Grunge-rock luminaries Nirvana perform scorching homecoming concert for MTV at Seattle's historic Pier 48 along Elliott Bay on December 13, 1993.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 11/19/2014
  • Essay 10966
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On December 13, 1993, in a decrepit warehouse on Pier 48 along Seattle's Elliott Bay waterfront, beloved Seattle grunge-rock band Nirvana wows a select audience with 18 stellar songs that encompass the band's half-decade-long recording career. MTV crews videotape the show and it is broadcast later as the Live and Loud show on December 31, 1993, a New Year's Eve special. For the following 20 years many fans worldwide will buy and trade illicit bootleg VHS tapes and compact discs of the program, until the official Live and Loud DVD is finally released in 2013.

Sites and Sounds 

Nirvana was a rock 'n' roll band that originated in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, in the late 1980s. As the band-members developed their unique sound -- and moved around to Olympia, Tacoma, and eventually Seattle -- they built an enthusiastic following on a scene that already boasted popular young groups including Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, Malfunkshun, and Green River. Blending musical and fashion elements from the local heavy-metal and punk-rock realms, these and additional bands (Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam) would eventually come to define what a worldwide audience would know as "grunge rock." And, for many fans, it was Nirvana that represented the artistic pinnacle of the scene, with the 1991 mega-hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album, Nevermind.

In September 1993 the DGC label released Nirvana's third (and final) studio album In Utero and in October the band set out on its first American tour since 1991. One highlight was the band's stunning MTV Unplugged in New York gig on October 18, 1993. On that that program, as per its premise, the group -- guitarist/singer Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), bassist Krist Novoselic (b. 1965), and drummer Dave Grohl (b. 1969), accompanied by guitarist Pat Smear (b. 1959), cellist Lori Goldston (b. 1960), and guitarist Cris Kirkwood (b. 1960) -- performed a relatively mellow set of tunes with minimal amplification. Both Smear, who by then had joined the band, and Goldston would also play in the concert at Seattle's Pier 48.

That show, two months later, would also be special as it was planned to showcase Pearl Jam and Nirvana, along with the California-based hip-hop group Cypress Hill and one of Cobain's favorite alternative bands, the Breeders. In addition, it would be videotaped live by MTV in a huge, cold, and aging 120,000-square-foot maritime warehouse on Pier 48, situated adjacent to the oldest part of downtown Seattle, just west of Pioneer Square. 

Pier 48 was located on Seattle's bustling waterfront at the foot of Main Street and on the site of Ballast Island (created in the 1800s when cargo ships dumped rocks and other material carried as ballast before loading up with lumber and other exports). By 1901 the spot was the site of the Pacific Coast Company's Pier B, and a bit later it also boasted a terminal for the Columbia and Puget Sound Railroad. In the 1930s, Pier 48 itself was constructed, and in subsequent decades the facility served as a cargo dock, then as a ferry terminal for the Alaska trade, and finally for cruise-ship travel to Vancouver, British Columbia, via the Princess Marguerite.  

The Sound-check  

On December 13, 1993 -- the day of the planned show -- Pearl Jam's singer Eddie Vedder (b. 1964) suddenly fell ill and the band had to cancel its appearance. Like a trouper, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain stepped up to the challenge. MTV director Beth McCarthy-Miller later recalled, "people were freaking out, and in the middle of all the panic, Kurt offered to play a longer set, and ... he was just, I think, in a zone; he couldn't have been more helpful and lovely to me; during sound check, he was just awesome, just asking 'Beth do you need more?'" (Montgomery).

 So that afternoon -- with their instruments and amps all set up on a stage (also festooned with Cobain's life-size angel-winged anatomical manikins, as previously featured on the In Utero album cover), and MTV audio and multi-camera video all set for testing -- Nirvana (Cobain, Novoselic, Grohl, and Smear) ran through a brief sound-check/rehearsal of ten songs, including "Very Ape" in which a playful Cobain banged away on Grohl's drums. "After the rehearsing, each member of the band was interviewed for MTV's" Past, Present, and Future program (Gaar, 116). Audio evidence reveals that the songs tested were:

  • "Very Ape"
  • "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"
  • "Drain You"
  • "Breed"
  • "Serve the Servants" [plus two false starts]
  • "Rape Me"
  • "Sliver" [plus three false starts]
  • "Pennyroyal Tea"
  • "Scentless Apprentice"
  • "All Apologies" 

The MTV-sponsored evening began with opening sets by Cypress Hill and the Breeders. The backstage/trailers area was swarming with friends of the performers, including members of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Alice in Chains. The merriment of the whole evening was furthered by the involvement of two co-hosts, Anthony Kiedis (b. 1962) and Flea (b. 1962) -- singer and bassist, respectively, of the California band Red Hot Chili Peppers -- who showed up dressed in drag and impersonating groupies.

