Hordern

Nirvana end their Big Day Out set at the Hordern Pavillion with a bang, trashing their gear.

Nirvana's 1992 tour of Australia is etched into the history books as a feat of legend for many reasons. It was a tour that ordinarily would not have happened and probably the last chance anyone in the world had the opportunity to see the band play in a small venue, not to mention the only chance any one in Australia would be able to see Nirvana live too.

When Nirvana were booked to tour Australia in mid 1991, they were established in the independent scene as a successful band, capable of drawing a couple of hundred people to a show spurred on by the steady sales of their debut LP "Bleach". Local recod label, Waterfront had licensed "Bleach" from Sub Pop Records, and released it on multiple colourways and represses selling a couple of thousand LPs nationally. By the time their tour kicked off in January 1992, "Nevermind" had been released and was a mainstream chart topper around the world, thanks to the high rotation of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on radio and TV. The last thing the major labels like Geffen Records and their owners MCA / Universal would have wanted, was for a number 1 chart topping band to be touring a small market like Australia. Nirvana were true to their word, despite their sudden popularity and quickly became the hottest ticket in town.

nirvana

The night before the Big Day Out, Nirvana opened their Australian tour with a sold out show at the Phoenician Club, pictured above.

Stephen "Pav" Pavlovic was the man responsible for Nirvana touring Australia in 1992, the relationship came about through having previously toured Seattle godfathers, Mudhoney in 1990, as he explains in the below extract is lifted from an ABC interview...

"I was fortunate enough to bring out a band called Mudhoney from Seattle who were a part of that whole alternative rock scene," Pavlovic says.

"I remember after doing that tour they were like, 'You should tour our friends Nirvana.'

"They were like, 'Here's Kurt's number and here's Chris's number, you should just call them up.'"

So he did.

"Hey do you guys want to come to Australia?" he asked.

"Yeah we'd love to come to Australia!"

Nirvana were keen to support Violent Femmes, Pavlovic says, because they had grown up on the band.

"They really loved that band," he says.

And so in 1991, Nirvana were booked for their first Australian tour beginning on January 24 in 1992, playing support for the Violent Femmes along with being one of the headline acts for the very first Big Day Out.

Artwork for the tour was handled by Hellmenn frontman and creative genius, Ben Brown pictured below on stage at the 1992 Big Day Out.

Hellmenn

I asked Ben if he was given a brief by the band for his iconic poster design?

"No, I just worked with promoter Pav on the design. I just went nuts sketching then reeled it back in."

Below is Ben's initial poster design. The skater punk eyeballs at the bottom, sadly omitted, were inspired by Rick Griffin, according to Ben.

Early poster art

Below is the final silk screened tour poster designed by Ben. These fetch a hefty price above $1000 and can be distinguished by the silver metallic ink and the typo on Fishermans Wharf.

finished poster

These posters have been constantly bootlegged and resold on sites like eBay, something that Ben takes in his stride, with an imitation is the highest form of lattery approach.

"I saw them play many times on this tour, they put on a mighty live show, it was an exciting time!" adds Ben.

boxset

Recently for the 30th anniversary of the release of Nevermind, Ben's artwork was featured on the boxset, much to his delight.

Artwork for the Big Day Out posters was handled by Richard Allan from clothing label, Mambo. The lineup basically represents the cream of the crop of Australia's independent music scene in 1992.

BDO92

Below is an extract from the tour by Ken West who is one of the founders of Lees And West Touring, the creators of The Big Day Out.

This extract appears on Ken's blog - KEN FEST, that also covers the other 5 years of pulling together the Big Day Out and is a great read...

For context here, Ken is talking about the Big Day Out in Sydney in 1992.

As backstage, let alone backstage catering didn’t really exist, the bands mixed with the fans to eat. At one stage Nirvana were in a line at the vego stall and the fans were acting so cool, pretending not to know them or not believing it was them.

At one point, Nirvana bass player, Chis Novoselic, gave a backstage interview with Red Tv. He looked really stressed when asked about being number one in 23 countries, that week. He tried to explain that it took off like a grass fire. How they were dealing with it and his final fatal quote was, ‘I just hope we don’t fuck it up’. It’s a hard watch.

Soon we were facing the reality that the Hordern, with a 6,000 capacity but with 10,000 people on site we were going to have problems with Nirvana. By that time, they were literally number one worldwide & even with two other stages operating it was obvious that virtually everyone wanted to see them.

