Thoughts on “Sirvana”

January 28, 2014

Image: Rolling Stone

Apparently, at the Grammys on Sunday night, a Grammy award was given to Paul McCartney, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Dave Grohl, collectively known as “Sirvana”. They won a Grammy for best rock song, or something. As a huge Nirvana fan, I’m glad that Krist and Pat could get some time in the spotlight, but I don’t much care for “Sirvana.”

It all started horribly when they decided to get together and make a song with Paul McCartney for the Hurricane Sandy Relief concert at Madison Square Garden. The reasoning was very admirable. They were using their celebrity to raise money for a good cause. It went downhill as soon as Paul McCartney hit the studio and had no idea who these other people were. Billboard quoted him saying:

“I didn’t really know who they were,” he reportedly said. “They are saying how good it is to be back together. I said: ‘Whoa? You guys haven’t played together for all that time?’

“And somebody whispered to me: ‘That’s Nirvana. You’re Kurt.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

This, to me, is a lack of respect to Nirvana and Nirvana fans. You can’t blame Paul, though. He’s been really busy making some really awful music. So, you can forgive him for not knowing about a band who completely changed the face of music. It’s like if Nirvana didn’t know who the Beatles were. Everyone knows who the Beatles are, and everyone knows who Nirvana is, except, of course, the person 3/4 of them just won a Grammy with. That makes sense.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, McCartney tried to backtrack his earlier ignorance saying:

Asked about future collaborations with the Nirvana members, McCartney said, “You never know. They really are great to play with. They were a great band with Kurt. That’s what I experienced – just playing with a really good band, which is a very special thing. I should know.”

Another reason I can’t get behind “Sirvana” is that it seems so contrived. I’m glad they didn’t cover any Nirvana songs, but I am not interested in them recording new songs, either.

2013 Year in Review – Concerts

December 23, 2013

The Melvins, King Buzzo

Like most of the civilized world, I will use the time at the end of the year to reflect on what the year has brought me. I will not be writing a “best of 2013” post, but I will be writing about concerts I saw, people I met, and albums I bought. If you really want a “best albums of 2013” list, my friend over at 6 Days from Tomorrow puts out a pretty definitive list every year. You should definitely check it out.

2013, for me, was a year of concerts, albums, and meeting a few cool people. I will start off with concerts. I went to mostly “grunge” (or as grunge as they can be nowadays), a few other shows, and a few shows with friends to see bands I had never heard of.

Here are the shows I saw:

Chelsea Light Moving (Thurston Moore’s band)
Father John Misty
Endino’s Earthworms*
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (TAD)*
The Melvins
Blizten Trapper
My Jerusalem
Mark Lanegan
Cold War Kids
Melt Banana
*I saw all three bands at the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee

I had a tremendous time at all of these shows. Let’s start at the beginning. Chelsea Light Moving was an early “must go”. I don’t quite remember how I heard about this show, but I saw that Thurston Moore was playing, so I knew I had to get there. I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did. It was an awesome time. I had not heard of Father John Misty, but I had heard of, and was a fan of, the Fleet Foxes. A friend of mine told me about him, so I was pretty excited to see him. I was not disappointed. The next one was a big one – Tomahawk! Being a fan of the early 90s I liked Faith No More and The Jesus Lizard, so I was more than excited to see Tomoahawk which features Mike Patton and Duane Denison. I couldn’t have been more impressed. They almost made me want to start moshing – almost.

After the Tomahawk show, I was counting down the days util the Sub Pop 25th Anniversary Jubilee. If you want to read about my experience, you can do so here. I kept in high gear after the Sub Pop festival with The Melvins. That was an incredible show. They played for an hour and a half with no breaks and no encores. They sold no merchandise after the show and everyone left happy. Only King Buzzo and the gang could pull that off.

