Lately, most of my time spent with music has been focused on the here and now. I've been hopping from show to show, trying to make sense of the current local music scene while at the same time keeping an eye out for what's coming next. Because of that, I haven't spent much time listening to music from the past, so I was feeling extra nostalgic all day Saturday in anticipation of seeing Come As You Are: A Tribute to the 20th Anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind presented by Le Divorce. It gave me a reason to break out all the Nirvana albums I used to tirelessly listen to growing up, and as I played them back each song came back to me as if I'd never stopped listening to them at all.
It was truly amazing listening to all those songs again; having all the words come right back to me and reliving all sorts of great past memories. Nirvana was one of the first bands I listened to while I was young and just starting to figure out what music was "my own" - not what my parents or siblings were listening to, or what the top 40 charts said I should listen to (Top 5 radio groups in 1996: Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Everything But The Girl, The Tony Rich Project, Alanis Morisette ). Nirvana wasn't exactly a complete departure from the mainstream, but it was a welcome alternative to what was available to me at the time and it inspired me to seek out much more music and convinced me that I should learn to play the guitar.
In other words, I was reminded of just how influential Nirvana was in making music an important part of my life, and when I walked into the Hi-Dive Saturday night, it became immediately apparent that so many people must have been similarly influenced by this band. Not only were there several local bands ready to pay tribute, but there was a massive crowd of people from a wide range of age groups and several different walks of life there to go back down memory lane. I couldn't wait to see what each band had in store and how each band would interpret the songs that were a big part of my musical foundation.
|Tyler Despres of Courtney Did It|
There was a short delay to the start of the show due to the last minute absence of the originally slated opening band Pacific Pride, so the show got started with the second band on the list, Courtney Did It. If you are wondering where Courtney Did It was on the original list of bands, they took the place of Science Partner. Tyler Despres was the only musician from Science Partner in this group, so he called the band a different name for this tribute show. Tyler was on vocals/guitar, accompanied by a drummer, saxophonist, and a third member who played harmonica/mandolin/accordion - their bassist didn't show up. Still, these guys did a phenomenal job with what they had and managed to play some awesomely styled Nirvana covers.
|Kevin Larkin performing for Courtney Did It (A member of Chimney Choir)|
Courtney Did It performed three Nirvana covers. The first was "Heart-Shaped Box", and although they didn't have a bass player, it didn't really matter because I was focused on how the addition of saxophone was such a good idea. They performed an awesome reinterpretation of "Come As You Are", where the combination of harmonica and saxophone gave it an almost jazz-folk feel. They finished with "Sliver", which included Tyler Despres adding a second layer of drumming to give the percussion extra punch while they managed to make the saxophone and accordion really rock hard. I'd have to say that Courtney Did It did the best job of reinventing Nirvana songs while still making them instantly recognizable, and I commend them for their originality.
Next, local metal band Il Cattivo took the stage to share their versions of three more Nirvana songs. Of course, being a metal band, I was expecting to hear interpretations of the heaviest songs in Nirvana's catalog, and they did exactly that. Il Cattivo drenched each of their covers with the attitude and intensity of hard, heavy metal, and their whole set definitely raised the pulse rate of everyone in the venue.
Il Cattivo started with "Negative Creep", somehow bringing more energy to an already intense Nirvana song. "Tourette's" went similarly, with most eyes focused on the impassioned delivery of screams coming from singer Brian Hagman. Il Cattivo finished with "Territorial Pissings", even including the introductory "Come on people now/Smile on your brother..." before tearing into their meaty, blow-to-the-temple heavy/hardcore version of the song. I'd say Il Cattivo did the best job of performing a set that represented the band's own style while still being readily identifiable as Nirvana.
|Night of Joy|
Night of Joy was the next in line, and they performed a set of Nirvana covers that seemed straightforward and true to the originals at first, but were distinctively Night of Joy by the end of it all. To me, Night of Joy is an anti-pop/punk group whose usual repertoire includes songs that sound like deconstructed pop, put back together with post-punk attitude and scattered guitar work. They gave that same stylistic treatment to four Nirvana songs.
|Night of Joy|
They started off with "About A Girl", and it began like a pretty true-to-original cover, but then the vocals were delivered in Valerie Franz's it-doesn't-matter-if-it-sounds-like-I'm-drunk-this-is-some-artsy-shit vocal style coupled with guitar work that continually devolved into a lower than lo-fi aesthetic. That continued to be the case with "In Bloom", "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" and "Paper Cuts". It was an interesting way to present Nirvana songs, but I can't say I'm a fan of the deliberately sloppy vocals and guitar work. It works in the context of Night of Joy, and it was actually somewhat appropriate for "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter", but overall I was kind of expecting something else. EDIT: I understand now that it was a recreation of a prior Nirvana mistake-riddled live performance, and that's pretty cool. It still wasn't my cup of tea. I guess I'm just not that hardcore.
