Nirvana “MTV Unplugged” Recorded 20 Years Ago Today
On November 18, 1993 fans would get a new side of Nirvana that had previously not been heard by many others – unplugged and acoustic. The set that was taped on this day 20 years ago would go on to become of the most acclaimed live albums of all time, but not without its share of headaches, technical issues, and near cancellations.
Major drama ensued backstage long before the show even taped. Problems between Cobain and MTV, the members of Nirvana and Cobain, and even with Cobain himself.
According to Dave Grohl:
I had this small cocktail drum set and these really light sticks. In rehearsal, we would do a song, and Kurt would turn to me and say, ‘Hey, do you think you could play it a little bit lighter?’ ‘Oh yeah, I’ll try.’ So we’d do another take, and he’d turn around and go, ‘Could you bring it down just a little bit more?’ And we’d do another take, and he’d say, ‘You know what, just still, could you bring it down?’ And I was like, ‘Should I even f—ing be here?’
One of the most historical issues from the event was the set list. MTV Executives were scared at the lack of Nirvana “hits” the band was going to perform because of the nearly half-setlist of obscure covers they had selected like the Meat Puppet’s “Lake of Fire.”
We got a setlist out of the band, and other than ‘Come As You Are,’ there are no real Nirvana hits.
I wish Kurt or someone in the band or management clued us into ‘We put thought into this, this works this way, trust us.’ Instead it was just [defiantly] ‘This is what we’re doing.’…Not being familiar with some of the covers, some of the people here became very tense about ‘We’ve got to get them to do more hits. - producer Alex Coletti (from 1999 interview)
That wasn’t the only issue at hand for MTV, 24 hours before the show taped Cobain threatened to cancel it altogether. More so, just hours before the taping the dress rehearsal went so bad that MTV almost pulled the plug themselves.
Thankfully amid all the problems, the recording at Sony Studios went off without a hitch. The show would go on to be a huge success and the album version of the performance would go on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide.
Here now is a look back at that historical cold night in New York City.