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Music

The moment Nirvana nearly started a riot with a stage invasion

Nirvana are one of the most important bands of all time. From their early sludge-inflected days of Bleach, to their breakthrough masterpiece Nevermind to their third and final album In Utero, they gave us many stellar moments over their short career. Over such a small period of time, the band managed to develop at breakneck speed, owing to their drive, and the fact that each of its three parts were vital to its creative process. 

The story of the band’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, is a tale as old as time, and the fact that he was a star that burned so bright before combusting prematurely, has, at many points, threatened to overshadow his musical ability. After listening to any Nirvana cuts, you realise just how brilliant Cobain was, and, just how understated Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl are in favour of the band’s frontman.

Regardless, the way that Cobain fused pop melodies inspired by The Beatles with the raw power of punk was nothing short of groundbreaking. By doing this, Nirvana became the poster boys of Generation X in the wake of the release of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in 1991. Their music was angry but catchy, in a way that had not been done before. Yes, many classic punk tracks had anthemic choruses, but this was different. 

The pop melodies that underpinned many of Nirvana’s songs were excellent, creating a sort of heady abandon that even John Lennon never produced. Nirvana was the name of the band, and to Generation X, and those who came after, that is what they delivered. 

Given that the band were so revered, and that seemingly overnight, after the release of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ the band had cultivated a following akin to the one The Beatles amassed at the height of ‘Beatlemania’, it was only right that they nearly incite a riot or two, as this seems to be a prerequisite for any band that reaches the ‘once in a generation’ status. 

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One night in 1991, Nirvana were playing the now-defunct Mississippi Nights venue near St. Louis. Typical for the band that was the biggest in the world, more fans turned up than the venue had tickets, so even before the show, there was a palpable sense of tension.

Then, as the band were performing to hundreds of adoring fans, throwing themselves everywhere, they noticed that the security team were being heavy-handed with those enjoying the music at the front. The voice of Generation X was incensed and threatened that the band would halt the performance if the security kept it up. 

Nirvana continued playing to the rowdy crowd who were slam dancing and crowd surfing, but the security kept up their belligerent approach. Really peeved, Nirvana invited everyone on stage in protest, but what ensued they weren’t counting on.

It was practically a riot when the audience got onto the stage. Gear was stolen, and the fire marshal was called in. Grohl managed to save the drum kit and get backstage to watch the apocalyptic scenes in safety, but Cobain and Novoselic were pinned to the walls, cradling their guitars. 

One of the most fraught scenes in Nirvana’s history, that night in Mississippi lives on in infamy. It’s lucky that no one was injured.