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'Nirvana Live at the Paramount': DVD Review

Kurt Cobain
Courtesy of Universal Music

A never-before-released 1991 concert film revisits a band at the peak of its grunge powers and on the cusp of superstardom.

In Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha says, "The paramount reality, brothers, is Nirvana." That's certainly true this month, when music fans are reliving their grunge lives on the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind album. Coming up Sept. 27 are several deluxe CD reissues, plus a super-deluxe limited edition CD/DVD going for $225 on eBay.

But the paramount reality for nostalgic fans is the legendary, long-lost Nirvana concert filmed at Seattle's Paramount Theater on Halloween 1991, set for release Sept. 27 on DVD and Dec. 27 on Blu-ray. "This is probably the best filmed Nirvana performance, and finally it is out on DVD," Kurt Cobain biographer Charles Cross tells The Hollywood Reporter. The show features galvanic renditions of 19 songs from Nevermind and other Nirvana albums, from the haunting Vaselines cover "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" to the hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to a slow, definitive version of the bitterly defiant "Rape Me."

Watching the band happily smashing guitars and amazed to see their revolutionary dreams come true, you can see that Cobain does not yet feel raped by fame. The film captures a turning point. Days before, Nevermind had gone gold, selling 500,000 copies. The band's frontman was out of socks and, shocked by his bank balance, bought a new pair for the show. Bassist Krist Novoselic performs barefoot.

It's fascinating to see Nirvana in mid-metamorphosis from unknown utopians in Olympia, Wash.'s music subculture to global superstars. Novoselic mocks the film crew, there to accelerate the success that made purists call them sellouts: "There's more cameras in here than in a 7-Eleven." But he and Cobain play brilliantly to the cameras in dueling duets, courting and craving artistic fame, expressing the creative intimacy that heroin and Courtney Love were soon to shatter. At Cobain's invitation, showbiz-despising Olympia musicians Ian Dickson and Nikki McClure parody cheesy go-go dancers onstage, appalling Nirvana's managers. "We infiltrated. I was fiercely trying to keep showbiz sexism, commercialism, exploitation and evil life from draining energy away," McClure tells THR.

There is plenty of energy on view. The film is skillfully restored: You can see every drop of flop sweat raining on Dave Grohl's thundering drum set and each ripple of his washboard tummy, a match for ever-shirtless Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell's. The camera circles Cobain in his raw "Blew" guitar solo, turning upside down, at the very instant Cobain turned the world upside down. In his other great filmed show, 1994's Nirvana Unplugged in New York, he had the set decorated like a funeral. In 1991, he plays as if he'll live forever.