September 22-28 was a big week for me. I saw three concerts that week. All three were very different, but all awesome. The week started off with Mudhoney. They played in a cracker box of a venue and it was AWESOME! They rocked just as hard in 2013 as they did in 1988. Truly remarkable. The week ended with back-to-back concerts at a slightly bigger venue (but still pretty small). The first one was Blitzen Trapper, an alt-rock; alt-blues; alt-country; alt-etc band. They ended up playing for nearly two hours and then played a short encore. The next night, it was something completely different. For the first time ever, I went to see the opening band. The band was My Jerusalem, and they were opening for Electric Six. I couldn’t care less about Electric Six, but I had been waiting to see My Jerusalem for years, so I went. I convinced a friend to go with me and they played about 10 songs, killed it, then walked off. We left before Electric Six started.

On Columbus Day there was a concert I was really looking forward to. My favorite living artist is Mark Lanegan, and he was touring for his “Imitations” album. I bought tickets they day they went on sale. The show was at a really cool venue (a Jewish Synagogue) it was better than I could have hoped for. The setlist really did a good job spanning his near 30 year career. The last two concerts (Cold War Kids and Melt Banana) are concerts I went to because friends incvited me to go. I was familiar with Cold War Kids, so I knew a few of their songs and I had a great time. I hd never heard of Melt Banana so I had no idea what to expect. I left there in awe of what I had just seen. It was way more awesome than I could have hoped to imagine.

2013 was a great year overall, as well as for concerts. I hope that 2014 will be jut as good. Hopefully, it will feature some new acts that I have yet to discover. Good music is all around us if we know what to look for.

The Atlantic Gets It Mostly Right On Nirvana Unplugged

December 16, 2013

Earlier this week, The Atlantic published an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the airing of their MTV Unplugged in New York (Unplugged) album. It provides a great overview of the concert, some of which is transferred to the album, and some of which is only visible on the live show. However, I believe the author gets it wrong, as most do, when it comes to the subject of Kurt’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” (video above).

If you listen to the banter before the song, you could surmise that the solo rendition of the song was a spur of the moment decision made by Kurt, and the band was in such a bad place by then, that they had no choice but to listen for fear of a public melt-down. That is not the case, at all, though. Certainly, Nirvana was in a bad place. Dave had already been looking into a new band (what would become Foo Fighters) and Kurt had talked in interviews about a life after Nirvana. The album containing “You Know You’re Right”, assuming it would have been completed, could have easily been their last. However, this tiny exchange was not a micro-cosm of the bigger problems.

Nirvana had planned to play “Pennyroyal Tea” as a Kurt solo. They rehearsed it solo. The author of the Atlantic article jumps to several wrong conclusions.

Watching the video of the performance only heightens the effect. At the end of the first song Kurt looks at the camera and gives a gnarly forced smile. He later told the producers to make sure it was edited in because, “My manager tells me I need to smile more.” It’s a rare glimpse of humor from an agitated and prickly soul. Even Kurt’s closest allies seem wary of him. Dave Grohl sits quietly throughout, with only a stripped-down kit and a pair of brushes to protect him from Kurt, who repeatedly spins around on his chair and glares at the drummer over hunched shoulders. At one point Kurt passively tells Grohl to not play on “Penny Royal Tea,” [sic] saying, “Am I going to play this, alone?” Dave immediately understands that it’s not a question but a command and lays down his brushes on his snare: “Do it alone.” Grohl then nervously turns to guitarist Pat Smear, asking, “Do you have a smoke, Pat?”

Kurt goes on to play the very personal song alone with his eyes closed. As it ends Grohl shouts out “That was really great!” Kurt responds, “Shut up.” It’s a sore moment revealing a singer uncomfortable in his own skin, through addiction and depression, and a friend who seems to only want him to pull through.

