NFC reviews Unplugged in New York DVD

Recently released, the NIRVANA Unplugged in New York DVD marks the first official video release of the legendary performance that took place in New York City on a cold November evening in 1993. While the performance has been aired around the world - regularly on MTV and VH-1 - the 44-minute broadcast omitted two songs and much banter in between other songs.

The complete 66-minute show is a remarkable glimpse into the extraordinary power of Nirvana as a live band, even in a considerably different setting than what they were used to and accustomed with.

Certainly, they had done short acoustic performances before, and even added an acoustic portion to their live shows of the era, but the Unplugged show was truly the first of its kind for the band.

Showcasing Cobain's incredible vocals for one, the performance shot straight to number one on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released on CD in 1994 (and even picked up a Grammy in 1996).

The DVD brings you the show in crystal clear quality, featuring a brand new sound mix in 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital. As mentioned, the DVD includes the complete show - including two songs (Oh Me and Something In The Way) not previously broadcast. Though, one of the highlights of the DVD is the funny comments and unexpected moments in between the songs, which was also cut from the original broadcast. E.g. the audience shouting out song requests (including the mandatory yell for Freebird!) and the band attempting jams of Scentless Apprentice, In Bloom, Sweet Home Alabama, among others.

There's also the option of adding subtitles to the DVD which can be helpful to illuminate Kurt's muffled prose, and even clear up some previously unresolved issues. E.g. whether he says "Most people don't know it" or "Most people don't own it" [the first record] before diving into About A Girl (he actually says the latter).

It goes without saying that Nirvana Unplugged is an incredible live performance that gets a much deserved and long overdue DVD release. While I haven't had the chance to experience the new sound mix, most fans seem to agree that it gives a whole new depth and fidelity to the performance. Indeed, the sound (even in 2.0) sounds richer and more detailed than ever before, allowing you to hear the individual instruments better than before. The cello, for one, is far more prominent in the sound mix, for better or worse. The camera mix is also different, allowing you to see new angles of the participants and a new way of watching the show - like watching it for the first time. In general, it is a very well-produced and professionally conceived release.

As for the bonus material, the DVD contains much sought-after footage of the Unplugged rehearsals. Never before seen (except for a few seconds in MTV specials), the footage has been near the top of the Nirvana fans wishlist for many years. Thus, the addition of five songs from the rehearsals (comprising some 22 minutes) is a quite excellent bonus feature. The rehearsals show a rough and unrestricted glimpse into how the band prepared for the show, and a Kurt Cobain that seemed unmotivated at best for the task he was about to perform. There's also an interesting version of Pennyroyal Tea with Pat Smear on backup vocals.

The other bonus feature is the "Bare Witness" special which has been aired on MTV and VH-1 multiple times. It's a fairly good production, featuring interviews with band members, the MTV producer Alex Coletti, and various others associated with the show. The documentary is somewhat bland and uninspired at times, but the DVD would not be complete without it. A 2007 documentary with footage from the vaults and new interviews wouldn't have hurt, though.

As a final bonus, the DVD also contains the normal MTV broadcast version of the show which is a nice addition.

In conclusion: this is a great Nirvana release and it is a joy to finally be able to pop this show in your DVD player without resorting to a generated bootleg copy. Indeed, an unauthorized copy of the master recording of the complete performance has been circulating in fan circles since the mid-90s. It's equally a joy that the Nirvana camp has listened to requests from the fans by including substantial footage from the rehearsals, as well as mixing the sound in 5.1. Of course, one could argue that the DVD should have been out many years ago, but with the complications involved in the legal aspect of the Nirvana legacy, we're fortunate to get this at all, I suppose. Compared to last year's vastly unnecessary and arguably poor Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! DVD, this is a good example of what the fans have craved.

Nirvana: Unplugged in New York - rating 5 out of 5. Available in stores NOW. Buy it online.

The DVD has also touched a new generation of Nirvana fans -- 13-year old Bianca shared the following review:

"Yesterday I bought Nirvana: Unplugged on DVD and ... well ... I am speechless. I can't really describe it, it's more of something you feel and take into account. However, I can tell you this; just by immediately taking out the disc and putting it into the DVD player and the beginning of the performance coming on right from the start, I felt that I should just watch the performance in its entirety. It did me well.

It's just really heart-wrenching because you could see the pain and angst that was bottled-up inside of Cobain. Almost as if he knew he wasn't going to be here much longer. A tear nearly ran down my face. At the end of the whole performance, I just naturally felt the need to bow my head in respect of Kurt and Nirvana.

It's a breath-taking sight, if you have $20.00 to spend, do yourself a huge favor and BUY IT!"
Thanks to Bianca and her mother for sharing this review.

Posted in NFC news section at on 12-01-2007 @ 6:09 PM (GMT).

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