Share this page!

First and foremost, the image quality of some of Nirvana’s live shows is truly impressive. We’re talking about concerts that took place over 30 years ago (!) Quite literally, it feels like they were recorded just last week. The sound comes out in a powerful and raw way too. Seriously, those in charge should receive an award for allowing current generations or lifelong fans to witness these iconic concerts of such great quality. Many of these performances, which are available on YouTube, stand as a testament to the excellent preservation of Nirvana’s legacy. I tip my hat.

Now, which were Nirvana’s best live performances? What we aim to showcase in this article is not an absolute truth, obviously, but rather another gateway to listen to great live music from the band that shook the 90’s pop culture. The top 5 may not bring surprises, but perhaps you’ll discover a new concert to appreciate in the rest of the countdown.

See below our selection of the top 10 Nirvana’s best live performances (ranked!)

 


10. Teatro Castello, Rome, Italy (1991)

 

The Roman date at Castello Theatre in June 1991 was expected to unfold peacefully, given the less thrilling nature of their previous stop at Piper in 1989, promoting the ‘Bleach’ album, which earned Nirvana the reputation of being a ‘difficult band.’ However, no one could have predicted the incredible success of their next album, ‘Nevermind’, released in September 1991. When pre-sale tickets sold out within hours in November, concerns arose about the need for a larger venue. Despite this, the fear of hosting the concert in a bigger Tent Theatre with potentially half-empty seats led the organizers to stick with their decision to hold it at Castello, with Urge Overkill as the opening band.

As a result, only 1,000 fortunate individuals could attend Nirvana’s performance, while an additional 2,000 gathered outside, hoping for entry. Inside the theater, there was no available physical space for more spectators. Those without tickets had to wait until February 1994 to see the American grunge band at the Marino ice rink, just two months before Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide.

Recording from the Nevermind tour at a juncture where the band arguably reached their performing peak (with evident good spirits, as seen in Kurt Cobain’s lyric change in ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’). This show provides one of the best live versions of ‘Aneurysm’. Dave Grohl’s snare drum resonated throughout the Teatro Castello that night. You can hear the distinctive wall of reverb from the venue, enhancing the big Nirvana sound.

 


9. Live in Paris, France [Le Zénith] (1994)

 

On February 14, 1994, Nirvana performed at the Zénith in Paris. Regarded as one of the band’s standout performances during their final tour, Nirvana showcased tracks spanning their entire discography from ‘Bleach’ to ‘In Utero.’ The In Utero concerts were generally excellent due to the comprehensive setlists, although they could have been greater by the inclusion of songs like ‘Aneurysm’ or ‘Dive.’ The set ends with an exceptional rendition of Leadbelly’s song ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,’ proving to be even more powerful than the MTV Unplugged version!

 


8. Live At The Palaghiaccio, Rome, Italy (1994)

 

This show stands out as one of the most extensively bootlegged performances in history, boasting excellent sound quality. Nearly 30 years ago, in February 1994, Nirvana took the stage in Italy following the Melvins. The band had arrived in Italy the day before, marking a significant moment as they were at the peak of their success.

This wasn’t their first visit to Rome. The first, in 1989 at the Piper Club, in 1991 they returned to Rome, playing at the Castello di Roma Theatre, and by 1994, this concert was one of the last concerts of the band because of the soon tragic death of Kurt Cobain two months after.

 


7. Live In Melbourne, Australia For Triple J (1992)

 

Nirvana’s only Australian tour ever. In 1992 ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ claimed the number one spot on Triple J’s third-ever Hottest 100. Nirvana kicked off the majority of their Aussie sets with the booming, drum-heavy track ‘Aneurysm.’

Live in Melbourne, for Triple J it’s not just about the performance or the setlist but mostly about the vibe. The band members are grumpy part of the time and the fans blowing on stage can be felt all through the crowd. It’s weird and a bit dangerous too. Then, all three band members are enjoying the chaos.

The concert is available in its entirety on the 30th anniversary of Nevermind.

 


6. Live at Pine Street Theatre, Portland, USA (1990)

 

Jack Endino, the producer of Nirvana’s debut album ‘Bleach.’ thinks the 1990 live set from Pine Street Theatre with Channing behind the drums will force some rethinking of this conventional wisdom. Endino said. “It’s surprisingly good. Chad was a better drummer than people realize. It’s actually pretty tight.

Some clips from this performance, including ‘Molly’s Lips’ and ‘School,’ are available to watch on YouTube. The setlist included songs like ‘Floyd the Barber,’ ‘Dive,’ and ‘Love Buzz’. This concert is available to listen to in its entirety on the deluxe version of the ‘Bleach’ album.

 


5. Live At Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands (1991)

 

Nirvana delivered another great live performance at Paradiso, Amsterdam, on November 25th, 1991, featuring a setlist with iconic tracks like ‘Drain You,’ ‘Aneurysm,’ ‘School,’ and ‘About A Girl’. You can experience the energy and rawness of Nirvana’s stage presence by watching great footage videos of this performance on YouTube.

