And though "nostalgia" and "Nirvana" are practically part-and-parcel these days, their "Unplugged" performance somehow feels frozen in time ... and not just because of everything that happened shortly after. No, what makes it so iconic, so of-the-moment is how perfect it remains; there are no hit singles, no super-special guests
Twenty years after the fact, "Unplugged" is a testament to Nirvana's determination to do things their way ... and they got it all right: watching it again, you quickly realize there isn't one thing you'd change about it. Which is why it's so interesting to learn that, right up until the moment they taped the show, there was plenty that the band wanted to change. More than you could possibly know.
"Any time you have a band that's so electric and try to unplug them, there's always a lot of challenges, creatively," Beth McCarthy-Miller, who directed Nirvana's "Unplugged" episode, adds. "Kurt wanted to use an acoustic guitar, but through an amp for some songs, so we had to kind of dress the amp with the lilies so nobody saw it. And Dave had to learn how to play the drums a little quieter. There was a lot of that ... a band working through the 'Unplugged' process."
And that work continued up until show day: Show producer Alex Coletti had to buy Grohl wire brushes so he'd play softer ("I got some wrapping paper and was like 'Merry Christmas!'" he laughs. "And, typical Dave, he just went 'Oh cool, I never had these before!'") but even that wasn't enough to satisfy Cobain. So, with the cameras rolling, he made a true frontman decision ... and the result was one of the show's most memorable performances.
"One song, 'Penny Royal Tea,' wasn't really working in rehearsals, and it wasn't until live, in the moment, that Dave asks on stage 'Am I doing this or not?' and Kurt made the decision in that moment, to do it alone," Coletti says. "And that's the one song in the whole set where Kurt's by himself ... and, to me, it's one of the absolute best moments of the show."
"That song meant a lot to him; it was very personal, wand he wanted to feel simple and raw, just him singing his heart out," McCarthy-Miller says. "Any other instruments were getting in the way of the emotion of the song for him. Dave plays drums like Animal from 'The Muppet Show,' and Kurt knew that, he was very deliberate about it. He wanted it to be his song."