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Nirvana covers

Rivers Cuomo loves Nirvana. He was in fact so inspired by their breakthrough hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (and the rest of Nevermind) that he wrote about the experience of first hearing it on 2008’s nostaglic Red Album cut “Heart Songs.” (Kurt Cobain also got a reference in the original version of the brilliant Blue b-side “Susanne,” but after his suicide Cuomo wisely decided to change it — to Cobain nemeses Guns ‘N Roses, ironically enough.) But few know that Weezer actually paid tribute to Nirvana as Goat Punishment, under which moniker the band played a small handful of secret shows in late ’90s and early aughts.

This particular show took place in winter of 1998, in Hollywood. It is remarkable because only Nirvana songs were played, and also because it was new bassist Mikey Welsh’s first live performance with all the members of Weezer (he had played in one of Rivers’ side projects in Boston the year before). Quoth Karl Koch, band webmaster and historian:

after a few months, the increasingly sporadic rehersals took a turn, when Goat Punishment was spontaineously formed, in order to play a whole show of early Nirvana material. It is still unclear as to why this happened, outside of perhaps a primal need to break up the monotony and get inspired. As far as I know, no rehearsals were taped…

Weezer themselves made a cassette bootleg, however, which was later shared with fans via the band’s official website. The quality is pretty poor, but the brief set is an interesting listen — the dirgy pop of Bleach cuts “Mr. Moustache,” “Swap Meet” and “Blew” are all performed, alongside Insecticide highlights “Aneurysm” and “Dive,” and Nevermind‘s “Breed.” It’s impressive that the band turns in a pretty authentic imitation — most surprising is how well Cuomo adapts Cobain’s growl – but the tape is more of a one-time curiosity than anything of lasting value.

The show took place during an interesting moment in the band’s timeline — one when Cuomo professed to being devoid of inspiration (the sole artifact fans have from the surprisingly-rather-prolific 1998 is “Crazy One,” actually a great little song), and probably around the time he started making his mythic “Encyclopedia of Pop” booklet, which contained theoretical deconstructions of what made some of history’s biggest and best pop rock hits successful (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was certainly analyzed therein). It’s often telling when a well-established band resorts to an intense cycle of covers for inspiration.

Weezer’s also done a Nirvana cover in more recent, happier times — on the current Troublemaker 2008 tour. To open the second encore, the aforementioned Koch comes out and sets up a portable turntable, takes out a wax copy of Red, and plays “Heart Songs.” Cuomo then comes out — flanked only by bassist Scott Shriner and drummer Pat Wilson — kicks the turntable off the stage, and launches into a cover of “Sliver.” Funnily enough, Wilson leads the band in a cover of Oasis’ “Morning Glory” earlier in the evening — a pairing that makes a little nod and a wink to the ’98/’99 Goat Punishment shows (they quickly followed up the Nirvana show with an Oasis show, which was apparently only witnessed by around 40 people, none of whom recorded it).

19 Comments

  1. This Is the Way wrote:

    I find this whole period fascinating. On the one hand I want everything from this era because its been locked away all this time…on the other hand I like the mystery. A full band decent quality version of Baby would be high on my Weezer wish list.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  2. Soyrev wrote:

    Ahh, “Baby” — now there’s one I look forward to discussing, along with pretty much all of the RCB/Homie songs. Only one of them’s come up yet…:|

    And screw mystery, I want it all!

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  3. Yellowcamaro wrote:

    Do you think that ‘Crazy One’ was the only decent thing he came up with or that Rivers was being to judgmental?

    Also i wish Rivers would listen to a bit more more Nirvana and Pixies than Hanah Montana and Ne-yo, as great influence will lead to great songs.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  4. skiz65 wrote:

    The 97-99 era is truely a source of endless fascination for me. Also, Pat didn’t play drums at the two GP shows. It was Mikey’s friend and ex-Juliana Hatfield bassist Todd Philips i believe.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  5. Chuck wrote:

    SOYREV: Do you sometimes ponder what would have happened to River’s overall musical direction, if he had more intensely focused on truly outstanding pop records like “Pet Sounds” than mediorce, but highly overrated one’s like Bleach, Nevermind, Ect. (Yes, they are “pop” records, especially Nevermind.) I know I do.

    It’s very fun and interesting to think about!

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  6. Nick (mawlahdroyt) wrote:

    Nirvana overrated? Sigh. No, Nevermind isn’t anywhere near as musically complex as something like SMiLE is, but its an amazing record with great songs and songwriting that has had a long lasting impact on the musical world.

    I definitely wouldn’t call it “overrated.” I’d say its rated by the general public the way it should be.

    Now back to the topic: Weezer’s covers. They are fairly decent. I really enjoyed Sliver when i saw them recently in LA.