The “nervous” conversation between Grohl and Kurt was more of a “should I really do this by myself?” with Dave answering “sure, why not”. The only question was if Pat would also help singing backup vocals.. As you can see from the setlist, it was always going to be jsut Kurt and Pat. The insecurity of Kurt show throughout the show. Right before he played “Pennyroyal Tea”, he starts of “The Man Who Sold the World” by saying that he “could screw it up” and after the song was over, with almost a surprised relief, he states “I didn’t screw it up, did I? OK, but here’s another one I could screw up…”

He then launched into “Pennyroyal Tea”. The song was rife with errors. He screwed up the second verse and subsequently, the second chorus. He also screwed up the chorus in the third verse. He did not screw up the guitar solo by not doing it. It was planned that he would not do it. Perhaps, it was a sign of his insecurity, perhaps he just didn’t feel like playing it. We’ll never know. He knew he screwed the song up, and Dave knew it as well. It seems that Dave was trying to ease the tension and anger Kurt felt after that performance.Kurt also did not, as the article states, play the song with his eyes closed. He played it the same way he played every other song during the performance.

Going into the Unplugged concert, Kurt was really nervous and anxious. There were at least two reason for this. This would be a stripped down set where everything would be exposed, and Kurt was keenly aware of his limitations on guitar; which is why Pat Smear was added to the lineup. The anxiety was also because of the setlist they chose. Nirvana had seen other bands play this concert and they were disappointed that they would play their hits. No one in Nirvana thought it was the proper venue to do that. There was a lot of pressure on Nirvana by this point. They decided to do the “Unplugged” concert because “In Utero” had not reached the commercial success of “Nevermind” and they weren’t selling out arenas anymore. “Unplugged” was a last ditch effort to breathe some new life into the band. All of this played into Kurt’s attitude and demeanor during the show.

All in all, The Atlantic piece is a great tribute to a great show, it just gets a few things wrong, reads into situations incorrectly. The “Pennyroyal Tea” myth has been persistent since people first saw it. The reality, however, is not as sex as the myth which is why it has persisted. To hear what the song should have sounded like at the show, listen to the demo version that was released on the box set. Because Kurt ended his life so shortly after the show aired for the first time and before the album was ever released, it has become the final portrait of a tortured soul. It has stood on it’s own merits for 20 years, and it will last the test of time.

Mudhoney – Still Going Strong

December 11, 2013


Once on the verge of super-stardom, Mudhoney now sticks to mostly small clubs, but every once in a while (like right now) they get back to the top and do an arena tour opening for Pearl Jam. Not too shabby for a band who started in 1988 and practically started grunge and was (and continues to be) the poster boy Sub Pop. While never making the highest of heights like their contemporaries did, they still have left an indelible mark on music, and continue to put out great music.

I had the tremendous opportunity to go see them in concert in he fall in a tiny little cracker box known as U Street Music Hall. It was amazing to see a band like Mudhoney  at a venue as small as that, especially since they were about a month away from an arena tour with Pearl Jam. I wasn’t about to complain, though. The venue was so small that it could have taken place in 1988, or 89 when the band, and Grunge Rock as a whole, was just finding it’s legs.

Some will tell you that Grunge began with Mark Arm’s previous band Green River and the other bands of that era. That’s the best starting point this blogger has come across, but it really didn’t break out of Seattle until Mudhoney’s 1988 single “Touch Me I’m Sick“. Even though the song is 25 years old, when they played it in 2013, the place went just as nuts as they would have in 1988. It was an incredible thing to witness.

They have not slowed down at all. After trying their luck at a major label with limited success, they found themselves back at their roots – Sub Pop. They have released and re-released several albums in the latter part of last decade, and show no signs of slowing. They’re newest album, “Vanishing Point” hits just as hard as their earlier albums. They have not lost their edge and are great to see live. Giving up on Mudhoney would be a huge mistake.

One last thing. It would be a huge mistake if I didn’t mention that I had the tremendous opportunity to meet their legendary drummer Dan Peters after the show in the fall. It was an amazing experience to met one of my musical heroes. He was extraordinarily nice.

Album Review: Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EP

December 9, 2013

Soundgarden Screaming Life

Sub Pop Records did everyone a favor and, at long last, re-released Soundgarden‘s debut EPs “Screaming Life” and “Fopp“. It wasn’t the first time they were recorded (they had singles on a few compilation albums before this), but it was the first time it was just them. These two EPs set the stage for one of the most popular bands of all-time.

