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    Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

    In the April/May 2006 issue of Wax Poetics magazine, in the Record Rundown, Cut Chemist cites this album as essential. It comes out of nowhere, given that the rest of the DJ’s selections are obscure rap and funk and private press rarities. But as he explains: “This is as close to Beatlemania as I think my generation got.” It’s true; most Gen Xers can probably remember where they were when they first saw this air on MTV in December 1993.

    For many bands of the era, Unplugged was a fun way to showcase themselves in an intimate setting. Maybe they’d throw in a couple curveballs, but for the most part it’d be their hits, perhaps in new arrangements, coupled with album tracks that worked well played acoustically. Nirvana sidestepped this with a carefully calibrated set list: one track off Bleach; just four from their breakthrough Nevermind; three from the then-recently released In Utero; and six covers. No “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and thank God because that would have sucked on acoustic instruments. The only hit here is “Come As You Are,” which worked well, as did everything else they played. Cris and Curt Kirkwood, from tour-mates Meat Puppets, backed the band on three songs from their 1984 album Meat Puppets II. Another big moment is their cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which sees Kurt Cobain daring to run his acoustic guitar through a distortion pedal (gasp) played in tandem with cellist Lori Goldston to eerie effect.

    The album is pretty much nothing but highlights but a big one is the show closer; Cobain’s cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” A blues cover was an odd choice for Nirvana but it fit perfectly, and when Cobain died four months after this was recorded, the anguish in his voice became even more audible.