The day Nirvana played Off the Record — 21 years ago today (10-24-91)
Image by Scott Penzer
Who doesn't miss the staple-infested LP bins of Off The Record's late lamented Hillcrest locale? Those beat up bins survived hundreds of live concerts, with both bins and shows dating back to the store's original College Grove location.
Phil Galloway was a fixture at OTR nearly as long as the bins, booking many of those performances and witnessing nearly all of them.
"It's a pain in the -ss to do an in-store [concert]. We have to rearrange the racks, run ads, sometimes we hire security, and then we're losing $300.00 to $400.00 in sales while the band's playing. Even though it's a huge hassle, in-stores promote the business, they create goodwill with our customers and, really, all of us at the shop love putting our heads together and saying 'Let's put on a show!'"
"About half the time, we approached the band directly or through their agents, and the rest of the time it's a vendor, their record company or someone like that who gets ahold of us to say [the band is] available. The El Cajon Boulevard store was a lot smaller but we managed to pull off in-stores with Slayer, Husker Du [and] a lot of punk groups."
Long lines and packed aisles were common when bands played OTR, with the largest turnouts greeting the Posies (1991), Mudhoney (1994), the Misfits (1996), Drive Like Jehu (1997) and Rocket From the Crypt (1998). An April 2001 set by the Locust drew, in Galloway 's estimate, over two hundred patrons.
"I've only ever been starstuck twice in my life. Once was when I had the chance to hang out with Elvis Costello, [because] I'm a huge fan. The other was when I was thirteen years old and I met Charles Schulz at the Comic-Con[vention]."
Just mentioning the comic strip artist who created Snoopy and Charlie Brown causes Galloway to slip into a reverent, almost worshipful tone.
"I had a collection of 'Peanuts' comics that I saved in binders and he signed those, and then he actually drew Linus for me," he sighs, enjoying a fond recollection directed more inward than toward the tape recorder.
The record store's "close relationship" with Geffen Records, coupled with the success of a recent in-store with The Posies which had been broadcast for television, earned OTR an offer to host Nirvana for a performance to be staged near the start of their first national headline tour.
"Right when we found out [Nirvana] was definitely coming, Nevermind jumped from number twenty to number seven on the Billboard charts. At that point, they decided there'd only be three in-stores for the whole tour — Seattle , San Diego and New York . For the one in Seattle , they purposely leaked out the wrong date and location, so the actual gig could stay a secret until the last possible minute."
"Down here, we prepared by creating limited edition tickets; purple, with a watermark. Each one [was] individually signed and numbered and recorded, not only to control the number of people in the store but to prevent counterfeiting. I heard right away about the Seattle gig. The kids who got in went nuts and were bin-diving. Actually climbing on the record bins and diving off, falling all over the band! That made us a little nervous, for sure. I'm sure, to our insurance company, just saying 'Please, no stagediving off the record bins' isn't going to cover the injuries and damage!"
"I was in the store at 5:30 AM, taping baby dolls and fishhooks everywhere, like on the [Nevermind album] cover. The record bins had to be moved and those weigh three or four hundred pounds each. Oh, and part of the deal was that we had to provide the equipment, a twelve string guitar, a PA.
"The plan was for them to do an all-acoustic set. Geffen [Records] or some radio network was also going to record it. Things on our side fell through because we had all right handed instruments and so Kurt went ahead and played electric guitar. They ended up doing a whole forty minute hard rock set."
"After the set, they hung out and signed autographs and posters for people. You could tell Kurt [Cobain] wasn't into that part at all though. He wasn't in the mood to pose for pictures and, well, let's just say he was definitely feeling down. Not at all like he was during the set. I'm sure that he was used to being able to wind down and go to sleep after a show so this must have been a drain, having all this activity going on around him for so long after playing so great [and] putting out all that energy."
"A lot of us talked about that later, how he seemed to be having a great time and all of a sudden he looked so miserable and depressed."
Cobain agreed to pose with his bandmates for a group snapshot with the OTR staff, and the resulting photo, capturing him making a face somewhere between a grimace and a nyahh-nyaahhh taunt, seems to show him already disgusted with rock star posing and commercial ass-kissing.
