Video: Nirvana's first live performance of "Teen Spirit," 22 years ago today

Twenty-two years ago today, Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time in public, at the OK Hotel in Seattle. This is video of the performance, five months before the release of Nevermind. The video is included on the box set Nirvana: With The Lights Out.


  1. I think it’s a fantastic song, but that just sounds terrible – nice energy, but that’s all I get out of it.

    1. Shocking that the first public performance ever wasn’t as polished as, say, Justin Bieber.  Who did those noobs think they were?

        1. I know this is bound to get me on the list, but I actually think this version is better than the album version. And at a minimum, its amazing how polished and dynamic it was without going through the production process yet. And this one will probably get me a lifetime membership on the dreaded list, but regardless of how annoying Justin Bieber and all that he represents is, he’s actually a great musician. Here he is as a little kid, a full on prodigy:

          1. …a full on prodigy.

            1425–75; late Middle English prodige < Latin prōdigium prophetic sign

            A sign of the apocalypse maybe.

    2. You’re missing the point. It’s not that that particular show/recording sounds great, it’s that we get to hear SLTS and Nirvana very early in their evolution. Even if you think Nirvana and this song are terrible, they ended up being extremely influential and it’s cool to see where they started. If you do like them it’s awesome!

      1. You know what? It wasn’t the recording after all. The maid was in my listening room this morning, and she apparently disturbed my Intratone VJ300x Reference Absorbers while dusting. I spent most of the last two hours conducting measurement and realignment, and I relistened to the video – you know what? It sounds fucking incredible!

        Let’s get straight to the point, the VJ300x Reference Absorbers are the most striking listening enhancement since Brilliant Pebbles. Coming as several masterfully cut opaque prisms… oh I can’t do it.

        Fuck yeah, it’s a great song, and this version sounded just as one would expect it to, no matter how much was spent on audio equipment.

    1. I hated it the first time I heard it. Then I started hearing it over and over again on CFNY, and I hated it even more. The whole “Seattle” thing was so lame.

  2. Love or hate the song, rock music up to that point had seriously stagnated. Guns N Roses was a little different from the normal fare but was ultimately of the same ilk.  This song shook some $#!t loose.  I remember very well the first time I heard it back in high school and instantly knew everything had changed. 

  3. 22 years? jesus. if anyone needs me, I’ll be weeping in the corner over my lost teen spirit.

    1. Yep, every time I think of this song I think of how much older I’m getting.  My favorite is that a baby conceived after this show would now be old enough to hang out with me at the bar.

      1. Thank you for putting it in that perspective. At the time the song came out I was hanging out in bars. I remember hearing it and thinking there was something wonderful and special about this music, and that I was just old enough to not be able to share in it.

        1. I was old enough (just 21) to be hanging around in bars, but I’ve never been a drinker.  And Nirvana never did it for me.  I kinda dig “Pennyroyal Tea” and the studio version of SLTS is okay, but otherwise I never could get into Nirvana.  Once my affections got cemented around AC/DC, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden in the mid-80s, I could appreciate other subgenres of rock but they didn’t ignite any passion in me.

          And I like on-key singing.

  4. Bridge at 3:40 is a bit rough.

    Seriously, this song was the same kick in the pants to 80s metal hair music that punk gave us older folks 15 years earlier. 

  5. Okay devil, show me the contract. Where do I sign to get a set of vocal chords where I can scream like that and not dissolve into coughing fits?

    Because goddamn that man could wail.

    I’ll be at the crossroads about 2pm this afternoon.

  6. I was living in Seattle back then and was already a fan of Nirvana, Hammerbox, Sound Garden, Love Battery, Mudoney, etc. We had all started to hear the word ‘grunge’ getting thrown around but it still seemed like a local thing. But in the summer of ’91, I was travelling in Europe for a while and nearly everywhere I went I was hearing SLTS. I remember thinking, whoa, something big is going on.

  7. hey Mudhoney hits Copenhagen in like a month…
    Then itll be.. what 22 years since i saw them last…

  8. Having left a lot of crappy “issues” and so-called “friends” behind in Kansas on New Year’s Day, and later finding (or rather, not finding) myself down in Florida, I kind of felt that this revolutionary, nonsensical song hit the nail on the head for me. Sure, I’d been listening to Mudhoney, Pixies, etc. for a little while, but it seemed like SLTS was the gesture that sealed the deal, that our generation meant what we collectively said.

    I mean, for the young people of this period (I myself was born only two weeks after Kurt), many of us felt so lost at the time. Reagan was finally gone, but H.W. wasn’t any better. Just a continuation of the same. There just didn’t seem to be any hope anymore, and it really felt like we were going down the tubes.

