THE RINGER: The best television episode of the 1990s starred a short, blond man and his band. On November 18, 1993, at Sony Music Studios in New York City, Nirvana took on MTV Unplugged. That night, the biggest group of the decade staged one of the most hypnotically intimate rock concerts ever captured on film.
Wearing a fuzzy cardigan, ratty button-down, Frightwig T-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, Kurt Cobain—with help from drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, guitarist Pat Smear, and cellist Lori Goldston—orchestrated a performance that was heartfelt, funny, uncomfortable, and mesmerizing. Nirvana’s appearance on the acoustic series proved something that close observers already knew: The loudest band on earth had a stunning amount of depth.
Cobain subtly subverted the format, which usually featured acts playing stripped-down versions of their hits, by filling the set list with cover songs. He also invited two of his musical heroes, Cris and Curt Kirkwood of the little-known Meat Puppets. The lead singer even helped design the set, asking for it to be decorated with stargazer lilies and black candles.
The room’s haunting vibe later led the event to be described as sorrowful, but despite Cobain’s well-documented struggles at the time, the evening was far from dour. As the show progressed, those in attendance began to realize that what they were watching would become legendary. “You knew for sure that history was being made,” said former MTV executive Amy Finnerty, who worked closely with Nirvana. “No doubt about it. You’re lucky if you get to be at something like that once in your lifetime.” MORE