Experiencing Nirvana: Bruce Pavitt’s New Photo Book Chronicles Groundbreaking ’89 Tour

by (@BHSmithNYC)

Bruce Pavitt onstage with Nirvana's Kris Novoselic, London, UK 12/3/89. [Photo:  Steve Double]

Bruce Pavitt onstage with Nirvana’s Kris Novoselic, London, UK 12/3/89. [Photo: Steve Double]

Was the entire tour with Mudhoney or had they been touring solo prior to that?

They had been touring with Tad. It was called the ‘Heavier than Heaven’ tour. It was Nirvana and the Tad band, that’s seven musicians, plus sound guy and a tour manager, there’s nine guys in one van, plus merch and instruments, zig-zagging throughout Europe for six weeks. It’s a wonder none of the other musicians came close to having a nervous breakdown. It just blows me away, the amount of energy these guys put into promoting their career. It’s heroic, and that’s not an overstatement.

It’s interesting that Nirvana became the breakout stars as on this tour they were very much a second string Sub Pop band.

They were the underdog. And what you see in this book is the underdog, the opening band, blow away the most jaded audience in the world, which is the London crowd. Every band in the world comes to London to prove their stuff and when you open up the book you see the relentless stage diving and crowd surfing in reaction to Nirvana’s performance. If you listen to the From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah live CD there are a couple tracks from that show, including a version of “Polly,” that is absolutely amazing. By the time Nirvana reached London, after that grueling six-week tour, they were in prime form. Their songs were good. Their performances were amazing. And I’m speaking as somebody who saw their first show in Seattle at the Central Tavern before an audience of four where everybody was staring at their shoes. That was just a year and a half prior. What I got to witness was the blossoming of their genius and it was very accelerated. They just kept getting better and better and better.

You’re often quoted as saying “The Seattle Music scene is going to rule the world.” What gave you that faith? I’m not sure anyone else was so sure of that at that time.(laughter).

Sub Pop started as a radio show in 1979 and then morphed into a fanzine, and tape compilations and a column in The Rocket. I reviewed and observed pretty much every indie record that came out in the ‘80s so I had a good feel for where this was going and what sold me was the consistently amazing live performance of the bands. It wasn’t just one good band. It was a scene that was growing day by day. In my mind’s eye what I saw was kind of a resurgence of The Stooges / MC5 Detroit scene. What I said in my column many times was that the scene happening in Seattle was going to rival Detroit. Detroit wasn’t huge and it certainly didn’t take over the world, The Stooges and MC5 records actually didn’t sell that much, but they were great records and it was a great scene. And that was kind of the vision that I was seeing at the time in like 1986 and 1987. Punk started becoming increasingly codified by the mid-1980s with the hardcore scene. It started to feel really stiff. What emerged in Seattle was a lot looser and a lot more inclusive. Any kid with a flannel shirt and a pawn shop guitar could start a band. The bands didn’t take themselves too seriously. I really believe that underlying sense of humor and self-deprecation was in large part responsible for their popularity.

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