Kurt Cobain performs with Nirvana at the Stabler Arena in Bethlehem | still from video
Watch Nirvana’s final concert in Pennsylvania from November 9, 1993
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was in a precarious place when his band plowed through the state of Pennsylvania this week in 1993.
It was in the midst of a greuling tour in support of In Utero, the Seattle band’s final (and best) album. The record was a brutal primal howl of an artist who felt out of place with the world, and with himself — Cobain, as many fans and historians note, was a complex and contradictory person, a sensitive and aggressive man who shunned fame and the spotlight as much as he craved it, who loathed mainstream audiences at the same time as he screamed for their attention, who wanted to lead the biggest punk band in the world and also wanted to just be left alone.
The tour behind In Utero was amped-up and unhinged — its stage was decked out in the anatomical models with angel wings of the cover art; its trajectory followed the formula of Nirvana’s songs, with a mid-show acoustic set crafting that riveting loud-quiet-loud dynamic; its players took the stage with a propensity for nihilistic instrument destruction.
Nirvana played two concerts locally on the tour; below, watch a video of its final Pennsylvania appearance on November 9th, 1993 at the Stabler Arena in Bethlehem.
The setlist was pretty standard for the tour — the dissonant squeal of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” opened, “All Apologies” closed the main set, a cover of The Vaselines’ “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” landed in the encore, “Blew” from 1989’s Bleach closed the night. In between, the 23-song mix featured 10 songs apiece from In Utero and Nevermind with three from Bleach, a short/sweet selection from the Incesticide b-sides comp (the wonderful “Sliver”) and the Vaselines cover. The band played a nearly identical setlist the night before at the Drexel University Armory in Philadelphia.
Things quickly disintegrated as the tour made its way to Europe, though. Cobain was rushed to a hospital after the band’s final show in Munich on March 1st. He overdosed in a Rome hotel, the band cancelled remaining dates — and a month later, he had taken his life. Despite this, the Bethlehem show sees Cobain and the band (bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, rounded out by Pat Smear on second guitar) turn in a gripping set. To whatever extent a perfect storm of troubles took away one of the most creative minds of the 90s, on stage is where Cobain shined.
You can hear similar intensity in a partial audio recording of the Drexel Armory show below as well.
Novoselic mentions early on about how Nirvana had played Philly twice before, and both shows were at J.C. Dobbs, a tiny 100-capacity club on South Street. He then remarks that he doesn’t think the capacity Armory crowd would be able to fit in there — and mysteriously adds “Stay away from the crabs.” (Did Dobbs serve crabs?)
See the entire setlist from the Armory here. Were you at either of these shows? Let us know in the comments — and listen to XPN’s Dan Reed and the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Dan DeLuca reflect on Nirvana in the Dan and Dan Music Podcast below.