If you are only familiar with Soundgarden from “Superunknown“, then these two EPs will be a much different sound than you are used to. They are must more straight-forward rock where “Superunknown” is a more brooding album. “Screaming Life” was produced by the “Godfather of Grunge” Jack Endino and “Fopp” was produced by another grunge veteran, Steve Fisk.

Screaming Life is very hard-hitting. It is as ‘in your face’ as the album cover suggests. One of the more fun tracks is “Sub Pop Rock City”. It was originally not on the EP and was only on the seminal Sup Pop 200 album, but they included it for the re-issue. The song features cameos from Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. The EP also has the first Soundgarden song ever recorded, Hunted Down.

Fopp provides a slightly different, more experimental sound. It shows signs of what would become “Ultramega OK” and the perennially underrated “Batmotorfinger”. It is a much shorter EP than “Screaming Life”, but it’s just as good. It really only has three songs as one of the songs is a “Fopp” remix. The title track provides a lot of fun and the remix is a great listen, as well.

These EP provide an early glimpse in to the early days of Sub Pop and the formation of what would be come to be known as “Grunge Rock.” Soundgarden played as big of a role, if not much bigger, as any other band and now we have a chance to listen to some of their earliest work and find out what helped shape their sound. It should’t be passed up.

Krist Novoselic to Host Coast Community Radio from 1-3 PM PST

November 28, 2013

Via Twitter:

@KristNovoselic: Today I am hosting two hours of music on (1 to 3pm Pacific) (2100 to 2300 GMT) DJ K-Now

Before you start your Thanksgiving meal, or after you finish it (depending on what side of the country you live on) tune in to Coast Community Radio to hear DJ K-Now spin some great tunes.

You can listen online if you do not live in the broadcast area.

Kristin Novoselic

Album Review: Imitations by Mark Lanegan

November 25, 2013

20131125-153149.jpg After years of drought between solo albums, Mark
Lanegan finally unearthed his solo career in 2012 with the release of “Blues
.” He followed up later in the year with a collaboration with guitarist Duke Garwood for the haunting “Black Pudding.” September 2013 brought Mark to the return to his solo records of past years with a stripped down band (most songs just have a single guitar) in an album of cover songs called
Imitations.””Black Pudding” offered the same tone, but it was more of a collaboration and not a true solo album. The album also marks the return of former collaborators – Mike Johnson, who provided the guitar for most of Mark’s early solo albums, and former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel.

The album starts off with the slow-paced “Flatlands,” and it only varies from the tempo it sets occasionally. I the album, he covers Greg Dulli, Nick Cave, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and others. It really shows the wide-range of influences that have led to a career spanning four decades. One particular standout for me is a tremendous version of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” He takes the former James Bond title track, and makes it his own by providing his trademark grizzled vocals. It’s album is a departure from the previous two Lanegan solo albums. “Bubblegum” and “Blues Funeral” had a full band (the artist credited was the Mark Lanegan Band) and took a more traditional rock approach, while still providing haunting songs that defined his earlier work. When asked why he made “Imitations” he replied:

When I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies, my parents and their friends would play the records of Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, music with string arrangements and men singing songs that sounded sad whether they were or not. At home my folks were also listening to country music, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, George Jones and Vern Gosdin were some of our favorites. For a long time I’ve wanted to make a record that gave me the same feeling those old records did, using some of the same tunes I loved as a kid and some that I’ve loved as I have gotten older. This record is it. Imitations.

If you like Mark Lanegan, you’ll loves this album. Even if you don’t like him, there are certain songs you can pick out and really enjoy. The album is very accessible to everyone, and deserves a place in your record collection.

Experience Music Project Museum: Taking Punk To the Masses Exhibit

November 22, 2013

Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses

If you haven’t been to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, you need to. A friend and I  were able to visit it the day after the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee and, at least, I was nearly overwhelmed. The two music-related exhibitions they were running were Jimi Hendrix in London, and Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. they also had literature, and Sci-Fi exhibits (our admission price included a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards), but were only interested in the music.