Nirvana's set began with Cobain's purposefully harsh "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," whose title mocks the music industry's incorrigible focus on producing inoffensive, commercially viable pop pap. From there it provided a perfect sonic overview of the band's newest songs, a few hits, some old favorites, and even a cover of David Bowie's 1970 gem "The Man Who Sold the World."

One review stated: "This is one of the wildest shows by Nirvana ... and could easily be the considered the antithesis to the band's Unplugged performance in New York ... Kurt's vocals are absolutely blistering. The band feeds off of the audience's energy which is quickly whipped into a frenzy" (Hirte). As an anarchic finale, the band members proceeded to jam on some noisy riffs while using their instruments to violently wreck much of the stage-set's props (which had been mounted to add visual interest and a celebratory atmosphere aimed toward the viewing audience who would see the show aired later on New Year's Eve). Nirvana's extended set-list was composed of:

  • "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"
  • "Drain You"
  • "Breed"
  • "Serve the Servants"
  • "Rape Me"
  • "Sliver"
  • "Pennyroyal Tea"
  • "Scentless Apprentice"
  • "All Apologies"
  • "Heart-Shaped Box"
  • "Blew"
  • "The Man Who Sold the World"
  • "School"
  • "Come As You Are"
  • "Lithium" "
  • About a Girl"
  • "Endless, Nameless"
  • Jam [including demolition of the stage-set]

The Broadcast and the DVDs 

On the night of New Year's Eve, MTV broadcast its edit of the concert. Though the music was riveting, the program itself had obvious flaws. Nirvana's show was slashed down to a mere ten songs, it was chopped up for insertion of commercials, and the co-host duo's periodic introductions were annoyingly ridiculous. Worst of all, Live and Loud actually ended at 11:30 p.m., in order for MTV to make room for a Janet Jackson special that enjoyed the coveted midnight slot.

Still, Nirvana's performance was full-on and powerful. Many people around the globe took the precautionary step of recording the MTV broadcast -- a show that would not be officially released on DVD for a subsequent two decades. It didn't take long for a string of bootleg VHS tapes, compact discs, and DVDs of the concert to be produced and trickled out on the black market. The quality of these units varied -- one early example was the bootleg In Scope, as credited to the aptly named Swindle Records (SWN SPO 001). 

Finally, on September 24, 2013, DGC released a legitimate DVD (along with a twentieth-anniversary issue of In Utero). The Live and Loud DVD included the concert (minus the finale), and tossed in several bonuses, including four tunes from the rehearsal -- "Very Ape," "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," "Rape Me," and "Pennyroyal Tea."


Meanwhile, on the morning of July 28, 2010, demolition of the Pier 48 warehouse began, a small part of a major project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and remake Seattle's central waterfront. The Washington State Department of Transportation, which bought the pier from the Port of Seattle in 2008, demolished the pier shed where the concert took place so that the pier could be used as a staging area during viaduct-replacement construction.

Though Cobain, Nirvana, and the pier shed are all no more, fond memories of this particular concert are so strong that an online Facebook page dedicated to the concert, "Nirvana -- MTV Live & Loud in Seattle (In Utero Tour)" -- was founded by dedicated fans in 2011.


James Montgomery, "Nirvana's Legendary 'Live and Loud' Concert: The Stories You Don't Know," MTV website accessed October 5, 2014 (; Gillian G. Gaar, The Rough Guide to Nirvana (London: Rough Guides Ltd, 2009), 116-118; "Tour History," Live Nirvana website accessed October 3, 2014 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle Central Waterfront, Part 2: From Coal to Containers, Piers 46, 47, and 48" (by Paul Dorpat), (accessed October 6, 2014); Jim Hirte, "Transfer Notes" for Nirvana 1993-12-13 Pier 48 (MTV Live and Loud) bootleg DVD, available at Guitars101 website accessed October 7, 2014 (; "Nirvana -- MTV Live & Loud in Seattle (In Utero Tour)," Facebook page accessed October 5, 2014 (; Scott Gutierrez, "Crews Demolish Pier 48 Warehouse for Viaduct Construction," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 2010 (; Rose Egge, "Say Goodbye to the Warehouse on Pier 48," KOMO News website accessed October 3, 2014 (

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