Nevermind Tribute Concert 09/20/11
Experience Music Project – Seattle, WA
Words/Photos by Jakobross424
20 years ago, one of the most iconic, influential, and groundbreaking album of all time was released: Nevermind. Some people know it as the album with the naked baby on the cover. Some know it as the album with that one song from Guitar Hero on it. But if you are like me, you know it for what it is – one of the greatest albums of all time. In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album’s release effectively, Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum hosted a benefit concert for Susie Tennant, a great friend of Kurt Cobain who is struggling with breast cancer. The event sold out within a few days, and with little information being released as to how the night would go, I knew I would be in for something either extremely amazing, or horribly unsatisfying. Much to my surprise, I got both.
After a quick pic with original Nirvana drummer Aaron Burckhard, I waited for something to happen. And it did.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
The song that brought grunge into the mainstream. One of the reasons Nevermind sold as many copies as it did. What band would have the balls to even attempt to perform it? Sure it has been attempted in the past. Everyone from Miley Cyrus to Paul Anka to Tori Amos has covered the song. But this time it would be Pac NW punk pioneers the Fastbacks. Remember when I went to Bumbershoot and told you how old NoMeansNo were? Well the Fastbacks are even older! They are probably the most unlikely punk band to ever exist. The rhythm guitarist was an old Asian woman. That’s how weird this band is.The crowd was not into it, but the Fastbacks made the attempt. The lead guitarist bounced around and showed some energy, trying to keep the band together. But my advice: LEARN THE WORDS TO THE SONG. For some reason, a recurring theme of the night was either forgetting the lyrics or simply not knowing them. It’s like they were told yesterday that they would be singing a Nirvana song in front of a sold out crowd.
In Bloom is a less difficult song to conquer, but it might as well have been sung in Greek, because Vaporland—where good Sub Pop bands come to die—screwed that one up. If you are in a lo-fi nineties fuzz rock Sub Pop band, and the year was 1992, I wouldn’t expect anything more from Vaporland. But these guys are old. They could at least learn to play in rhythm with each other. The drums were so off that Neil Peart actually woke up from a nightmare in his Canadian home when Vaporland started playing.
“Come As You Are”
This performance was probably the first good one of the night. It was performed by Valis, a semi-supergroup that featured ex-Screaming Trees bassist Van Conner, famous Sub Pop producer Jack Endino, and two other dudes. The lead singer, whoever he was, had all the angst of Kurt himself combined with the energy of Cage the Elephant singer Matt Shultz. These guys did a pretty great version of “Come As You Are” that Kurt Cobain himself would have been proud of.
Looks like we got a 2 for 4 here guys! The next band to come on stage was up-and-comers Ravenna Woods. I know the name sounds folksy and Fleet Foxes-ish, but these guys were far from folk. They turned the amps to 11, and put on a loud, fast, and heavy version of “Breed.”
As soon as I song tall guy with blond hair, I knew that Mr. Duff McKagan himself would be performing one of Nevermind’s most famous songs with his band Loaded. Duff McKagan, former member of The Fastbacks and Guns N Roses, was not only on Cobain’s final commercial airline flight, but was more than happy with performing at this show. So I will call that the truce. Duff warned the audience that he crammed the words into his head at the last minute, so if we could sing along, then that would be great. Duff had all the words down and put on the best performance of the night so far. They were loud, and did absolute justice to the song.
The last song on the A-side of the album would be performed by up-and-comers Campfire OK. I have heard of these guys before, but never actually listened to them. But as soon as I saw the banjo, I knew I would be in for an interesting take on the creepiest song on Nevermind. Before they played, the emcee announced a super secret special guest. Who could it be? Eddie Vedder? The kid on the cover of Nevermind? Courtney Love? Frances Cobain? I was excited to find out.
Campfire OK, with a lead singer who looked like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, noted how Duff McKagan would be a hard act to follow, but they pulled it off. With a feedback induced banjo, a Gretsch guitar, a Gibson bass, and the small drum set that was already set up, Campfire OK played a great version of Kurt Cobain’s ode to kidnap.
I know you are asking, what about the super secret guest? Although he couldn’t be there in person, Dave Grohl appeared via webcam and gave a shout out to Susie Tennant. It was cool that Dave could “be there,” and I was anxiously preparing for the B-side of the album.
