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.