|Hearts In Space|
Hearts In Space was the next act up, and their set caught me completely off guard - not in a bad way, just not what I was expecting. Everything I've heard from them before suggested they'd deliver covers that were stylistically similar to the band's atmospheric, elevated dream-rock sound. Instead, they played high-energy versions of some of the more intense songs in the Nirvana catalog. Of the three they played, I could only recognize one of the songs. It seems they chose to dig deep into Nirvana's collection of songs and decided to play a couple lesser known B-Side tracks, demos, earlier Bleach songs or some stuff off Incesticide (which I admit I'm not the most familiar with), but whatever songs they were, I couldn't readily pick them out.
|Hearts In Space|
Despite not being able to pick out two out of the three songs they played, I do know their whole set was played with ferocious passion that ignited even more energy into the rabid crowd. The one song I could pick out, "Stay Away", was delivered with appropriate attitude and intensity, magnified with the assistance of Il Cattivo's Brain Hagman on vocals. I went into Hearts In Space's performance expecting to hear dream-rock versions of more mellow Nirvana songs like "Something In The Way", "All Apologies" or "Pennyroyal Tea", but I'm pleased with what they did instead, as it was a solid surprise.
Le Divorce was up next, and I was definitely eager to see how they would cover Nirvana's songs, as the Le Divorce sound is deeply rooted in and influenced by '90s alternative rock. I wasn't sure if they would go for the more indie alt-rock/post-punk sound that they're known for or incorporate more grunge into their cover songs, but once they started to play, it became apparent they were really trying to stay true to the original versions of the songs, and they did an impeccable job.
|Joe Grobelny of Le Divorce|
|Le Divorce plus harmonica|
Le Divorce's faithful cover versions proved just how important Nirvana is to this particular band. It's as if extra attention was spent to make sure they could pay tribute in their performance by trying to bring back the original feel and spirit of each song they played. Kitty Vincent did well to keep her vocal register close to Kurt Cobain's, despite, you know, her being female and all. I'd say Le Divorce did the best job in performing a true-to-the-original set, they did some things differently and the harmonica was a nice touch, but all the songs had an authentic feel.
The Swayback was responsible for closing out the show, and they closed it out with a bang. The Swayback is known for their garage rock meets post-punk sound, but the set of covers they played were straight energetic rock 'n' roll. They started off with the mosh-inducing song "Breed", played in a grunge rock meets punk garage fashion. Their version of "Drain You" seemed to have an extra burst of rock 'n' roll as well, although it was pretty true to the original. The Swayback had the honor of playing Nirvana's most signature song, and for this one they called up members from previous bands to help sing the song on stage.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is another one of Nirvana's songs that has extra special meaning to me. Of course, it was the very first Nirvana song I ever heard and of course it was the first song I'd blast off of Nevermind every time I popped the album into my CD player, but it was also the first song I played when I finally got an electric guitar. I plugged that baby into my amp, cranked up the distortion as high as it'd go, turned the volume as loud as my cheapo amp could stand, and had an out-of-body-like experience the first time my teen-aged self laid into that F power chord.
I pretty much relived that same feeling watching The Swayback bring back that song. Structurally, they kept the song true to the original, but somehow it felt like one of the most powerfully energetic performances of anything I'd ever seen. It had to be the combination of so many things creating a perfect situation so that everything would culminate beautifully in that moment. Not only were all the past memories of that particular song swimming through my head, but I was in a jam-packed room of people who were probably reminiscing the same way. The energy was unreal as everyone in the entire venue was singing along to every word. It was absolutely incredible.
The Swayback played one final song, a song I didn't recognize. But honestly, at that point I was still on an emotional high about the song that proceeded it, and I can barely remember that another song even happened. I'm sure for those that knew the final song, it was a good capping moment, but for me it was all about "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
Come As You Are was an incredible tribute night, and it was made even more special because so many people came out to support it. I'm thankful so many good local bands took the time to put together renditions of songs for a one-off performance, because it was worth it. It was a great way to look back and pay homage to an incredibly influential band and reminisce about a previous time. It was truly a trip back in time, as not only did each band play Nirvana songs, but boyhollow kept the nostalgia going by playing a lot of other grunge and alt-rock from that era; Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and more. He also played some of Nirvana's influences and the originals of Nirvana covers like David Bowie and The Vaselines.
Although I will continue to move forward, trying to sort through the present and future of music, it was refreshing to look back in time for a night. It helped reinforce that all the music that exists today is in one way or another a product of something that was there before, and that it's always important to understand the history of music. I can't wait to experience something like this again, as there are so many other bands from the past that were highly influential to my appreciation of music, but until then, I'll keep heading out to shows to see if I can't find the next paradigm shifting band.
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