On September 20th, 1991 a still relatively underground band advertised as having “big killer guitars from Seattle” began a tour at Toronto’s historic Opera House in support of their sophomore album to be released four days later.
The band with the bit of buzz building behind them was Nirvana. Rock at the time was dominated by Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, who had been causing whiplash injuries due to the self-titled “Black Album” as well as Use Your Illusion I and II having been unleashed on August 12th and September 17th, respectively.
Grunge hadn’t become a household term yet, but the first Lollapalooza a few months earlier was a testing ground of how unconventional sounds were making their way into an increasing number of listeners’ ears that melding genres such as punk, glam and heavy metal.
I’m sure there would have been attendees that night who would have recognized “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the third song played. It had been out in the wild since September 10th, although it would take a few months for Nevermind’s lead single to really start burning up the airwaves.
For all intents and purposes, Toronto fans were the first to hear cuts off an album whose stature has only gotten bigger over the last thirty years. And they didn’t even perform subsequent alt-rock hits “Come as You Are”, “Lithium” and “In Bloom” at The Opera House!
Below is a playlist recreation of Nirvana from that momentous September 20th in 1991. There’s also a full-length, albeit lo-fi video of the show for your viewing pleasure.
Prior to the band going supernova a little more than three months later Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl who had only been with Nirvana for about a year at this point as their third drummer had an interview with MuchMusic. I’m still not 100% sure who the VJ was holding the mic, but it provides a window into an unsuspecting trio whose lives were about to be turned upside down more than anyone could ever possibly imagine.
And it all began in Toronto, Canada at a then-80-year-old venue. Happy (early) anniversary to one of the most impactful albums ever.