Dave Grohl Almost Didn’t Play Nirvana’s Iconic ‘MTV Unplugged’ Show
Written by Tom Williams on 25th November, 2013
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Nirvana nostalgia is as fresh as ever. The Seattle group’s third and final studio album, 1993's In Utero, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Now so has their iconic performance on MTV’s ‘Unplugged’ TV series. The intimate show celebrated Nirvana as a band who set out to do things their way, and who did it so very, very well.
It has now been revealed, however, that in the lead-up to the performance, frontman Kurt Cobain was not completely content with how rehearsals were going, and how the band’s drummer Dave Grohl (now of Foo Fighters fame) was sounding. Alex Coletti, who produced Nirvana’s MTV appearance, has said:
“What I didn’t know was up until the day [of the Unplugged performance], there was talk of Dave [Grohl] not playing at all in the show… Kurt wasn’t happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn’t like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks… Dave’s a heavy hitter, and the thing about ‘Unplugged’ is, if the drummer doesn’t get it under control, it makes it a bad-sounding electric show, instead of a good-sounding acoustic show.”
Beth McCarthy-Miller, who directed the show’s recording, has added: “Any time you have a band that’s so electric and try to unplug them, there’s always a lot of challenges, creatively… Kurt wanted to use an acoustic guitar, but through an amp for some songs… and Dave had to learn how to play the drums a little quieter.”
MTV are reporting that Coletti bought Grohl some wire brushes on the day of the performance so that he’d play a bit softer, and that Grohl admitted he had never played with brushes in his entire career. Cobain, apparently, was still not completely pleased with how Grohl sounded.
This indecision over how the drums should sound led to one of the best moments in Nirvana’s performing history – when Kurt Cobain played Pennyroyal Tea all by himself. Coletti admits that the song “wasn’t really working in rehearsals, and it wasn’t until live, in the moment, that Dave asks on stage ‘Am I doing this or not?’ and Kurt made the decision in that moment, to do it alone”. As the one song in the set where Cobain plays by himself, Coletti deems it “one of the absolute best moments of the show”.
McCarthy-Miller has gone on to add: “That song meant a lot to him; it was very personal… just him singing his heart out… He wanted it to be his song.” Watch Kurt’s performance below, and join us in the twenty-year nostalgia.
Watch: Nirvana – Pennyroyal Tea (Unplugged on MTV)