Nirvana – ‘Bleach 20th Anniversary' (Sub Pop/Warner) and ‘Live At Reading’ (Universal) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Johnny H   
Sunday, 15 November 2009 18:49

Trying to put into context just how important Nirvana were to us music fans twenty years ago is extremely difficult, it might be considered almost impossible to most of today's Generation X-ers who were then in their infancies or maybe not even born when the first of Nirvana's albums, 'Bleach' slipped out surreptitiously mid Summer of 1989. 


However, I'll try to frame the significance of this release by reminding you that also released in June 1989 were albums from Danger Danger, Bad English, White Lion and Mr Big.  So I guess you will now start to get a picture of where mainstream rock was heading that year - granted loads of people loved these bands, but frankly they bored the daylight out of me.


Nirvana_BleachSo where was I looking to get my jams kicked the fuck out of way back then? Well, step forward, then relatively little known label Sub Pop and their roster of up coming bands especially their latest starlets, the trio we all now lovingly know as Nirvana. Recorded with a few hundred dollars budget and with in house producer Jack Endino at the helm, the first time I heard 'Bleach' on vinyl it was like someone had just torn up the rulebook that bands seemed to be using to get signed back then and basically said "we play what we want to play...Fuck You". 


From the rumbling bass of opener 'Blew' to the hardcore riffing and staccato drumming of 'Downer' this album was about to become the template to rediscovering the punk rock DIY spirit for loads of musicians, and in doing so eroding that spirit which was the initial driving force behind what made bands like Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Screaming Trees so essential.


If I were asked to pinpoint one track that truly summed up this spirit for Nirvana then I would direct you to what was the first track on side two of 'Bleach' on vinyl (and track seven on this CD), the twisting sublime beauty of 'Negative Creep' that takes the most ferocious Black Sabbath riff they never wrote and somehow manages to overlay a Hamburg-era Beatles sounding melody sung with all the venom of Henry Rollins at his prime. Fucking Genius.


This time around, added to 'Bleach' is a twelve track live recording from Portland, Oregon, from February 1990. The set list mixes up singles tracks with album tracks to a very healthily response from the crowd. The gig perfectly captures the energy of the band just prior to Dave Grohl joining ahead of the band's 1991 life changing release 'Nevermind'.


This all-new twentieth anniversary edition of 'Bleach' still sounds every bit as refreshing in 2009 and, cranked up to the max, it still manages to blow the cobwebs out of the hair metal brigade, ruffling their feathers long enough for them to declare Nirvana "as shit as they always were".  Bless 'em.


Nirvana_Live_At_ReadingBy the time 1992's Reading Festival had announced its Sunday night headliner as the (by then) platinum selling Nirvana, the UK rock scene was by and large all wearing plaid shirts (even the aforementioned hair metallers) and looking scruffy as fuck (yes, even the aforementioned hair metallers), such was the lifestyle as well as musical epidemic that Kurt Cobain and his band had started when they decided to leave Sub Pop behind and join musical giants Geffen for the release of 'Nevermind'. 


When Kurt was slogging his guts out around the UK toilet club scene with Tad and Soundgarden a few years previous, I'm guessing the last thing he thought he'd be doing would be headlining Reading Festival's prestigious Sunday night slot, but here he most certainly was on a bill that also featured Mudhoney, The Melvins and Beastie Boys, surrounded by media hype of a possible break-up of the band and with 1993's 'In Utero' just a glint in the man's eye ('All Apologies' and 'Tourette's' both get early outings here).


This superb value CD and DVD set ('Love Buzz' is DVD only) perfectly captures the moment when a wind swept and freezing cold Reading crowd saw Kurt complete with wig and wheelchair unleash a ferociously feedback heavy version of 'Breed' that opened up the mosh pits ready for an unrelenting rip ride of a journey through the band's back catalogue.



'Sliver' sounds like a freight train steaming out of control that by its cataclysmic ending perfectly sets up the first of the hits of the set in the shape of 'In Bloom', with 'Come As You Are', 'Lithium' and 'About A Girl' all closely following. Obviously the crowd go absolutely bananas for the inevitable run through 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' but you can't help but feel that Kurt had already started to tire of his Generation X-er anthem with the semi intentional messed up intro.  But that aside his warmth and obvious love of tracks likes 'On A Plain' and 'Been A Son' again with that Hamburg-era Beatles sound and energy I mentioned earlier, make for the sound of a man happy in his lot and relishing the moment.


Finishing off with a riotous 'Territorial Pissings' Nirvana don't so much end with a bang as collectively cock their legs on the assembled masses and leave their indelible mark of quality all over the audience's faces.


The fact that this was the last Nirvana show ever in the UK shouldn't be lost on you when deciding if to buy this, as it along with 'Bleach' are cornerstones of musical history that demand to be in any discerning fans collections. So buy them both now and rid the charts of this X Factor bollocks once and for all.