We were sitting in the backstage kitchen then Tex Perkins from The Beasts of Bourbon looked at me, picked up a peanut butter jar & said “It’s like this, there’s only so much peanut butter you can put in the jar until it comes out the sides”. He was more or less correct, but inside, in the audience where I was, it was like being in an ocean of humanity & one wrong move & you would be in a rip. About ten minutes into Nirvana's set one of the crew passed a message on to me that the authorities were at the mixing desk & were going to close the showdown. It was hot and sweaty, all the doors were open to keep it safe so we couldn’t shut them or turn the volume down, so I had to make it to the mixing desk. The direct way wasn’t an option as I had to go with the flow of the audience. When I finally made it to the desk it ended up being Chinese whispers, triggered by the head of security, the show kept going & we all survived. It was frightening & exhilarating at the same time.

The fire hoses were on the audience, Nirvana was amazing & the best live radio cross ever happened mid-set. Hellen Razor from triple J was in the mosh pit, simply phoned up the station & held the clunky phone in the air. It sounded rough but incredible, this was also just as the station had gone national. Additionally, thanks to some cross communications we managed to accidentally video the set. Dave Hawthorn, our video person handed me the VHS at the end of the night and said, ‘You didn’t really mean that when you told me not to record it? I hung onto it for 10 years,’ I finally gave a copy to Dave Grohl at the 2003 Big Day Out, when the Foo Fighters headlined; he cried. It's now posted online, presumably by him.

The next morning it was all on again. A 9 am flight to the Gold Coast and a sell-out show, at Fisherman's Wharf. Most people don’t know that the Fisherman's Wharf show on the next day was bigger in attendance than the BDO. We had sold out at over 10,000 just to see Violent Femmes & Nirvana play together. The PA was shit, the stage was a tiny mobile & initially, the crash barrier was made of metal star pickets & wire. The BDO had taken up so much time that I had forgotten about the details in Gold Coast & it looked like it might bite us on the bum.

Luckily, we could fix the barrier problem which saved our bacon. We were just starting the Femmes set & were thinking it was going to be smooth sailing then all of a sudden, the automatic sprinklers started up, one is right under the $200,000 mixing desk. So, while someone ran to sort out how to turn it off, we grabbed a sheet of ply & stood on it. The security of course were brutal, and seeing as we didn’t really have a security pit, they just stood on the stage. They formed a line in front of the Femmes, you couldn’t even see Gordon for half the set. The end result, while underproduced, was a big success.

Just when we thought we could relax I got a call from Stephen Pav & he had a big problem. Apparently, Kurt had decided that Australia was the place to give up heroin but hadn’t planned on how sick he might get. He also had a bad stomach ulcer thanks to taking Ritalin without water as a kid. He was going nuts from his stomach pains and drug withdrawals. In short, he wanted to go home.

After the local doctor proved useless, Viv Lees, realising some of it was psychosomatic, told Kurt that he could give him some super painkillers he had back in his room. I seem to remember they were just extra-large aspirins but Kurt responded & we got through the next show. As Viv said to me, “this guy is really fragile, he just needs to know that we all care about him”. In those days we didn’t know any ‘rock doctors’ but nowadays it’s pretty important to at least know some that give a fuck about the consequences of an artist in pain, the ‘stay in bed for week’ approach just doesn’t cut it. I recommended to Pav that they should cancel Perth, have a few days rest and finish the rest of the run. From memory, he took them camping. Backstage at Brisbane Festival Hall was the last time I saw Kurt, I didn’t know him well but could always see a lot more pain than a stomach ulcer in his eyes. I wish I had a few more Nirvana albums, I guess everyone does.

Sideshows

Some flyers and posters for sideshows. The Dee Why show at the Venue was one of the shows eventually cancelled due to Kurt's ill health.

Also a setlist from one of the Melbourne shows they played with Tumbleweed.

 setlist

 For this tour, Geffen released a 6 track EP for NIRVANA titled "Hormoaning" featuring the Australian tour dates on the rear cover.

The LP version sells for $1000 plus these days. Hormoaning was also released on casette and CD which aren't cheap to acquire either.

Hormoian

 The Australian version of Hormoaning is limited to 15000 copies (01/27/92):
10000 copies on CD
4000 copies on 12" vinyl
1000 copies on Cassette

Below is a strange Triple J interview with the band about the release.

Waterfront Records also released a limited 1992 Austrakian Tour Edition repress run of 500 copies of "Bleach" on green vinyl, complete with poster and cloth bag.

These start upwards of around $2000 - $3000 to obtain. Good luck with that.

BleachGreen

To finish here's a great clip from the 1992 Big Day Out in Sydney that perfectly sums up the time period.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

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