"The guys in the band went out to dinner with a bunch of the employees, some record company people and even a few customers got invited along, but that definitely wasn't something [Cobain] was into. But, hey, they played an awesome set."
Galloway phrases this with a finality that seems to discourage more discussion about the singer's off-stage attitude.
Further inquiry results in a long sigh and then a longer silence. "The other two [bandmembers] had just gotten over being sick so, I don't know, maybe he was coming down with something?"
Setlist: Dumb / Here She Comes Now / About A Girl / Polly / On A Plain / Been A Son
That night, the band played at Iguana's in Tijuana, with opening act Sister Double Happiness. Reportedly, a half dozen people were carted off in ambulances after jumping from the balconies during Nirvana's set.
Setlist: Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam (The Vaselines cover) / Aneurysm / Drain You / School / Smells Like Teen Spirit / About a Girl / Polly / Floyd the Barber / Sliver / Dive / On a Plain / Something in the Way / Negative Creep / Rape Me / Lithium
A few other local-centric Nirvana dates:
2-17-90: Iguana's in Tijuana.
Setlist: Love Buzz / Floyd The Barber / Scoff / Spank Thru / About A Girl / Breed / Been A Son / Stain / Negative Creep / Blew / School
8-19-90: Nirvana played the year-old Casbah. This gig (a year before the release of Nevermind) has appeared on two bootlegs. The first to surface featured only 46 minutes of the band's 17-song set and is missing the last five songs ("Stain," "Negative Creep," "Blew," a bluesy jam, and "Verse Chorus Verse"). In March 2003, a more complete and better-recorded version surfaced; it's 62 minutes long, but with almost a minute of "Dive" missing (complete on the older, poorer-sounding version). Dave Grohl was not yet with the band (he joined in September 1990); drummer Dale Crover played San Diego and a few other West Coast dates.
Setlist: In Bloom / Floyd the Barber / Love Buzz (Shocking Blue cover) / Dive / School / T.V. Eye (Iggy & The Stooges cover) / (Jam session) / Big Cheese / About a Girl / Stay Away / Lithium / Scoff / Spank Thru / Been a Son / Stain / Negative Creep / Blew / Eye Flys (Melvins cover) (Krist jam) /Verse Chorus Verse
6-15-91: Iguana's in Tijuana.
Setlist: Polly / Drain You / School / Smells Like Teen Spirit / Floyd The Barber / Love Buzz / Lithium / Been A Son / Negative Creep / About A Girl / Sliver / Blew
12-28-91: Pat O'Brien Pavilion, Del Mar.
Setlist: Drain You / Aneurysm / School / Smells Like Teen Spirit / About A Girl / Polly / Sliver / Breed / Come As You Are / Lithium / Territorial Pissings / Floyd the Barber
12-29-93: Nirvana played the Sports Arena. The band's 24-song set was the source of two widely circulated bootleg albums: Smells Like TJ captures all 100 minutes onto a Hi8 master, while Pizzongs is missing most of the still-unidentified mystery finale (seen and heard in video below), which they also played 11-12-93 at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg, MA.
After the third song, "Breed," bassist Krist Novoselic told the crowd, "Nice to be playing San Diego, hometown of Eddie Vedder." After covering Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World," Novoselic asked, "Who here is from San Ysidro?" Two songs later, he continued, "We used to play here in San Diego, we used to play, like, the Casbah and Iguanas, where you have to wait at the McDonald's in San Ysidro because the federales were on the payroll to let you cross the province."
Setlist: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter / Drain You / Breed / Serve the Servants / Come as You Are / Smells Like Teen Spirit / Sliver / Dumb / In Bloom / About a Girl / Lithium / Pennyroyal Tea / School / Polly / Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle / Milk It / Rape Me / Territorial Pissings / Encore: Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam (The Vaselines cover) / The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie cover) / All Apologies / Heart-Shaped Box / Blew / (Unknown - Lyrics: "You're Fighting, never alone...")
(B&W comic artwork by Scott Pentzer, from Hard Rock Comics: Nirvana)
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