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Beth McCarthy
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl

While the album of the same name made its first appearance in 1994, and went on to become Nirvana's second best selling CD of all time, nearly 15 years have passed since that memorable initial broadcast. Now, fans will finally get the chance to see the release of the entire, unedited performance ... with neverbefore seen footage ... on DVD ... and in Dolby Stereo and 5.1 Surround sound. Mixed in surround sound by legendary surround mixing engineer Elliot Scheiner, this DVD allows fans to experience this performance like never before, completely unedited including the two songs not originally broadcasted ("Something In The Way" and "Oh Me" ), and with the best sound ever available (to anyone not in the studio for the original taping.) For the purists, also included on this DVD is the original 44 minute broadcast version of the show, plus never-before-seen rehearsal performances. As an extra bonus to the DVD, a 14-minute interview segment called "Bare Witness" produced by MTV focuses on the recollections of those who experienced this magical moment in music history, those who produced it and interviews with the band from the day of the taping.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Stereo
Brazilian Portuguese
Supplements Subtitles:
Brazilian Portuguese

Runtime: 66 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 11/20/2007

• Original MTV Version
• “MTV News: Bare Witness” Featurette
• Rehearsal Footage


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Nirvana: Unplugged In New York (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2007)

Back when MTV actually offered copious amounts of music, its Unplugged series created a sensation. After acts like Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton earned big chart successes with their appearances, performers flocked to present their music in stripped-down form. Though never all that concerned about scoring hits, Nirvana did the show as well – and recorded arguably the best-regarded Unplugged of them all.

Taped November 18, 1993 – less than half a year before Kurt Cobain would take his own life - Nirvana: Unplugged in New York mixes the band’s own material with some carefully chosen covers. From their then-current 1993 album In Utero, we get “Pennyroyal Tea”, “All Apologies” and “Dumb”. 1991’s seminal Nevermind produces “Come As You Are”, “Polly”, “On a Plain” and “Something in the Way”, while 1989’s Bleach contributes “About a Girl”.

We also find covers of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”, the Vaselines’ “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”, Ledbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and Meat Puppets’ “Plateau”, “Oh Me” and “Lake of Fire”. Note that Puppets Curt and Cris Kirkwood guest on those three songs. Pat Smear adds a second guitar to many others, and cellist Lori Goldston contributes to eight of the 14 tracks.

On the surface, alternative punks like Nirvana must’ve sounded like a bad idea for the sedate setting of Unplugged. That was so long ago that I can’t remember my reaction at the time, but they don’t seem like a natural fit for the series’ concept.

Which makes it all the more surprising that they not only succeeded, but also provided arguably the Unplugged series’ most iconic episode. I expect that others like Clapton probably had more commercial success – his Unplugged appearance really revitalized his career – but I doubt any others reshaped how others viewed them quite as much.

In a perverse way, the Nirvana Unplugged got a boost from Cobain’s suicide. The show received innumerable airings after he died, and it also was the first Nirvana product on the market in the wake of his demise. That timing meant that many fans became more attached to it than they otherwise might’ve under more pleasant circumstances.

Even though I was a Nirvana fan back at that time, I never got the Unplugged CD or saw the show. Why not? Mostly because I just never much cared for the acoustic format. Even from acts I consider to be absolute favorites, the Unplugged format leaves me a bit cold. Add to that the discrepancy between the hard-edged abrasiveness of Nirvana’s best work and the quietness of this performance and I just never felt particularly compelled to explore it.

Now that I’ve finally given Nirvana’s Unplugged a look and a listen, I can’t say that I regret the fact I ignored it for so long, but the result turned out better than I would’ve figured. Nirvana fits the stripped down format in a much more effective manner than I could’ve hoped. What we lose in sheer volume and distortion, we gain in intimacy and emotional impact.

Much has been made about Cobain’s vaunted self-agony, so I don’t need to belabor that issue. The immediacy of this format does allow for his internal angst to come to the forefront, and I mean that in a good way. The presentation allows us to concentrate on the material in a more intense way without the loud guitars and drums. Mind you, I really like those loud guitars and drums, but it’s revealing to hear the songs in such an uncluttered manner.

Don’t take this to mean that Unplugged is nothing more than an unremittingly dour gloomfest. Due to the fact he did wear his pain on his sleeve and he died in such a sad manner, Cobain’s dark side receives attention to the exclusion of all else. As seen in Unplugged, though, the guy had a good dry sense of humor. We get some funny, revealing moments in the show. I get the feeling this is what it would’ve been like to hang out with Cobain and listen to him play in his living room.

Director Beth McCarthy gives us a nicely unobtrusive take on the concert. A fairly sedate show gets a fairly sedate presentation, as we see the events in a smooth, uncluttered manner. The visuals complement the music and allow us to concentrate on the material at hand.

