Live Aid it wasn’t. And the fact that this benefit was not just another example of corporate rock flexing its grandiose muscles was absolutely fine with the April 9 crowd at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. They were there to see four of the loudest and tastiest alternative acts on the map, including the Seattle trio considered by many to be The Most Important Band of the ’90s. That it was all for a good cause — with awareness-raising dividends — didn’t hurt.
Nirvana receives an average of one request per day to play benefits, but it wasn’t until bassist Chris Novoselic traveled through war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina in January that the band agreed to play one and even to help organize it. Novoselic, whose parents were born in Croatia, was especially horrified to learn about the tens of thousands of women who have been raped by Serbian soldiers. Reportedly, many of the women are detained in camps and forced to bear their rapists’ children as a form of torture. In Zagreb, the Croatian capital, he met volunteers of the Tresnjevka Women’s Group, who offer care to women refugees of all backgrounds.
Knowing that many in the Cow Palace’s audience couldn’t find Yugoslavia on a map, Nirvana was realistic about the fund-raiser’s goal: ”There’s probably a lot of people who don’t care,” said Novoselic. ”But that’s okay. If they come, we’ll still get their money. And if people do care, there are information booths directing them on what they can do.”
More than 10,000 tickets later, a spokesman for Nirvana’s label, DGC, said that $60,000 had been raised for the Tresnjevka Women’s Group — potential funding for mobile clinics and a multipurpose center.
So how was the show? Four hours long. Nirvana’s hand-picked supporting bands — an eclectic lineup that included the jangly pop of the Breeders, the tribal-meets-industrial barrage of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and the surf-sounding fuzz metal of L7 — refrained from preaching and instead did what they do best: break the sound barrier. Most visually stimulating: The spastic dancing and TV monitor-hurling of Disposable Heroes’ too-tall front man, Michael Franti, and too-short side man, Rono Tse.
By the time headliners Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Novoselic hit the stage, the crowd was one sweating, moshing organism, throwing the occasional shoe or shirt onto the stage. Cobain, in his signature fuzzy cardigan, waved absentmindedly (or perhaps nervously) to the crowd before launching into a typically nonstop 25-tune, 1-hour, 40-minute set. Weirdest moment: Cobain’s wrapping Novoselic in a web of duct tape. Most predictible: Cobain’s diving into Grohl and his drums. The audience reaction when Cobain strummed the opening riff to ”Smells Like Teen Spirit”? What do you think?
During ”Love Buzz” Cobain did the entire guitar solo with an Evian bottle clenched between his teeth. And then it was over. ”Support a good cause,” shouted Novoselic as Nirvana left the stage. On the way out, a girl breezed past with a T-shirt that read Flower Sniffin’ Kitty Pettin’ Baby Kissin’ Corporate Rock Whores. Definitely not your garden-variety rock benefit.