Kurt Cobain's tragic swan song at Nirvana's last concert

Jon O'Brien

BY Jon O'Brien

1st Mar 2024 Music

3 min read

Kurt Cobain's tragic swan song at Nirvana's last concert
30 years ago, Kurt Cobain pulled the plug on the In Utero tour, making Munich Nirvana's last concert before he died. We look back on the angst-ridden finale
“Well, thank you,” was how Kurt Cobain signed off Nirvana’s show at Munich’s Terminal Einz on March 1, 1994. Little did the 3,000 fans in attendance at the former airport hangar know that these three words would be the last words the grunge icon uttered in front of a crowd. For just over a month later, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 
Nirvana’s stop-off in the German city wasn’t scheduled to be the final date of their In Utero European tour. In fact, the trio were due to visit the UK that same month for gigs at Manchester’s G-Mex, Glasgow’s SECC and, rather improbably, the Aston Villa Leisure Centre.
But after walking off stage, a clearly troubled Cobain—suffering from a combination of heroin withdrawal and acute bronchitis—demanded the cancellation of all future plans. 
According to Buzz Osborne, the frontman of sludge metal pioneers The Melvins who’d served as the opening act, Cobain knocked on his door to deliver this news personally.
“I should just be doing this solo,” he reportedly said, with Osborne later reflecting, “In retrospect, he was talking about his entire life.”

Grunge is dead, long live grunge

Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic are unlikely to have been too shocked by this development. Cobain had already told them he wanted out during a visit to Slovenia just a few days previously.
But having failed to take out cancellation insurance, an oversight that would cost the trio thousands of dollars, it was decided that the show must go on.
“So, if somebody died, we’d still have to do the shows?” the frontman apparently asked in a sarcastic manner, one of several eerily prophetic statements made around this time. 
It was perhaps little surprise, therefore, that Nirvana’s live swan song wasn’t a particularly triumphant one.
"So, if somebody died, we’d still have to do the shows?"
Cobain, who’d already been accused of looking bored during an earlier Paris performance by Kerrang!, had decided against turning up for the soundcheck. And as a result, the 86-minute, 23-song set was plagued by technical difficulties, most notably a power cut which interrupted a rendition of their second biggest hit, “Come As You Are.” 
“We’re not playing the Munich Enormodome tonight,” Novoselic joked after the venue had been plunged into darkness. “Because our careers are on the wane. We’re on the way out. Grunge is dead. Nirvana’s over…Our next record’s going to be a hip-hop record!”
While said firmly tongue-in-cheek, it largely proved to be another accurate glimpse into the future. 

No more teen spirit: Nirvana's last concert setlist

As with their previous date in Ljubljana, the band, who were joined by regular touring guitarist and future Foo Fighter Pat Smear, chose to ignore their biggest hit.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” had, in fact, been a staple of the In Utero tour which had also taken in Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
But Cobain, in particular, always had a love-hate relationship with the song that propelled parent album Nevermind to astonishing sales of 30 million. And with the singer perhaps more uncomfortable with his superstar status than ever before, the Gen X anthem was unsurprisingly rested.
Fans were still treated to nine tracks from the blockbuster record though, with “Stay Away” and “Something in the Way” the only other omissions.
Elsewhere, the setlist consisted of eight offerings from In Utero, the follow-up which, despite a concerted effort to scare off the mainstream, still reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic.
1989’s even more abrasive Bleach was represented by “About a Girl,” “Blew” and “School,” while 1990 one-off single “Sliver” also made the cut. 
Having just recorded one of the most well-received MTV Unplugged sessions, the group also relived its highlight, a heartfelt, haunting take on “The Man Who Sold the World” approved by David Bowie himself.
But it was another cover version that made the Munich gig stand out for reasons beyond the obvious.

The last song Kurt Cobain sang

kurt cobain playing drums at high school
Indeed, Nirvana kicked things off with an unexpected, and not entirely serious, rendition of The Cars’ 1977 hit “My Best Friend’s Girl.” The power pop classic was one of the first songs the 14-year-old Cobain learned to master after being gifted a guitar by his Uncle Chuck.
The fact he waited until his final ever show to pay homage in public inadvertently brought things tragically full circle. 
Of course, this technically wasn’t the end of Nirvana as a headline act.
"Cobain delivered a haunting encore performance of 'Heart-Shaped Box'"
As well as performing together at the group’s 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Novoselic, Grohl and Smear then delivered a full-length afterparty concert at Brooklyn’s St Vitus Bar, with a revolving door of guest vocalists including J Mascis, St Vincent and Joan Jett filling in on vocals. 
But for all intents and purposes, the curtain officially came down on Nirvana when Cobain delivered a haunting encore performance of “Heart-Shaped Box” in which he pushed his already frayed voice to its limits.
For a band defined by their angst, tension and darkness, it was a strangely fitting end. 
Banner credit: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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