    1.  I almost forgot to relate a funny *but* not funny (the Kim Deal part) story…

      Nirvana was playing in Orlando for the In Utero tour, with The Breeders up front. Somebody comes to the mic stating that if anyone, an-y-one, throws clothing, ESPECIALLY SHOES, on stage during the Breeder’s set, the band will walk off and not come back.
      Sure enough, about 30 seconds into the opener, “Cannonball”, a shoe goes flying and hits Kim Deal smack in the forehead. Done deal. She yells something undecipherable, and they walk off.

      After a couple of minutes, Kurt Cobain comes out, and kind of apologetically chides the audience, especially the shoe thrower. Sort of a “not cool, not cool man” type rant. It’s almost another hour between breakdown and setup for Nirvana to play.

      As Nirvana’s playing, Kurt spies this guy — you couldn’t miss him — out in the audience, wearing an optic-orange hunting cap. Between songs, Kurt calls out to the guy, asking him if he can wear the cap. You could see the guy thinking for a second, and the cap then head-shaking, “No”.
      Kurt’s like, “Aw, c’mon. I’ll give it back.”
      Again, another head-shake.
      Kurt pauses for a second, and thinks. I can’t remember clearly, but I think he consulted with Krist, or maybe Pat Smear for a minute. Then he motions with his guitar. “How about we trade? If I can wear the cap, you can come up on stage for the rest of the set.”
      Hunting Cap pauses as well. You could tell he was thinking, and the crowd was roaring for him to do it. Finally, he agrees, and is hauled up on stage for the rest of the set, and the hunting cap placed firmly atop Kurt’s head.
      During the last song, Kurt’s destroying the guitar, a la The Who, and gives the hunting cap kid his guitar after signing it. Then they take him backstage with them when the stage lights go out. Who knows if the kid ever got his hat back.

  9. If you like this, you’ll love this video where you’ll hear parts of the tracks of “Teen Spirit” singled out and shown how it was all mixed.  Along with other great commentary on the song.

    Trust me, it’s amazing to hear Kurt’s voice track by itself.

  10. to think of all the amazing techno/house/electronic dance music that was happening in 91 and this is what is cast as revolutionary.

    dont get me wrong I like nirvana but they weren’t doing anything new…

    1. It wasn’t a question of doing something new. I mean, the guitar has a 4 octave range and distortion had been around for decades.. after a while a lot of stuff is going to start sounding the same. The whole grunge/alternative thing was more about breaking away from the hair band era and putting a new spin on old ideas.

      Which is pretty much what techno was doing too. Throbbing beats and repetition? That traces about as far back as humanity has been banging sticks on things.

    2.  Really?  The link basically says “rave culture is superior to grunge” and “here is a list of techno/house/rave/electronic-area albums that I think are important.”  Nevermind is only mentioned as way to say that “rock media is stupid” and that the record industry along with rock journalists pushed its importance because they had an agenda.

    3. Nirvana had soul, feeling, passion, a voice, and something to say. Techno/house/electronic dance music is throwaway thumpa-thumpa that anyone with a computer (which is everyone) can duplicate.  

      1.  What if you like them both, and think the whining denigration on both sides is bullshit?

      2. anyone with a computer (which is everyone) can duplicate

        Said the man that clearly has never tried. It’s not actually an easy process. Pretty much like claiming photography no longer requires any skill because of digital cameras. It’s a bullshit claim. You’ll still need to learn any software you use, you still need to think about composition, need to understand mixing, dynamics, etc.

        Personally I find it far, far easier to write something catchy on my bass than I’ll ever find it to do something vaguely listenable on my laptop.

        1. Don”t forget the earlier folks who said that photography doesn’t require skill because it doesn’t involve paintbrushes.

          That said, I still hate techno.

    4. Anybody who came out of the early-90s industrial dance scene has a lot of explaining to do before they start attacking other genres for being samey.

      1. Meh. All genres are samey. I like techno, cos it goes SAMEY SAMEY SAMEY SAMEY, really loud. 

  11. First live performance of the song and they covered it with three, maybe four cameras in sync?????

      1.  Aye, rights, this was their second album. I still prefer Bleach, but I’m an awkward fucker.

  12. The song still sounds great, but god this video makes me fear what will happen to so much amazing footage shot before the age of digital. I’m sure none of these cameras were amazing and the lighting was shithouse, but add the poor quality analogue to digital conversion and then digital compression and this video is very hard to watch.

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