More than a decade after the music exploded out of Seattle, Washington, the time is right for this exclusive box set featuring unreleased demos, b-sides and live tracks spanning the career of grunge's superstar shaggy-dog mascots, Nirvana.
The set opens with the three-man band performing a screeching rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker," with the muddy, Seattle touch. These earliest of recordings, dating back to 1987, feature early drummers, Aaron Burkhard and Chad Channing, sitting in until Dave Grohl joins in '90.
"Anorexorcist" has Nirvana sounding more like Metallica than the great grunge hope from the Northwest. As they proceed through rehearsal and radio recordings from that year through 1988, solo acoustic renditions of "Polly" and "About A Girl " start to surface, revealing that singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain was something of a songwriter too(!).
Disc two opens with more solo acoustic performances, beginning with the frenzied pop song, "Opinion," and a more subdued, abbreviated version of "Lithium," just one of the songs that eventually became a big hit for the band from their mega-selling album, Nevermind. A fully evolved solo take of "Sliver," ("grandma take me home") highlights why it too became a live high watermark for the band and was featured as the single from the Incesticide release.
Cobain experimented with old folk and blues songs with his grunge peer Mark Lanegan and the pair worked out some old Leadbelly tunes during rehearsals together. Cobain moans his way through a solo acoustic version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" that is as chilling as any old found folk recording from the hills of Appalachia and rivals the band's definitive take of the song from its MTV Unplugged in New York disc.
Sandwiched between "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and the Velvet Underground tribute song, "Here She Comes Now," is the grungy demo for the pile-driving "Pay to Play."
"Aneurysm" has the pop/punk velocity of an old Cheap Trick song (which just might be intentional; inside the CD booklet is a Cobain drawing, portraying himself as Robin Zander of Cheap Trick).
Of course, the early rehearsal demo of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from 1991 (before it was committed to the Nevermind album) is a piece of must-hear grunge-rock history.
By the time disc three rolls around, we enter 1993-94, the period coinciding with worldwide Nirvanamania. The side opens with two previously unreleased versions of "Rape Me" from In Utero. The album's first single, "Heart Shaped Box," shows up as a loose band demo, as does "All Apologies," which was preserved in stark, solo acoustic form and culled from an undated source; it's simply amazing.
The third disc's other highlight is a mellow band rehearsal tape of "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam," a song by Cobain favorites, the Vaselines. Pat Smear sits in on guitar along with Melora Creagor on cello.
Disc four is filled with previously unreleased DVD material, most of it taken from a 1988 rehearsal at Krist Novoselic's mother's house, including a run-through of "Love Buzz," the Beatles-inspired "About a Girl," and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." The dramatic performances of "Pennyroyal Tea," "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings" were captured at a live show at the OK Hotel in Seattle in 1991.
Nirvana's rock and roll legacy is huge though their official catalog is very small. It's about time grunge fans received a gift as substantial as With the Lights Out to sink our teeth into: "Here we are now, entertain us."