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November 1, 2023

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana During the Taping of ‘MTV Unplugged’ at Sony Studios in New York City in 1993

MTV Unplugged in New York is a live album by Nirvana, released on November 1, 1994. It features an acoustic performance recorded at Sony Music Studios in New York City on November 18, 1993, for the television series MTV Unplugged.

Nirvana rehearsed for two days, at SST Rehearsal Facility, in Weehawken, New Jersey. The rehearsals were tense and difficult, with the band running into problems performing various songs. During the sessions, Cobain disagreed with MTV about the performance. Producer Alex Coletti recalled that the network was unhappy with the lack of hit Nirvana songs, and with the choice of the Meat Puppets as guests, saying: “They wanted to hear the ‘right’ names – Eddie Vedder or Tori Amos or God knows who.”

The day before filming, Cobain refused to play, but he appeared at the studio the following afternoon. Cobain was suffering from drug withdrawal and nervousness at the time; one observer said, “There was no joking, no smiles, no fun coming from him ... everyone was more than a little worried about his performance.”

Nirvana taped their performance on November 18, 1993, at Sony Studios in New York City. Cobain suggested the stage be decorated with stargazer lilies, black candles, and a crystal chandelier. Coletti asked, “You mean like a funeral?” Cobain replied, “Exactly. Like a funeral.”

Nirvana was joined by guitarist Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston, who had been touring with them. Despite the show’s acoustic premise, Cobain insisted on running his acoustic guitar through his amplifier and effects pedals. Coletti built a fake box in front of the amplifier to disguise it as a monitor wedge. Coletti said, “It was Kurt’s security blanket. He was used to hearing this guitar through his Fender. He wanted those effects. You can hear it on ‘The Man Who Sold the World’. It’s an acoustic guitar, but he’s obviously going through an amp.”

Unlike many artists who appeared on the show, Nirvana filmed the entire performance of 14 songs in a single take. It included one song from their debut Bleach (1989), four from their second album Nevermind (1991), three from the recently released In Utero, and six covers. As In Utero’s “All Apologies” had not yet been released as a single, the only contemporary hit the band performed was the Nevermind single “Come as You Are”.

Cris and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets joined to perform three of their songs with Nirvana. “Kurt purposely wanted the Meat Puppets songs to be a struggle for him vocally,” remarked Coletti. “So instead of finding a key he could sing them in comfortably, he chose to strain.”

The set ended with a performance of the traditional “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, following the arrangement of blues musician Lead Belly, whom Cobain described before the song as “his favorite performer ever.” Mark Lanegan had covered this song previously on The Winding Sheet (1990) with Cobain on guitar. After the band finished, Cobain argued with the show’s producers, who wanted an encore. Cobain refused because he felt he could not top the performance of that song.

MTV Unplugged in New York was released on November 1, 1994. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 310,500 copies, the highest first-week sales of Nirvana’s career. By March 1995, the album had outsold In Utero with 6.8 million copies sold.


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