Only 2,800 people saw Nirvana’s 1991 Halloween Seattle concert, but the Paramount Theatre show has taken on legendary status over the three decades since. Nirvana were on the cusp of becoming stars everywhere, but in Seattle that night they played to the biggest audience of the first leg of the “Nevermind” tour. Tickets were $10.
For those who missed it 30 years ago — or those who saw it — the legendary night gets a reprise on Sunday, Dec. 12, when the concert film, “Nirvana – Live at the Paramount,” is played for the first time in the venue where it was filmed. The movie has been available on Blu-ray since 2011, but Seattle Theatre Group, the nonprofit that runs the Paramount, decided it was a perfect way to celebrate the venue’s film history.
“This was an iconic performance, and a hallmark in the Paramount’s history,” says MacKenzie Mercer, STG’s booking associate. “The theater was built for film, showed films into the ‘60s, and does still with SIFF, and our silent film series. But we’ve never shown this.”
The screening benefits YouthCare, a nonprofit that works to end youth homelessness. This time, instead of Mudhoney and Bikini Kill, the opening bands will be THEM and the Black Tones.
Eva Walker of the Black Tones, 32, has never seen the film but is honored to “open up for Nirvana” she laughs. “I know I could probably watch the film on YouTube, but I’d rather see it in the theater,” she says. “We’re going to have special guests, too, even our mom.”
The Black Tones set will be mixed by someone special: Craig Montgomery, Nirvana’s sound engineer who originally did the audio in the Paramount. “It was more complex than a normal concert for the band working with film crew,” he remembers. “But they were on their stride, and knocked everything right that night.”
The concert was just 70 minutes, though Nirvana played 19 songs, including most of “Nevermind.” Mercer says STG originally wanted to schedule the showing on Halloween, the actual 30-year mark, but licensing delayed that.
Admission to the film, and all shows at the Paramount, require masks and proof of coronavirus vaccination (or negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of performance start time for children under 12 and people with a medical condition or sincerely held religious belief that prevents vaccination). The screening is all-ages.
Bill Reid was a DJ on KNDD in 1991 and helped break Nirvana, and he’s bringing his son. “My kid is a hip-hop guy but a huge Nirvana fan,” Reid says. “It will be a different generation but the same admiration!”
Though Reid conducted one of Nirvana’s first on-air interviews (in 1990), he actually didn’t go to the concert. “As they got huge that year, I’ll admit I was stuck up at it, that ‘this was my band, and I’m not going to go stand in line.’ A mistake. I’m not going to make that again.”
I was there that Halloween night in Row G — the seventh row. I’ve got the faded ticket stub to prove it. It was such a memorable show, I wrote an entire chapter in the 2004 book “The Show I’ll Never Forget” about the concert. The music is captured in the film, but much of the chaos of being in the audience isn’t. It was as sweaty, wild and glorious a scrum as Seattle has ever witnessed.
It’s hard to know in a pandemic if anyone will want to get sweaty, and the seats will be removed on the Paramount’s main floor at the screening, so my actual seat won’t be available to revisit.
Even so, I can still stand roughly in the spot, watch a film that captured a moment of my youth and say, “I was there.”