This song would be tackled by the mostly-female four piece Visqueen, who opened the song with a Dixie Chicks style version of the Youngbloods classic “Get Together.” The song had some cello in it, but it was cool and was easily the best female performance of the night.
I don’t know how I could even describe this, but I will try. This song was covered by Champagne Champagne for this particular occasion. Champagne Champagne turned out to be a rap duo and a guitarist, with drum loops playing in the background. One of the rappers started out singing, he went into the crowd to get them pumped, but no one seemed to care. Then he forgot all the words. He sat there on the stage awkwardly while he attempted to remember the words. The chorus came around again and he sang it, along with the other guy who looked like he belonged in a Bad Brains cover band. The version was a mess. Mr. Forgot-the-Words stumbled around, he stepped on people’s shoulders, and they even did an interlude of one of their original rap songs. I knew that somewhere Kurt was rolling over in his grave. And he was cremated!
I knew that the next performance couldn’t possibly be worse than the previous one, but it was still pretty bad. Half random internet humor hipsters and half riot grrrrrl band, Tacocat—yes, Tacocat—performed “Lounge Act”, the unsung hero of the Nevermind record. The version was loud and kinda messy, but like I said, it wasn’t worse than Drain You. So Tacocat lucked out on this one, otherwise they would’ve been one of the worst of the night.
This song was tackled by alt punk band Vendetta Red, who after a four year break up are riding high on the reunion band-wagon. “Stay Away” is a pretty fast song, but somehow Vendetta Red made it an even faster song. The Roger Daltrey influenced lead singer did the power slide and even swung his microphone around, and probably broke it. Kurt would have been proud of these guys’ attitude and sound. With screaming galore, Vendetta Red put on one of the most Nirvana-y performances of the night.
“On a Plain”
This was the song I was excited about, because this would be the one that would be covered by Grammy-nominated Seattle legends Presidents of the United States of America. Not only would PUSA be performing—sans basitars and guitbasses, unfortunately—but they would be performing with former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. He was one of Kurt’s best friends, and he had the audience give the biggest cheer a small group of people could give in honor of Kurt. It was a beautiful moment. Lead singer Chris Bellew asked one of the roadies for some duct tape, because he “wanted to do something irresponsible.” As soon as the song kicked in, he jumped into the audience and crowd surfed as he sang “On a Plain.” He did so about three other times and never lost his beat. He dove right on top of me, which was fine because he weighs like 90 pounds. This was by far the best performance of the night, and it would be a very tough act to follow.
“Something In the Way”
Kurt Cobain’s song ode to living under a bridge was covered by indie folk band The Long Winters. Their version of the song was somber and haunting, just as Kurt’s was. It was a good way to end a good night. And I was hoping to God that no one would attempt to cover “Endless, Nameless,” the hidden track on Nevermind.
Oh, Dear Lord. “Endless, Nameless” is 7 minutes of noise. There, I said it. How do you cover noise? How do you make it any worse than the original? How could one band be any worse than Champagne Champagne? I found out. As soon as I saw all the keyboards and laptops and chords and electro-boxes, I knew I was either in for some dub step, or some space rock. I was hoping for the latter. I got neither.The “band” whose name I didn’t stick around long enough to hear, were absolute trash.The “singer” screamed gibberish into the microphone. And he had stupid sideburns. STUPID! The two “musicians” head banged as they pressed “PLAY” on their MacBooks. I actually wanted to punch them for considering themselves musicians and calling that abomination and actual performance.I left because it was getting around midnight and I was tired. I didn’t really care to hear the second set that would feature 7 other Nirvana songs that weren’t on Nevermind. I heard what I wanted to hear and what I didn’t want to hear.
The show did well financially I am sure, but they did not do well on choosing bands. Why not Mudhoney or Alice in Chains or Soundgarden? Why not have any other cool special guests? Was Susie Tennant actually there? Next time you decide to do a tribute show, pick some bands that can deliver and make Kurt proud. And here’s hoping for a 2013 In Utero tribute…….not.
Best Performances of the Night:
1. PUSA w/ Krist Novoselic
2. Duff McKagan’s Loaded
3. Campfire OK
Worst Performances of the Night
1. That Abomination to All Music
2. Champagne Champagne
5. The Fastbacks