By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
That's right: Even posthumously, Kurt still sells, especially at Christmas, and Geffen Records is cashing in this season with its release of a DVD version of Live! Tonight! Sold Out!. Like 2005's Sliver: The Best of the Box, this year's holiday offering from Forbes' highest-earning celebrity corpse repackages previously released material. But a DVD version of the 1994 VHS release—a marriage of interview footage and complementary live performances—was long overdue. Five extra live songs and the personal playlist, which lets you play up to 20 songs in any order, make the DVD upgrade worthwhile.
The added live tracks are from a restrained, tight 1992 Amsterdam concert. Sound quality is good, and an array of cameras capture the band in fawning close-ups from dramatic angles, befitting the rock-star status Cobain hated. The thundering drums of "School" and "On a Plain" remind you what a monster drummer Dave Grohl was before he stepped out from behind the kit. All five extra songs—as well as the video's original live cuts—demonstrate Cobain's riveting stage presence, whether he was creating a pornography of amp-spearing mayhem or staring down the camera, icy eyes full of anger and fear.
The band's infamous 1991 melee at Trees in Dallas is a highlight, but an even more aggressive moment is the band's bizarre behavior on Britain's Top of the Pops. Expected to sing over the recorded version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Cobain instead sings in a deep Morrissey-like moan, moving his hands stiffly over his prop guitar, a mischievous smile obvious despite his sunglasses as Grohl dances on his drum stool and Krist Novoselic swings his bass around by the strap. But the video maddeningly cuts to a different performance just as the studio audience storms the stage. Later, another British TV host is bewildered when the band rips through a blistering "Territorial Pissings" rather than then-current single "Lithium." Again, you don't get the entirety of the frenzied, cage-rattling performance. Fortunately, only a few songs are interrupted.
The Top of the Pops moment epitomizes the band's contradictory nature. Watching moments such as that 12 years later is revealing: At the time, so many of Cobain's rebellious antics—wearing a dress on Headbanger's Ball, mouth-kissing Novoselic on Saturday Night Live, smashing guitars—seemed planned with deadly seriousness; each apparently a statement about, say, the commodification of music, or homophobia, or the fleeting nature of art. More than a decade later, it looks different: The guys were simply amusing themselves.
"Punk rock should mean freedom," Cobain says in an interview (just before an untuned "Come as You Are"). "Liking, accepting anything that you like, playing as sloppy as you want, as long as it's good and it has passion." Despite frustrating edits, Live! shows the band doing just that.