Twenty-five years ago today, September 22, 1990, Seattle’s own Nirvana played what is now recognized as one of the band’s most iconic concerts on its journey to national acclaim — not just for the band, but for the slowly growing genre of grunge.
At the downtown intersection of Stewart and Yale – yep, near REI! – three bands and 1,500+ people crammed into an old parking garage, The Motor Sports International Garage. In addition to Nirvana, the evening’s lineup included Chicago-based punk band The Dwarves, along with local favorites The Melvins and The Derelicts.
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s front man and lead guitarist, and bassist Krist Novoselic had been through a series of drummers, none of whom stayed around for very long. For this show, however, they benefited because the local band Mudhoney was on hiatus and Nirvana borrowed drummer Dan Peters for the night. It was common for a drummer to play a single show, and this was Peters’ turn. Though Peters had played on the single “Sliver,” released the same month of the Motorsports show, this was his only live show with Nirvana.
The setlist for the Motor Sports concert leaned heavily on songs from Nirvana’s 1989 debut album Bleach, recorded with drummer Chad Channing. These included classics like “About A Girl”, “School,” and their first single, a cover of The Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz.” The set also included a few rarities which were later more widely released on compilations such as “Stay Away” – originally called “Pay To Play” – “Spank Thru” and “Dive.”
This concert is notable for those reasons alone, but the key reason is that the drummer for a recently-disbanded Washington, D.C. punk group was in the audience. His name was Dave Grohl. Already friends with Cobain and Novoselic, Grohl would perform his first concert with Nirvana three weeks later on October 11, 1990, in Olympia, WA.
The concert in September was among the last of its kind for Nirvana. The next year would bring a major record deal and the album Nevermind – released almost exactly a year after the Motor Sports show. A few months after the Nevermind release, in January 1992, it knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album off the top of the Billboard chart
Thus began the national Cinderella Story of Grunge. By the time of Cobain’s death on April 8, 1994, and Nirvana’s break-up shortly after, the sound that was once the Northwest’s best-kept musical secret had become an international phenomenon.
And …. almost forgot! …. there is this awesome video of that night. Well, sort of awesome. Audio is crummy but it’s history, right? And history isn’t always pretty, folks. Enjoy!