Just to overview what exactly this is, Live and Loud encompasses two CD’s which once resided on the In Utero / Deluxe Edition issued in 2013 and still do, but now enjoy their own pressing to vinyl, apart from In Utero, as well as their own separate streaming interface. As a Nirvana fan, should I have heard these versions of these songs six years ago? Probably. Maybe Cobain was right when he said “All the kids will eat it up / If it’s packaged properly” and packaged properly Live and Loud certainly is, with that catchy, intimidating name and that big and ugly cover with the tiny In Utero angel hovering around as if to dissuade you of your fear that this will be music your parents can stand.
One added cool thing about Live and Loud is that it’s just the recording of one concert, Seattle’s Pier 48 on December 13, 1993, 25 days after Unplugged was laid down in New York. Amazingly, the band don’t really sound nervous, or else that frenzied mania is just Cobain sounding nervous (this stuff was probably old hat to him at this point).
Given the band’s general m.o., too, it should be hardly surprising that they scoff at the hit-seekers: in fact none of the first four songs on this setlist were released as a single, giving way at slot five only to the generally unapproachable, highly political but cathartic and catchy “Rape Me,” which the band also performed on Saturday Night Live in 1993. From there we go to “Sliver,” a live favorite of theirs swaggering as a stupefyingly catchy, Vaselines-influenced pop-punk 100-yard-dash that almost seems to suggest a different direction the band could have gone in had they stayed in their old home of Olympia, Washington and continued channeling the twee pop of Beat Happening and the likes thereof.
“Pennyroyal Tea” is kind of a point of contention with me. That is, I think it was meant to be an “unplugged” song. The version on that album is just so perfect, maintaining an ambient calmness to spotlight Cobain’s masterful songwriting, unblemished by excessive noise or cultural appropriation into “grunge.” So on Live and Loud when I got to this cut I was hoping it would be part of an acoustic “secret set” that they’d reportedly do in concert around this time (the practice might have culminated with the Unplugged airing, truth be told). Cobain’s guitar sound, likely a hollow-body electric Fender Squier Telecaster which was his preference around the time, is shrill but still mellow and generally hearty enough, but still not as rich as that acoustic he used in the Big Apple. Then Grohl’s huge drums come in in the chorus and Cobain lays on the distortion thick, so my hopes are lain to waste that this track will carry the acoustic intimacy of the unplugged version.
The question then becomes as to whether this song “works” as punk rock. Well, this song is many things, including not the least of which is being a little bit depressing (“Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld / So I can sigh eternally”; “I’m on warm milk and laxatives / Cherry flavored antacids”). Sifting through it, it’s impossible not to ruminate on, if not its meaning, at least its burgeoning positioning as the ultimate “slacker” anthem, where it seems like this zoomed-in angle on life wields the veritable impossibility of ever really truly being yourself in the world in any way, the logic behind this just as soon to point the finger as to hold the self accountable. But Cobain sounds sincere when he sings this song and he sounds like he means it and ultimately yes, it does work as punk rock, thanks largely to the absence of Steve Albini’s excessive drum amplification, a victory which I suppose is ultimately no more problematic than the rest of this Kurt Cobain thing seems to be at this point.
We pretty much know what to expect with “Scentless Apprentice” as it rears its ugly head on the excellent Live from the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (which though is not just a run through of one concert like Live and Loud is) as well as being track two on In Utero. “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” are obviously both classic songs, the unforgettable two singles released off In Utero — what distinguishes them from each other here is that on the former the band just seems to GROOVE a little more, Grohl’s beat infectiously simple, and I noticed some tempo issues, nothing too bad, on the verse/chorus transitions in “Box.” It’s funny that after all these years, after all the doubters calling this a money grab by the label or frivolous ego-stroking, more and more the strength of Nirvana’s songwriting shines through and the tunes themselves only become more meaningful, given the arena of a live concert which thousands of fans were able to enjoy firsthand.