Nirvana MTV Unplugged

Nirvana MTV Unplugged

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Unplugged in New York is the legendary live album by Nirvana released on November 1, 1994. The album features an acoustic performance recorded at Sony Music Studios in New York City on November 18, 1993, for the television series MTV Unplugged. The show was directed by Beth McCarthy and aired on the cable television network MTV on December 16, 1993. In a break with traditional practice on the television series, Nirvana played mainly lesser-known material and cover versions of songs by the Vaselines, David Bowie, Lead Belly, and Meat Puppets, whose Cris and Curt Kirkwood joined Nirvana onstage.

Unplugged in New York was the first Nirvana album released following the death of Kurt Cobain. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and is Nirvana's most successful posthumous release, having been certified 5x platinum in the United States by 1997.

Nirvana had been in negotiations with MTV to appear on its acoustic-based show MTV Unplugged for some time. It was while touring with the Meat Puppets that Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain finally accepted. The band wanted to do something different from a typical MTV Unplugged episode for its performance. According to drummer Dave Grohl, "We'd seen the other Unpluggeds and didn't like many of them, because most bands would treat them like rock shows—play their hits like it was Madison Square Garden, except with acoustic guitars." The group looked at Mark Lanegan's 1990 album The Winding Sheet for inspiration. Among the ideas the band members came up with included covering David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and inviting members of the Meat Puppets to join them on stage. Still, the prospect of an entirely acoustic show made Cobain nervous.

Nirvana rehearsed for two days. The rehearsals were tense and difficult, with the band running into problems performing various songs. During the sessions, Cobain disagreed with MTV as to how the performance should be presented. Producer Alex Coletti recalled that the network was unhappy with the lack of hit Nirvana songs in the setlist, and with the band's choice of the Meat Puppets as guests, saying: "They wanted to hear the 'right' names - Eddie Vedder or Tori Amos or God knows who." Upset, the day before filming, Cobain refused to play; however, he appeared at the studio the following afternoon. Cobain was suffering from drug withdrawal and nervousness at the time; one observer said, "There was no joking, no smiles, no fun coming from him ... Therefore, everyone was more than a little worried about his performance."

Cobain suggested that the stage be decorated with stargazer lilies, black candles, and a crystal chandelier. Cobain's request prompted the show's producer to ask him, "You mean like a funeral?", to which the singer replied, "Exactly. Like a funeral." Nirvana was augmented by guitarist Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston, who had been touring with the band. Despite the show's premise, Cobain insisted on running his acoustic guitar through his amplifier and effects pedals. Coletti built a fake box in front of the amplifier to disguise it as a monitor wedge. Coletti said, "It was Kurt's security blanket. He was used to hearing this guitar through his Fender. He wanted those effects. You can hear it on 'The Man Who Sold the World'. It's an acoustic guitar, but he's obviously going through an amp."

Unlike many artists who appeared on the show, Nirvana filmed the entire performance in a single take. The 14-song setlist included one song from their debut album, Bleach, four songs from the 1991 album Nevermind, three tracks from the then-recently released In Utero, and six cover songs. The group shied away from playing its better-known songs; In Utero's "All Apologies" had not yet been released as a single, which means the only contemporary hit the band performed was the Nevermindsong "Come as You Are", released as a single in 1992.