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In his upcoming book, Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge In Europe, 1989, Bruce Pavitt, who co-founded Sub Pop Records with Jonathan Poneman, recounts the groundbreaking and, at times, tumultuous eight days that he and Poneman spent on the road with Nirvana, Mudhoney and Tad in Europe just before grunge exploded upon the world.
In a week's time, Poneman saw Nirvana almost break up following a difficult show at the Piper Club in Rome, Italy, just days before the band would win over the British press at the LameFestUK show held at the 2,000-capacity Astoria Theater in London, a gig that helped set the stage for their impending worldwide popularity.
Below is a first chapter excerpt from Experiencing Nirvana, and on the following pages MusicRadar speaks to Pavitt. (You can order Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge In Europe, 1989 here.)
Monday, November 27
Piper Club, Rome
Jon and I arrived in Rome to connect with two of the new Seattle groups we were working with: Nirvana and Tad. Our mission was to assist in any way possible prior to their big Sub Pop showcase in London (LameFest UK), where they were to perform with their headlining labelmates Mudhoney. The British media was notorious for launching music careers, and we hoped that this event would be a defining moment for the artists.
In particular, we were concerned about Kurt Cobain, singer for Nirvana, as we had heard that he was feeling resigned and homesick and was suffering from exhaustion. Jon and I were hoping to help raise his spirits with a show of support. Everyone knew that it was crucial for the bands to arrive in London in good shape, as the three-band LameFest UK was by far the biggest show of the tour, with the potential to have a huge impact via the influential British press…
The Tad band got onstage and started their aggressive, lumbering set, showcasing tracks from their debut album,God’s Balls. Taunting the crowd, bass player Kurt Danielson fell into the audience, yelling, “Fuck the Pope!” while drummer Steve Wied kept the beat. After 40 minutes of provoking the Rome citizenry, the world’s heaviest band then retired upstairs to recuperate.
Nirvana’s turn was next… Ten songs into their set, Kurt, frustrated with his guitar, smashed it completely and climbed a tall stack of speakers. The crowd looked on, with many drunk spectators yelling “Jump!” It was a dramatic moment, potentially harmful. I witnessed the event from the club floor, stunned, while Jon and Tad looked down from the artists’ area on the second floor. Everyone was holding their breath, not sure if Kurt would actually jump. We were panicked, and extremely concerned for Kurt’s well-being.
Reprinted from the book EXPERIENCING NIRVANA: Grunge in Europe, 1989, by Bruce Pavitt, with permission by Bazillion Points Publishing.