The museum is right next to the infamous Space Needle, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. We started our tour meandering around the Hendrix exhibit. It had some pretty cool audio and video clips, and I got to get a picture if the guitar he used at Woodstock. It was definitely cool, but that wasn’t what we were there for.

Trying to find my way around, I stumbled onto the exhibit. Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. It was everything I had hoped for and much, much more. There was so much there, I didn’t know where to begin. I ended up starting at the end – Unplugged. They had some of the guitars used, the set list, and a few tracks playing in the background.

Next for me, was the “In Utero” exhibit. They seemed to have a lot more items from this era. They had stage props, album covers, and, interestingly, the cases and trunks they used to transport what had become a pretty involved set by this point in the band’s history. After I took all that in, I moved to the next section – Nevermind. A lot of time and effort was put in to this part of the exhibit as most “experts” count 1991 as the year punk hit the masses due to the large popularity of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The displayed the guitar Kurt recorded most of “Nevermind” with, and had a huge display focusing on the items Kurt used in the now infamous “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.

Kurt Cobain's Shirt from the Smells Like Teen Spirit Video

As much attention was given to the ground that was laid before “Nevermind” because, in reality, it’s almost more important. The experiences, the sounds, and the people help shape the band, challenged them musically, and it’s what helped shape “Nevermind” into what it became. There was an excess of really cool items from Kurt’s youth, not the least of which was the four track and suitcase “drum” he used to record “Fecal Matter” – the tape that convinced  Novoselic to form a band with him.  They also had early booking dates, carbon copies of checks, and their first contract for Sub Pop Records. The exhibit also included items from Kurt’s childhood such a painting he entered into his high school art fair.

Nirvana certainly was not the only band to come out of Seattle. The EMP Museum also included a display on the entire “Seattle Sound” scene, and gave a great overview of all the bands it produced. The EMP Museum paid homage to a moment in time that produced the greatest scene in the history of Rock and Roll (but I’m a little biased here!). Tough to say, at this point, if it will ever happen again, but you never know!

Poster from the First Performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit


P.S. While writing this, I was listening to the reissue of Soungarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EP. Review to come…

Sub Pop 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee

November 20, 2013

Photo by: John Pusieski

Living on the East coast, I didn’t give much initial thought going to the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee. Sure, it’s my favorite label, but the concert was in Seattle, nearly 3,000 miles away. A friend of mine shared the link with me and the seed was planted. Fortunately, my family lives in Southern Washington, but Seattle was still very far away from them. I made the mistake of looking at the lineup. I knew I HAD to be there. The same friend who planted the seed happens to live near my parents so we made plans to drive to Seattle.

I was getting excited. I was about to live out my dream of seeing all these pioneers of the grunge movement in a single day. We quickly made our list of who we needed to see. That list included: Jack Endino’s Earthworms, TAD, Mudhoney, Father John Misty, and if we had time, we wanted to check out J. Mascis and Greg Dulli.

July 13 came quickly and we were ready. We got to Georgetown Park, the location of the festival, about an hour before the first band was scheduled to get the lay of the land. After looking around for a bit, we stopped in to a local record store and saw the most amazing Nirvana/grunge vinyl collection I have ever seen. Right around the corner from that store was the infamous Sub Pop Mega-Mart. I picked up some 45 adapters and a Sub Pop Jones Cola and I was on my way.

Fortunately for us, Jack Endino’s Earthworms and TAD were playing on the same stage right after each other, so we didn’t have to move for a while. The stage was sponsored by the Elysian Brewing Company, so we helped ourselves to some Loser Pale Ale and their Nevermind Pale Ale. Now it was time for Endino’s Earthworms! While they were getting ready, I got to meet one of my heroes:

Jack Endino

Photo by John Pusieski

Here is a video of the man and the band playing. The entire show was awesome. They played a lot of original stuff, a Mudhoney cover, and, the highlight for me, a Screaming Trees cover featuring Connor brother Pat.

Tad, who was touring with his current band Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, came on next and he came on heavy with a hard-hitting set that pleased everyone. There was even a mosh pit and crowd surfing – a rarity at shows that I usually go to these days. Here’s a little taste of what he brought to the table. Our ears were ringing for sure.

