I liked Nirvana in high school, but I liked them in an extremely casual way. I owned Nevermind and Incesticide but not Bleach nor In Utero. And of the two albums I owned, I never really listened to either all that much. I found the posthumous Unplugged interesting, but for reasons having very little to do with Nirvana, and more to do with the choice of covers within the setlist. Add in the fact that Kurt Cobain's suicide instantly blurred the line between actual talent and perceived lost potential to the point where said line ceased to exist, and I've never had much interest in the band's legacy.
That said, my iTunes playcount indicates that I've listened to the newly released Live at Reading album dozens of times in the last week. In fact, it's honestly the only thing I've felt like listening to, and I'm not sure why. What initially caught my attention was how great it sounds quality-wise, especially in comparison with the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah compilation. But the remastered audio is a very small component of the allure. It's actually pretty amazing to listen to all these songs back to back and realize that this is basically an unedited 80-minute snapshot of a band on what was the high point of their existence, perhaps down to the exact day of that peak: August 30, 1992. Most of the songs have been heard hundreds of times in the 17 years since, but something about the sequencing of hearing them one after another with no filler anywhere seems transcendant.
Also, they are playing fucking loud! It seems ridiculous this much noise can be made by only three people. Revisionist history has created the perception that Cobain was a terrible live guitar player, but that's really only true in regards to the last year or so of his life. To hear him playing at Reading, he is unhinged with boundless energy but always in control of the songs. It's in stark contrast to the guy who would require the services of Pat Smear a couple years later when he couldn't remember what chords to play. The same ferocity is there on Cobain's vocals. He's still at the point where he's snarling instead of whining, and tracks that I previously never thought twice about, like "Aneurysm" or "Negative Creep," sound like classics.
The canon of popular music is littered with defining moments that go down in history for the cultural significance that came to pass. Hendrix at Monterey. Dylan at Newport. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. James Brown at the Apollo. Michael Jackson on Motown 25. The Ramones at CBGB. Of course, what these occasions all have in common is that they all happened a long time ago. It's not a stretch in the slightest to put Live at Reading alongside the list. It's obvious why it had been such a sought after bootleg since 1992, and whereas the Muddy Banks compilation still seems like a quick cash grab, Live at Reading feels like a piece of rock history, luckily preserved for the future.