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).