After Tad, we have some time to mill around. We bought some more merchandise, caught a bit of J. Mascis and Greg Dulli. We then went to stake out a spot for Mudhoney. We did not have the best view, but it did not lessen our experience at all. We were still able to rock out like we were half our age.

After Mudhoney, we were ready to head back to our hotel. We had been there, standing, for eight hours, had three full concerts, bits and pieces of several others, and  walked about five miles just back and forth around the event. to put it mildly, we were exhausted. We were able to see a tiny bit of Father John Misty on our way out, so it wasn’t all bad.

Thanks to Sub Pop for making a bunch of losers feel like a king for a day. If the next 25 years are even half as good as the first 25 years, we’re in for some awesome music.

For more photos by John, visit his website at

Album Review: Nirvana In Utero 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

November 19, 2013


Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, The Grunge Rock Guru has returned! I have many, many new albums and music experiences, so I will have plenty to write about for a long time. So, without further ado,  let’s get started.

20 years ago (where does the time go??) Nirvana released their follow-up to the seminal “Nevermind” and it was titled “In Utero“. The album was released with a lot of fanfare as it was the first truly new music from Nirvana since the unexpected success of “Nevermind” and fans were clamoring for more. They tried to hold people over with a mix of B-Sides and other unreleased tracks in a pseudo-compilation album called “Incesticide”, but it didn’t work out like they hoped. Were early hit singles like “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Dumb”, and “Rape Me,” the album was poised for success, and it was – both commercially and critically. That was 1993.

Now, in 2013, DGC released the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition.  There were a few deluxe editions (the two CD version and the three LP version), but I went all out and got the three CD/DVD super deluxe versions, so I will focus on that one. The $150 price tag was a little steep, but I was really impressed with what they did with the super deluxe version of “Nevermind”, so there was little hesitation to pull the trigger. I was not disappointed.

It came with three CDs that had over 70 unreleased tracks, a DVD of the 1993 “MTV Live and Loud” concert (that I do not think has aired since the days right after Kurt died), a two-sided poster, and a 50+ page book. That was the first thing that I gravitated towards. The book started off with a four page fax (ask your parents) from “In Utero” producer Steve Albini. It really lays out his vision for the album and gives the reader insight to why the album sounds the way it does.  In today’s sea of over-produced records that hardly sound anything like what was actually recorded, this Albini quote from 1992 is still a breath of fresh air:

If a record takes more than a week to make, someone’s [expletive deleted] up.

The CDs it came with were great. CD 1 was simply the original album remastered (this was not counted towards the number of unreleased tracks) with 7 extra tracks, including some original Albini mixes for some popular songs. The remastering didn’t add much to the album, and it’s skippable if you are familiar with the original (and who wouldn’t be that has this set?). The Bonus tracks, however, are awesome. The Albini mixes of “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” are as raw as can be. It matched Albini’s philosophy and his recording technique. CD 2 was interesting because it was a brand new mix of the original album. The mix was OK, but it took out things I have been used to hearing for 20 years.  They took out things like Kurt clearing his throat before “Pennyroyal Tea” and the cello out of “Dumb.” I can live without the throat clearing, but I was dumfounded as to why they took out the cello. It’s such an integral part of the song. The demos that were on this disc were also pretty cool because they included instrumental versions of songs like “Dumb” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.”

The third CD was the soundboard audio from the “Live and Loud” concert. I was thrilled it was included because it is one of my favorite concerts of all time and it finally got a proper release. the CD had he entire televised concert as well as songs that were not included on the original telecast. The DVD of the “Live and Loud” concert was just awesome. It included all the songs that were on the CD, but added two versions of the famous “Heart-Shaped Box” video, and live performances from Italy, France, and a few songs what ended up being their last ever performance in Germany.

The celebration of “In Utero” is bittersweet in a way. On one hand, we get to celebrate a band who broke through the mainstream on their terms and changed the face music and pop culture. On the other hand, it is really the last flash of brilliance we got from a very talented song writer as well as a true end of an era, however short it was.

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