, and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you as a reminder of Cobain’s talent. Though it has been knocking around for a few years, the clip is a rarely seen view of Cobain doing what he does best, connecting with his fans. The footage of Cobain on his last ever performance as the leading man of Nirvana is a distressing one as it is likely one of the last times he ever played his guitar for an audience.
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 one to follow and, in actual fact, Cobain and Nirvana’s last ever gig took place on March 1st, 1994, at Terminal Einz, in an aeroplane hanger fit for 3,000 in the German city of Munich as the finale to a string of shows.
It’s not exactly an ideal venue for a rock show; the sound for the performance was a disaster. Cobain, still excited enough to take the stage, didn’t notice until the band started to play just how heinous the arrangement was, having missed the soundcheck. The singer was seemingly in a different mindset as his brain drifted from Nirvana to his increasingly-tempestuous relationship with Courtney Love. It had begun to consume him.
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 video, taken from local television camera shows, sees Cobain with a lot of extra strain in his eyes and vocals, perhaps conveying the sadness in his life. Watch the footage of Nirvana, complete with Dave Grohl and Kris Novoselic, as well as a session guitarist and soon-to-be Foo Fighter legend 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 sees Kurt perform a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ as part of the gig’s final encore, it is a naturally heartbreaking moment.
The power of the performance is not from Cobain’s vocal dexterity, nor his commitment to the art of rock music or even his fans. 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 fracturing human being who was at breaking point. The clip’s final moments are Cobain thanking the audience amidst a wave of feedback and crowd noise. It was clear Cobain was not in a good place, and the rest of the tour was quickly cancelled amid fears for Cobain’s mental health.
Cobain would commit suicide with a shotgun on April 5th, 1994, just a few weeks following this heartwrenching 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, or whatever else you can think of—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 that set Cobain out as an icon, a mega-star, a hero. It’s these moments of life that 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.
For anybody who might be struggling to deal with mental health issues, here are some helpline numbers for you to talk to:
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and OCD. Offers a course to help overcome your phobia/OCD. Includes a helpline.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am-10pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)