All of this results in a satisfying Unplugged from Nirvana. The acoustic format never becomes bland or unenjoyable, as the setting allows for different layers of the songs to emerge. It’s a winning combination.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio A/ Bonus C+

Nirvana: Unplugged in New York appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Unplugged was a videotaped program from the early Nineties, and guess what? It looked like one.

Sharpness varied. Close-ups usually seemed acceptably concise and distinctive, but anything wider became more of a crapshoot. Some of those elements were pretty firm, but others turned rather soft and fuzzy. Some minor jagged edges and shimmering occurred, but I didn’t notice any edge enhancement. As for source flaws, the image looked clean.

As with most concert presentations, most of the colors emanated from lighting. The lights tended to appear a little messy and dense, though not badly so. The shots with simpler illumination looked much more satisfying, as those with heavier lights were somewhat runny. Since the show didn’t feature a lot of really heavy lighting, though, the tones usually looked decent. Blacks appeared pretty dark, and shadows didn’t play a big role. They appeared reasonably concise when they occurred, though a few audience shots came across as a bit murky. Ultimately, this was a mediocre picture that lacked any particular strengths.

On the other hand, the soundtracks of Nirvana: Unplugged in New York offered some very good elements and seemed consistently satisfying. I thought both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes sounded virtually identical. If any differences came with the pair, I couldn’t differentiate between them.

The quality of the audio seemed very good. Vocals were lively and natural, while guitars and other instruments appeared crisp and tight. Drums snapped well, and bass response came across well. Low-end response was consistently warm and full.

The soundfield didn’t go nuts, but it broadened the material more than adequately. The surrounds boasted decent reinforcement of the forward channels and presented minor involvement from the audience. Stereo separation in the front was terrific. Vocals always stayed firmly anchored in the center, while the other instruments spread smoothly across the soundscape. They were appropriately placed and left with plenty of room to breathe. Guitars were split distinctly into one channel or the other, and a little instrumentation appeared in the surrounds, usually via cello in the rear left. This worked well and gave the program a fine sense of place. Ultimately, I liked this mix a lot and thought it sounded quite good.

A few extras fill out the set. For those who want their “vintage Unplugged”, they can watch the original MTV version of the show. The review covered the full Nirvana performance from November 1993, while this one edits the concert. It drops “Something In the Way” and “Oh, Me”. It also rearranges the song order and cuts a lot of the in-between tune chat found in the unedited version. This one runs about 21 minutes less than the unedited edition

I’m glad that they included the original aired version of the show, but I can’t imagine many fans will prefer it. The uncut edition is interesting partially because it offers the whole show warts and all. Some of the awkwardness between songs is more interesting than the actual performances, and the aired version loses a lot of that. I do like that it’s here, though.

More music comes from The Rehearsals. It presents practice takes of “Come As You Are”, “Polly”, “Plateau”, “Pennyroyal Tea” and “The Man Who Sold the World”. All together, those songs fill 22 minutes and 32 seconds. “Rehearsal” doesn’t describe the footage particularly well, as it leaves the impression the tunes will be totally bare bones. Instead, these clips acted like a dry run for the show itself. That means plenty of camera angles and footage that often could’ve been cut into the final product without much trouble.

The most interesting aspect of “The Rehearsals” comes from the “fly on the wall” side of things. It’s fun to get this behind the scenes look at the band without a crowd in front of them, especially when we see them work through problems with the performances. The raw nature of the presentation makes it a good addition.

MTV News: Bare Witness presents a 14-minute and four-second featurette. It collects interviews with MTV’s Alex Coletti, MTV chairman/CEO Tom Freston, MTV Director of Music, Talent and Artist Development (1989-1998) Amy Finnerty, 100FM Radio Director of Marketing and Promotion Theresa Beyer, “Nirvana It’s an Interview” producer/host Kurt St. Thomas, MTV Music Programming VP (1992-1999) Lewis Largent, and fan Tim Chiusano. We get a little info about the performance as well as reflections about the show.

That means a lot of “Nirvana were amazing” and “the concert was incredible” comments, unfortunately, and not a lot of info. The most interesting details come from some indications about MTV’s nervousness; we hear a little about how they wanted more hits than Nirvana were willing to play. Otherwise, this isn’t much more than a puff piece.

In what would unfortunately become their swan song, Nirvana put on a memorable acoustic show with Unplugged In New York. They go through an intriguing set of covers and non-hits in this direct and involving performance. The DVD presents excellent audio along with mediocre picture and extras. Those drawbacks shouldn’t keep fans from this DVD, though, as it provides a very good representation of the original event. Nirvana Unplugged earns my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8571 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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