The exquisitely haunting album turns 25

When you get your own MTV Unplugged session, it is seen by many bands and artists as a career highlight: an intimate moment in time where you can lay yourself bare for your fans to see, often cementing yourself as one of the greats. The likes of Lauryn Hill, Oasis and Eric Clapton are just a few of the names that have graced the MTV stage as part of their Unplugged sessions.

One of the most iconic MTV Unplugged sets came in 1993 when Seattle grunge gods Nirvana took to the stage to unequivocally write their names in the history books. Backed by a youthful Dave Grohl on drums and bassist Krist Novoselic, the spotlight shone on enigmatic frontman Kurt Cobain. The producers behind the show always wanted artists to play their biggest hits, however Nirvana had different ideas. Their set was packed full of B-sides and covers, swapping out the more obvious crowd pleasers for something more against the grain.

Kicking things off with ‘About A Girl’, it becomes quite clear that this was going to be something special, and a whole world away from the heavy, melodic assault that they were renowned for.

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The anthemic ‘Come As You Are’ drew a raucous cheer from the assembled crowd, as Cobain nonchalantly recited the lyrics. Their cover of The Vaselines’ ‘Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’ saw Novoselic swapping his bass for an accordion, while Grohl’s ability to play the bass and percussion at the same time continued to wow the crowd.

A cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ is an obvious highlight, with many people often preferring this version to the original. A couple of B-side gems follow this, with ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ and ‘Dumb’ being stripped down to their bare bones. The band return to their best selling album ‘Nevermind’ for the next few tracks, with folky renditions of ‘Polly’, ‘On A Plain’ and ‘Something In The Way’, satisfying the crowds lust for their more popular cuts.

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As the set draws to a close, Nirvana call upon their friends Cris and Curt Kirkwood from the band Meat Puppets. With the Kirkwood brothers joining them onstage, they rip through three of their band’s songs: ‘Plateau’, ‘Oh, Me’ and ‘Lake Of Fire’, each shifted from their punky roots to be delivered as folky lullabies that the crowd lap up.

The final two songs on the album are the ones you get the most goosebumps from. The eerily chilling delivery of ‘All Apologies’ hits you right in the heart as soon as Cobain squawks the opening impassioned lines.

However, it’s the last song, a cover of a traditional folk song that the group renamed ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ that equally amazes and unsettles you. As Cobain wails “my girl, my girl, don’t lie to me,” pain etched all over his voice, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up instantly. Little did we know that, just a few months later, Cobain would take his own life at his home in Seattle.

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The album was released posthumously in 1994, almost a year after it was recorded and quickly went on to become one of the best-selling records in the MTV Unplugged series, a huge testament to a band who stepped far away from their comfort zone and created a piece of art that has stood the test of time.

Words: Mike Wood

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