Setlist History: Nirvana Rocks Reading in 1992

Nirvana headlined one of their biggest shows of their career on August 30, 1992, the Reading Festival, so naturally Kurt Cobain was pushed out on stage in a wheelchair while wearing a long blonde frightwig and a hospital gown to play into the rumors he was sickly and creeping towards death.

These were the days when Reading only accommodated about 50,000 fans -- today it's twice that -- but all eyes were on the skinny singer who had been in the newspapers for his drug use, his wife's shockingly rumored dalliances (while pregnant) and the hugely successful grunge band's precarious future.

Kurt in his hospital gown, jumping for joy. To the left is Krist Novoselic and to the right Dave Grohl.

After bassist Krist Novoselic said, "this is too painful," Cobain finally made it to the mic.

The singer-guitarist-songwriter-demigod used the mic stand to pull himself up, and then sang the opening strains of the theme song of the 1979 4x Oscar-nominated
tearjerker The Rose.

The song and the film are loosely based on the tragic tale of Janis Joplin, the wildly talented singer who died in a rundown hotel at 27 years old of a heroin overdose.

When Kurt sarcastically sung those lines he was a 25 year-old addict who would, sadly, only live two more years and never play in the UK again. He would join the 27 Club in 1994 with rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, the subject of "The Rose."

But Reading '92 was not a somber show. It was a declaration of punk, rock, and grunge on a big stage, which was not as common for Nirvana as one would expect.

Yeah yeah yeah yeahhhhhhhh.

The trio's hit album Nevermind was approaching a year old when they hit the British stage.

A month before the festival, while the band was on a European Tour consisting of festivals and theater gigs, Geffen Records had released the group's third single from their sophomore effort, "Lithium."

Nirvana headlined the third night which was decidedly super Seattle-flavored. That night they played along with Teenage Fanclub who had been touring with the trio through Europe.

In a year just three singles from what would be the biggest and most impactful album of its era? Weird. Just as head scratching was how the band would go from giant fest to cozy club or modest hall. Arenas would be for their next album, In Utero, but strangely not for Nevermind.

Their set at Little John's Farm that night contained 11 of the 13 tunes from Nevermind. Only the noise-punk "Endless Nameless" and the super mellow "Something in the Way" were left off the list.

Three tunes from their forthcoming album In Utero were part of the set including what appears to be the live debut of "Tourette's" a tune Kurt screams through the majority of and finishes by yelling either "coda" or "Quahog" or "cold heart," depending on who you ask.

The power of Nirvana in the two-minute live debut of "Tourette's"

As they did throughout their career and beautifully on their Unplugged album, Nirvana included a few covers in their encore: "Love Buzz" by Shocking Blue, "The Money Will Roll Right In" by Fang and "D-7" by Wipers. Reading would be the last time Nirvana covered the Fang tune.

In an interesting way of downplaying their biggest hit, Nirvana placed "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the #13 slot of the 25-song set.

And best of all Kurt, with a wicked smile, strummed Boston's 1976 hit "More Than A Feeling," as both a nod that the two radio friendly unit shifters had similar chords, but also as a GenX snide sneer of, "but ours is better."

During much of the performance a young man was dancing between Kurt and Krist, unmolested, thrashing about by himself.

Was he a fan who had somehow jumped on stage? Why wasn't security tackling him?

The young man was Antony Hodgkinson who had been employed in 1989 by a UK booker to drive Nirvana from the airport to their gig. This was so early into the band's history, Dave Grohl had not even joined yet.

Anthony and Kurt hit it off immediately and just about any time they were in the UK, he was their guy. In 1990 the band dared him to get into a dress, paint on some makeup and dance on stage while they played their gig in Leeds. Challenge accepted.

The first time Anthony Hodgkinson danced with Nirvana: Leeds 1990

Since that show he danced occasionally with them, but never as famously as at their '92 Reading gig. He threw his body around so much he gave himself whiplash.

"I was absolutely shattered at the end of it. It was a brutal punk rock show," he told the BBC in 2022 for the 30th anniversary of the show. "I'd have to take breathers, but also there were certain songs like 'On a Plain' that I used to love listening to and I just thought, it's not my show - I'm part of it, but it ain't my show."

Nirvana's appearance at Reading is considered one of their best shows at the peak of their popularity. It was captured on record and DVD, simply titled Live at Reading, and released in 2009.

The remaining members of Nirvana, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear, as you probably are well aware of in Foo Fighters, a band that has also experienced a personal tragedy.

Their Everything Or Nothing At All Tour World Tour gets back to business in about a week in Aspen, Colorado, followed by a pair of shows in Brazil, then Riot Fest in Chicago and many other dates around the globe.

Get your Foo Fighters tix on their website.

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Last updated: 19 May 2024, 17:18 Etc/UTC