November of 1991 was a distinct period of Nirvana’s career. The grunge band had just released their second album, Nevermind, on the major label Geffen and were beginning to see their audiences change. Initially confined to clubs and small theatres on package tours with established alternative acts like Sonic Youth and Tad, Nirvana saw their audiences multiply as they moved out of nightclubs and into larger headlining spaces.
This was the brief period before Nevermind hit number one in America but after it had originally come out. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was omnipresent on alternative radio and MTV. Nirvana-mania was happening in real time and spreading at a dangerous rate, even in central Europe, where many countries were still reeling from the cultural and economic restrictions of the Cold War. It wasn’t even two years removed from the fall of the Berlin Wall when neighbouring country The Netherlands welcomed a transgressive American act like Nirvana to the Paradiso in Amsterdam on November 25th.
The band were originally supposed to play at the Melkweg club in The Old Hall, but the venue’s 700 person capacity proved too small for the amount of interest generated for the concert. Instead, the show was moved to the Paradiso, which held over twice as many people.
With no opening act, the band instead played a high energy hour-long set that featured some of the band’s best material from their first two albums. The video starts with a killer rendition of ‘Aneurysm’, the B-side of the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ single and, like its A-side, one of the few tracks credited to all three band members. With its alternating tempos and reliance on screaming, the song was a live favourite of the band’s, although it was largely retired after the extensive Nevermind tour.
Kurt Cobain’s is perpetually teetering on the edge of full rasp, having toured almost non-stop since August. Still, he and the band’s rhythm section, bassist Kirst Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl are in fine form. The 1991 concerts represent a transition as the band learn to rely less on their more aggressive Bleach-era songs and find the audiences responding and singing along to the various Nevermind cuts like ‘Lithium’ and ‘Come As You Are’.
The shows also represent the brief time post-Nevermind that the band performed in standard E tuning live. Starting in early 1992, the band would play shows tuned a half step down to Eb, giving the songs a deeper and occasionally darker edge. If you want to hear classic songs like ‘Breed’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in their normal tuning, this is the show to watch.
The video below unfortunately does not include set opener ‘Drain You’ or set closer ‘Blew’, but otherwise, the show is intact. Hopefully, the upcoming Blu-ray film that comes with the 30th-anniversary deluxe reissue of Nevermind managed to capture those two songs.
Upon returning to the States, Nirvana were invited to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their US arena tour for Blood Sugar Sex Magik, with fellow Seattle upstarts Pearl Jam acting as an additional opening act. That January, Nevermind hit number one on the Billboard album charts, and Nirvana left the tour, as they were now drawing the largest crowds.
Check out Nirvana’s 1991 concert at the Paradisio in Amsterdam down below.