Ann Arbor has scorched a burn-mark on the skin of rock music, and the hottest fires have been kindled at the Blind Pig. This month marks the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s April 10, 1990 show at the Pig, a reminder of its impressive pedigree. The gig went so well, in fact, that Cobain later claimed that the Blind Pig was his all-time favorite venue.
Nirvana’s first show at the Pig, the previous October, supporting the Flaming Lips and Steel Pole Bathtub, left Nirvana with something to prove. Technical problems forced them to reprise their first song as Cobain’s mic was off. Mike Morasky of Steel Pole Bathtub recalls Cobain and his bandmates, Krist Novoselic and Chad Channing, “had come down with something, maybe bronchitis? They all seemed tired, and getting a small audience excited on an off-night is tough.” Mike Hard of God Bullies, a noise-rock band out of Kalamazoo, heard from a friend in attendance that “people were flicking cigarettes and yelling ‘you suck!’ as well as other traditional rock phrases of encouragement…” And Nirvana’s response? “They grabbed each other’s backs and proceeded to kick some punk rock a**. They left their bodies and equipment on stage wrecked.”
25 years ago
The band returned in spring 1990 to settle the debt. Kurt Danielson of the Seattle grunge band Tad retains fond memories of that moment: “We didn’t know where we were going or how fast, but we knew we were going somewhere. We knew Nirvana had something. We used to joke, ‘Oh you won’t forget about the little guys when you make it big?’ They’d laugh, ‘No, we won’t forget!’”
Ann Arbor lived up to its reputation. Danielson says, “The Blind Pig was a good venue. There’s this aura of Iggy and the Stooges hanging over the place, a real party atmosphere. Ann Arbor was one of the oases of activity at the time in between these long deserts where there was nothing. But Ann Arbor you could guarantee an audience.” In April of 1990, only days before they’d recorded the first demos for what evolved into Nevermind, Nirvana was on a roll. No quarter was given; the Blind Pig was to be conquered. Tim Soylan of the California punk band Victim’s Family remembers: “The club was overloaded, around 200 people. Tad rocked after us, then Nirvana brought the house down!”
Seeing the future
Jason Berry, longtime bookings man at the Blind Pig, remembers the night fondly, and also believes in celebrating the now. “To be the go-to spot for the grunge scene was very special. Scoring Nirvana just as they were on the verge of taking over the world was a great accomplishment. Similar to how it is today, you could swap out ‘grunge’ for ‘hip hop.’ Scoring Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky and Macklemore just before they blew up is gratifying, in exactly the same way that scoring Nirvana was.”
There’s always a new Nirvana out there, so keep an eye on the Blind Pig—it sees the future.
Kurt Danielson’s new outfit Vaporland have their debut release out on Van Conner’s Strange Earth Records. Victim’s Family continue to perform. Nick Soulsby’s book I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana was released on March 31.