    And I have never heard of an Oasis cover show until now, but it would have been very awesome to see Rivers sing some early Oasis songs.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  7. Soyrev wrote:

    Yeah, it only gets a brief mention in the Recording History…no setlist mentioned either.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Chuck wrote:

    If you mean, rated as one of the top 10 albums of all-time and Cobain as one of the top 15 guitars of all-time, then yes, you’re right. It’s perfectly rated.(Note: Sarcasm)

    I mean Cobain couldn’t even dream of writing anything close to complex as even Pinkerton. Let alone a top 10 album of all-time. (Note: That is all of music history)

    I think you, “the general public”, are generally more obsessed with Cobain due to more of a lack of material, then a glut of outstanding material. I mean after In Utero, where did Cobain have left to go. In the world of power chords, he pretty much explored that entire UNIVERSE.

    I honestly think, the mind-numbing success of Nevermind (Cobain would agree) is more of a band being in the right place at the EXACT RIGHT TIME.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  9. Chuck wrote:

    I agree, he’s a good songwriter. But Cobain is as criminally overrated (RIP, no bad karma please) as Cuomo’s pre-2000 (Possibly post 2K) material is underrated? Agree? You should.

    Some people actually believe he would have been “the best songwriter of all-time.” I’m starting to lose respect for 99.9% of the general music population. (Again, RIP, no bad karma please)

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  10. Melack wrote:

    Not everything has to be complex to deserve credit. I agree that Cobain isn’t the greatest songwriter, but he still wrote some great songs. Yes he based most of his songs around basic power chords, but no one can deny the emotional impact of the songs, that’s worth more than complexity to me. What i like about these covers is that he stays away from the most overplayed songs and instead plays some stuff from “Bleach” and “Incesticide”. I love songs like “Dive” and “Blew”. And yes “Do Re Mi” is pretty.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 1:36 am | Permalink
  11. Yellowcamaro wrote:

    I think the Oasis Weezer comparison is interesting as their first two albums are there masterpieces that are never to be beaten, but they are still churning out the goods. And in these there are a some outstanding work that are bogged down by the worse. Also the Gallaghers and Cuomo are both draws to the press, albeit in different ways.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  12. Chuck wrote:

    SOYREV:

    My point?

    Is Nevermind a good album? Sure.

    Is Nevermind one of the most mind-blowingly overrated albums of all-time? Of course

    My overall point?

    Cobain is as overrated songwriter, in my opinion, as Cuomo is underrated.

    My ultimate point?

    Match up each song of Weezer (Blue) & Nevermind or Pinkerton and In Utero, with all of your musical preferences aside. And decide which song you prefer. I think I know the answer.

    P.S. My “he would have been the best songwriter of all-time.” came from the comment section of the demo you suggested I listen too.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  13. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    excuse me while I butt in, but Silver rocked when they played it.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
  14. Low wrote:

    >Cobain is as overrated songwriter, in my opinion, as Cuomo is underrated.

    cobain never wrote anything as great as cuomo’s best, but also never anything as bad as most of PP cuomo..

    Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 4:19 am | Permalink
  15. GuessWho wrote:

    The moment Rivers kicked over the record player and plunged straight in to Sliver was probably the single most memorable moment of =W=’s performance this tour. I also enjoyed hearing the bootleg of Breed, probably my favorite track off Nevermind.

    Speaking of their show this year, I hope to read a write-up of their cover of Time… Weezer covering Pink Floyd sounded like an awful idea on paper, but it turned out surprisingly good (I never knew Pat was such a vocalist!).

    Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  16. GuessWho wrote:

    Bootlegs of the shows from Los Angeles and Atlanta are available on Weezed’s Live Archive. I’d say the LA recording is higher-quality.

    Monday, January 5, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  17. thegreatestscorch wrote:

    http://www.ifc.com/blogs/indie-ear/2008/04/nirvana-to-play-coachella-with.php

    can you imagine if this happned?

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  18. andybedingfield wrote:

    Bleach is like Maladroit. I never seek it out. It has a little more going for it than Maladroit, yet both are almost unlistenable to me(note: Bleach songs are WAY better live than on record). The songs are just not that good. Lyrics were written on the way to the studio, and like Maladroit, 9 times outta 10 they mean nothing.

    Nevermind doesn’t have ANY bad songs. I would put the Blue Album slightly higher, but they’re similar albums in some regards: abrasive alt rock with lyrics and production that made them pop radio ready. Top 10 of the 90s? Eh, Top 20 for sure, but idk about that right now…

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  19. Chris wrote:

    “I mean Cobain couldn’t even dream of writing anything close to complex as even Pinkerton. Let alone a top 10 album of all-time. (Note: That is all of music history).”

    You don’t know shit, Chuck.

    “outstanding pop records like “Pet Sounds” than mediorce, but highly overrated one’s like Bleach, Nevermind, Ect.”

    Cut the annoying snobbery already.

    Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

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