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Review: Experiencing Nirvana - Grunge in Europe

1 of 1 Kurt Cobain in Rome, November 1989 (photo copyright: Bruce Pavitt)
Kurt Cobain in Rome, November 1989 (photo copyright: Bruce Pavitt)

Harry Guerin blubbers like a mess as an era-defining tour becomes a great book.

The stuff of legend even while it was taking place, the Heavier than Heaven tour saw Nirvana and Sub Pop labelmates Tad bulldozing through Europe in the winter of 1989. Joining them for the tail end of the trek was Bruce Pavitt, Sub Pop's co-founder and very enthusiastic owner of an Olympus XA-series pocket camera. Pavitt's photos make up the majority of Experiencing Nirvana - Grunge in Europe, 1989 (British live music photography great Steve Double also adds superb black and whites), and after poring over this beautifully produced book you wonder what other treasures he has in files and shoeboxes back home.

A little over two years after this tour Nirvana would knock Michael Jackson off the top of the US album charts; here Pavitt brilliantly (but unwittingly) captures a band on the cusp of something huge. The realities of life on the road - stolen passports, the blur of faces, the hanging out and around - are all present, but so too are the in-your-face excitement of a great gig and the anything-can-happen optimism of youth. You'll think of your own throughout and wish you were there.

Pavitt's mix of tour diary and travelogue is both wistful and matter-of-fact, with anyone who bought Nirvana or Sub Pop releases sure to find nuggets throughout. Along the way he also catches up with more of his on-tour charges, Mudhoney, culminating in the three bands' sold out LameFest show at London's Astoria, where openers Nirvana owned the night. Pavitt describes the gig as "a turning point for Nirvana, for Sub Pop Records, and for rock history". He's being too modest.
 
While Experiencing Nirvana also gathers nostalgia-summoning articles from the Melody Makers, NMEs and Sounds' of the era, the one thing it's missing is some recollections from the band members themselves. Still, perhaps that's another book.

So over to you Mr Pavitt - you only have yourself to blame for doing such a good job here. And thanks for the memories.

4.5/5

Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989 by Bruce Pavitt is published by Bazillion Points.

Experiencing Nirvana - Grunge in Europe, 1989

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