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Three years later, Nirvana box set finally out

Collection features rare, unreleased tracks, DVD of performances
/ Source: The Associated Press

After years of legal tussling, Nirvana’s much-anticipated box set is finally introducing hundreds of thousands of fans to rare recordings and even living-room video of the groundbreaking grunge rockers.

“With the Lights Out” includes 81 tracks, 68 of them previously unreleased. It was initially planned for release in 2001 — the 10th anniversary of the album “Nevermind” — but a dispute between Courtney Love, widow of the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and the surviving bandmates delayed the project. The sides resolved their issues in September 2002, allowing work on the box set to resume.

The set, which came out Tuesday, features three CDs, beginning with a Led Zeppelin cover recorded in 1987, and a DVD of rare performance and rehearsal footage — including nine songs rehearsed at the home of bassist Krist Novoselic’s mother when Cobain was only 20. The DVD also includes the first performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the song that launched Nirvana and Seattle’s grunge scene onto the national stage in 1991.

“It is a true Nirvana fan’s dream,” said Seattle disc jockey Andrew Harms, whose station devoted an entire weekend to the rare tracks. “You get to see how the band progresses. The whole box set tells a story, and it goes all the way to the end.”

Cobain biographer Charles Cross agreed that the set, from Universal’s Geffen Records, tells Nirvana’s story well — a story that ended with Cobain’s spiraling heroin use and suicide in 1994.

“It’s not always a pretty story,” he said. “The band wasn’t always pretty, or always in tune. This is not Nirvana unplugged. It’s Nirvana unedited.”

Seattle music writer Gillian Gaar first heard Nirvana when she was reviewing a Sub Pop Records compilation album in the late 1980s. She was so unimpressed she didn’t bother to mention the band in her piece, though she discussed almost every other song on the compilation.

A major fanThat changed when she heard the band’s first album, “Bleach.” She wound up becoming a major fan — and would later spend six years working on the box set, tracking down rare recordings and helping create a 60-page accompanying booklet.

“I started working on it in 1998 and never imagined it would take six years,” she said. “We were working with a 2001 release date, for the 10-year anniversary of Nevermind. Then the lawsuits happened. All this work we had done was put on hold, and we thought, ’Are we ever going to get back to this?”’

Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl wanted to release the box set earlier, but Love disagreed, arguing that a best-of-Nirvana CD should come out first. They wound up in court, but settled; the box set was delayed to make way for the best-of disc.

Gaar found the final product satisfying, but sad.

“The DVD starts with them in this little room rehearsing, then at the end they’re again in a little room rehearsing,” Gaar said. “There seems to be an underlying sadness coming through. That was part of the soul of the band in a way, that there was always a melancholy bittersweet feeling running through their music. Even the title, ’With the Lights Out,’ seems to me to be a little sad.”

The title comes from “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which includes the refrain: “With the lights out/ it’s less dangerous/ here we are now/ entertain us.”