The 90’s were, in my opinion, one of the best decades for rock. It was full of underrated, real music that had something to say, music that withstood the test of time and became classic. I was lucky to grow up listening to a lot of punk, grunge and metal in those years. In high school I would skip class to go to HMV to see free shows put on by some of my favourite bands. I was lucky to see Bjork at the warehouse in Toronto after the album ‘debut’ dropped and before she really hit it big (when tickets got to be $100 and up). I miss the days when you didn’t have to pay out the ass to see your favourite musicians up close and personal. Back in those days, there were lots of ways you could catch your favourite acts on a budget – or totally for free. One of my best memories growing up, for example, was staying up to watch MTV Unplugged on Much Music.
In 1989 , MTV first aired ‘Unplugged’, featuring Squeeze, Syd Straw and Eliot Easton, but I really started to get excited when this happened:
Stone Temple Pilots, 1993
I was so stoked when Stone Temple Pilots hit MTV unplugged in November 1993. Even now they’re one of my favourite bands, and continue to be a huge influence in rock music today. STP performed songs off their debut album ‘Core’. I can’t say much more about the set other than it completely rocked. ‘Core’ is and was to me Stone Temple Pilots’ greatest record. I swear the rock gods of the 90’s all had voices that were unique and unmistakable. It’s strange to watch this video of a younger, less heroin-y Scott Weiland, since he doesn’t look anything like this anymore – but that doesn’t change his rock god status in this fan’s eyes.
The next performance was probably the most remembered and the most iconic performance in Unplugged history. December 16, 1993 Nirvana Unplugged Aired. This was about 5 months before Kurt Cobains death and at the peak of Nirvanas career. Unlike most musicians who have played MTV Unplugged, Nirvana opted to play mostly covers. Songs I may have not heard otherwise were brought to light by Kurt’s amazing scratchy, unmistakable vocals. MTV Unplugged in New York became Nirvana’s most successful release and was certified 5x platinum in the US. It even went on to win a Grammy in ’96, two years after Kurt’s death.
Nirvana was known for their outrageous loud behaviour on stage, so a reined-in acoustic performance showed a side of Kurt Cobain no one had really seen. He was very humble, very chill. My only complaint about the whole set was that they should have had Dave do all the backup vocals instead of Pat. My favourite songs of the set were not Nirvana originals, but the covers “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” (I loved the use of cello and accordion), “Oh, Me” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”.
On February 14, 1995, Hole performed on MTV’s Unplugged. I can’t say I was ever a Hole fan, but I also can’t say I wasn’t sitting at home that night watching Courtney Love screeching her way through songs like “Miss World” and “Best Sunday Dress”. People loved to hate Courtney Love (they still do, come to think of it) and that made her even more of an icon for grunge girls of my generation.
One of the most amazing performances I had the pleasure of watching was Bjork. Such a phenomenal and quirky girl. Her unplugged set really showcased the creativeness of her music and the beauty of her voice. I couldn’t even tell you half the musical instruments that were used during the set, but I was amazed at the depth and fullness of the sounds. Her music just makes you wanna smile: so beautiful, so fun.
Alice in Chains, 1996
On May 28, 1996 Alice In Chains played Unplugged and ended up being the band’s final appearance with vocalist Layne Staley. I have to admit I didn’t think it was going to be a good show. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t see Alice In Chains acoustic. Needless to say I was completely wrong. Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell have incredible, powerful presence when they perform together. Alice in Chains continued to make music here and there after Layne’s death, but for me it was never the same. There was something about Layne Stanley that could just not be replaced.
Pearl Jam, 1992
Pearl Jam hit MTV in 1992 playing their most popular tracks from their album Ten: songs like “Alive” and “Jeremy”. Ten stayed on the Billboard charts for more than two years, and has gone on to become one of the highest-selling rock records ever, going 13x platinum. I wasn’t a fan of Pearl Jam until the album ‘VS’ came out in ’93, but watching the set now I can tell you as far as rock performances go it’s perfection. The set list was well put together, starting with the phenomenal mellowness of “Oceans” and ending with the high energy of “Porch”. Eddie Vedder put on a effortlessly awesome rockstar performance.
Tori Amos, 1996
Tori Amos graced the stage April 11, 1996. My eyes were glued. Tori has this presence about her, with her sexy sultry glare to her cute and quirky humour. Her music runs through like poetry full of passion and meaning, with the power to send chills down your spine. I have always been impressed and amazed by her impeccable piano playing and her whispery yet strong, passionate vocals. One of my favourite things has always been to turn off all the lights, lie down and listen to Tori on my headphones. She just has this power to take you to another place and time. Tori Amos is simply orgasmic.
These performances were my personal favourites of the 90’s. In part two I will showcase some of the other phenomenal and iconic bands that have been part of MTV Unplugged in the greatest decade. Enjoy!