Night Before ‘Nevermind’: Listen to Nirvana’s full set at Axis, 25 years ago this week


On Monday we posted a video of Nirvana playing “Crisco Twister” at Bill’s Bar on Lansdowne Street, part of the festivities for 101.7 WFNX’s 8th birthday party on September 23, 1991. As we all know by now, the night went down on the eve of the release of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind, and a few hours after they and Smashing Pumpkins got dirty at Bill’s, the Seattle trio vaulted into the mainstream with an insane live set next door at Axis.

This Friday marks the 25th anniversary of that legendary show. A few years ago, WFNX DJ Duane Bruce — who just released a must-read memoir of his radio days called Hang The DJ — posted bootleg audio from the gig, and you can hear it below via his Soundcloud, or download it in full from Lost Turntable.

After sets at Axis from Cliffs of Dooneen, Smashing Pumpkins (who released Gish a few months earlier), and Bullet LaVolta, WFNX program director Kurt St. Thomas took to the stage and introduced Nirvana as “the fucking coolest band in the world.” Bruce wrote online that the club was “packed to the gills… The concrete walls and floor of Axis provided the perfect acoustics for the raw energy.”


In a 2011 piece for the Boston Phoenix, Bullet LaVolta drummer Todd A. Philips captured the moment pretty brilliantly. He wrote:

“If Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth had all gotten base hits to load the bases, Nirvana had just crushed the pitch and hit the grand slam with Nevermind. This was their moment in history. The Geffen execs at the show knew it. The radio programmers knew it. The fans knew it. Nirvana knew it, but didn’t give a fuck. That attitude was exactly what made them special and was exactly what made the show that much more important. They played a raucus 60-minute set, probably no better or no worse then the hundreds of shows they had played leading up to that moment, but the excitement in the room of the impending rock revolution was downright palpable. ‘Sliver’, the Sub Pop 7-inch that showed off Cobain’s ridiculous pop sensibilities for the first time, was my personal highlight of the evening. Sometime around ‘Drain You,’ I looked around the room and noticed that everyone had this dough-eyed yet-wide-awake look on their faces; that they were really seeing something important, or really being a part of something important. It was hot, sweaty, loud and reckless. And quite literally the precise moment in musical history when that weird glitch in the cassette tape took place; when good music became popular… if only for an instant.”

Listen to the set in full below, check out the set-list, and watch some grainy-ass video that has remained online over the years. Happy 25th anniversary to one of the most insane nights in Boston music history.


Nirvana: Live at Axis, September 23, 1991
“Drain You”
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
“Come As You Are”
“Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”
“Floyd The Barber”
“About A Girl”
“Rape Me”
“Been A Son (Excerpt)”
“Negative Creep”