The performance is celebrated for its raw power, with Kurt Cobain exuding happiness, infectious energy, and enthusiasm. Particularly noteworthy is the unforgettable moment during the best rendition of ‘Love Buzz,’ where Kurt Cobain locks eyes with the camera. Additionally, this show features what could be considered the greatest version of ‘Lithium.’

 


4. Live at Reading, UK (1992)

 

Unbeknownst to them, Nirvana made their last live appearance in the UK at the Reading Festival on Sunday, August 30, 1992. During this period, Kurt Cobain faced intense tabloid scrutiny. Speculation revolved around his relationship and marriage to Courtney Love, with much gossip surrounding the recent birth of their daughter, Frances Bean, on August 18, just over a week before the Reading performance. Rumors about the couple’s alleged drug addiction and the imminent breakup of the band added to the swirling speculation.

Mocking rumors of poor health, Kurt Cobain was wheeled onstage in a hospital gown and wig by journalist Everett True. Krist Novoselic assured the audience of Kurt Cobain’s resilience. Kurt Cobain, playing along, pretended to struggle to his feet before collapsing, only to rise, grab his guitar, and kick off the set.

The performance featured tracks from Nevermind and Bleach, including a cover of the Wipers’ ‘D-7’ and Fang’s ‘The Money Will Roll Right In.’ Unreleased songs like ‘Tourette’s,’ ‘All Apologies,’ and ‘Dumb’ from the upcoming In Utero were showcased. Kurt Cobain dedicated ‘All Apologies’ to his wife and newborn daughter, encouraging the crowd to chant in support of Courtney Love.

‘Lithium’ became a memorable moment as the audience sang along. The rendition of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ cleverly incorporated elements of Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling.’ The show concluded with Kurt Cobain playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ (as an avid Jimi Hendrix fan, he surely must have thought of him at that time) followed by instrument-smashing chaos.

 

“It turned out to be a wonderful show, and it healed us for a little while.”Dave Grohl

 


3. MTV Live and Loud, Seattle, USA (1993)

 

Live and Loud, recorded in December 1993, offers a compelling glimpse into Nirvana’s final live moments. Originally part of the In Utero tour, the performance captures a band balancing commercial professionalism and raw passion. Despite moments of seeming indifference, Nirvana’s onstage unity and precision, especially with Pat Smear, are undeniable. The mix’s immense size and crunch set Live and Loud apart, solidifying it as a testament to Nirvana’s enduring live impact, even in the face of Kurt Cobain’s tragic departure.

I believe this performance surpasses Reading as it encompasses the entire discography, including Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero. MTV Live and Loud ’93 captures Kurt Cobain going wild and the sound quality is excellent, and it had a great version of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’.

 


2. Live at the Paramount, Seattle, USA (1991)

 

Recorded at a Seattle hometown show on Halloween 1991, Live at the Paramount captures Nirvana’s prowess about five weeks after the release of Nevermind and just days before the album surged unexpectedly into the Top 40. Transitioning from grunge underdogs to kings of the hill, Nirvana delivers a tight, confident, and powerful performance, effortlessly navigating through tracks from both Nevermind and Bleach with the agility of a sprinter hitting their stride.


Live at The Paramount delivers an outstanding sonic and visual experience, capturing Nirvana’s essence. Dave’s drumming is a killer, Krist’s bass adds thickness, and Kurt Cobain’s scratchy vocals shine. The show features controlled chaos, with Krist bouncing energetically. The guitar, especially in ‘Breed’ and ‘Rape Me’, is exceptional. The lighting, backup dancers, and overall filming perfectly embody Nirvana’s spirit. Songs like ‘Blew’ sound amazing, showcasing the band’s prowess. The audio is crisp, and punchy, and highlights Krist’s exceptional bass playing. The set list, sharp video, and top-notch camerawork make this concert a true gem in Nirvana’s legacy.

 


1. MTV Unplugged in New York, USA (1993)

 

What made this performance iconic was its departure from Nirvana’s usual electric sound. The band, known for their high energy, unplugged their instruments for this special occasion. The result was a stunning display of beautifully delicate renditions of their typically hard-hitting tracks, along with some remarkable covers. Notable highlights include their mesmerizing versions of Meat Puppets’ ‘Lake of Fire’ and David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World,’ in addition to soulful performances of ‘About a Girl’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’ This MTV Unplugged session remains one of Nirvana’s most renowned live performances, and rightfully so – it was truly extraordinary.

The release of MTV Unplugged in New York, just nearly seven months after Kurt Cobain’s death, marked a significant moment in Nirvana’s career. On November 1, 1994, the album hit the shelves, quickly claiming the top spot on the Billboard 200 and achieving the highest first-week sales in Nirvana’s history with 310,500 copies sold. By March 1995, it had surpassed the sales of In Utero, reaching an impressive 6.8 million copies.

 


 

YouTube player

 

YouTube player

 

YouTube player

 

YouTube player

 



 

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments