Nirvana’s 2020 reunion show: A heavy, heart-bursting treat for fans

Here's what went down at the charity show at Los Angeles' Hollywood Palladium

It’s not Nirvana, but it’s Near-vana. Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear are making eye contact from opposite sides of the stage. Dave Grohl is beating the living shit out of some poor, unsuspecting drums. Between them, St Vincent and Beck are trying their best to work a sort of secular voodoo and summon up a little of the spirit of Kurt Cobain.

Violet Grohl, Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)
Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)

They opened with St Vincent taking care of lead vocals on a thunderous version of ‘Lithium’. Then it’s over to Beck, who stumbles a little through the lyrics of ‘In Bloom’ but saves himself with a series of blistering guitar solos. Afterwards, he waxes nostalgic. “That was a pretty good mosh pit,” he said. “I was in the most intense mosh pit of my life in this room. I remember being carried off my feet, and when I got out my hands were bleeding and I didn’t know why. The band was Nirvana.”

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That would have been in 1990, when Nirvana played the Palladium a year after the release of ‘Bleach’. That was 30 years ago, so how can it be that when Beck leads the band into ‘Been A Son’ – which they played that night, along with ‘In Bloom’ – it still sounds so fresh, urgent and dangerous?

Violet Grohl, Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)
Violet Grohl, Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)

If there’s anything that’s missing from the performance, it’s a touch of genuine teenage nervous energy. That’s soon provided by Grohl’s 13 year-old daughter Violet, who stays rooted to the mic stand but delivers a ferocious version of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ that can’t help but be the night’s most memorable moment. The Beck-led version of Nirvana Unplugged’s version of Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ seems terribly sedate in comparison, but it brings the band’s brief, half-hour wish-fulfilment set to a close.

They weren’t the only ones rolling back the years. Earlier in the night, L7 had rattled through a righteous three-song set which culminated in the never-less-than-badass ‘Shitlist’. Then Marilyn Manson joined tonight’s organiser Linda Perry for a stripped-down performance of ‘The Dope Show’ and his version of Eurythmics‘ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’. Even without a full band behind him, Manson oozes menace onstage.

After Grohl and friends played, Cheap Trick closed the show with a short set that included ‘I Want You To Want Me’, ‘Surrender’ and even their cover of Big Star’s ‘In The Street’. Famously used as the theme tune to That 70s Show, they dedicated the song to actor Topher Grace, who was in attendance to pick up an award with his wife Ashley for their charitable work.

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Violet Grohl, Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)
Violet Grohl, Dave Grohl, Beck, St. Vincent, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear perform onstage during The Art of Elysium and We are Here Present Heaven is Rock and Roll at Hollywood Palladium on January 04, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DG)

This was, after all, all for a good cause. Linda Perry is a woman who wears many hats – and not just literally. Frontwoman of Four Non Blondes, Grammy-nominated producer, Dolly Parton-collaborator and now curator of this Heaven 2020 Charity Gala, in support of the The Art of Elysium. “They’ve been doing this for 13 years,” Perry told me before the show. “What they do is they bring art into children’s hospitals, or to people with terminal illnesses, to give a better quality of life. They also bring art to other groups like homeless people or elderly people. They’re building a community all around the world.”

As for her role in proceedings, she explains that she was asked: ‘What’s heaven to you?’ Her answer was simple: “Heaven to us is rock’n’roll. We’ve made it look like CBGBs in there. Then we just called Cheap Trick and our heroes. Grohl, L7 and Marilyn Manson. Without us even planning it, it all organically fits together. Tonight is going to be an incredible event because of the fact that Nirvana has united to come and play. Beck is playing, and they’re doing Nirvana songs. I saw it already at soundcheck and they sounded amazing. I really, truly believe this is going to resonate and create a little hum globally.”

Later, hearing songs like ‘Lithium’, ‘In Bloom’, ‘Been A Son’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ sound just as vital and powerful as the day you first heard them, I find myself hoping she’s right.

See more footage from Nirvana’s reunion set here. 

Dave Grohl & Friends played:

‘Lithium’
‘In Bloom’
‘Been A Son’
‘Heart-Shaped Box’
‘The Man Who Sold The World’

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