When word first hit the streets that long time local promoter Jerry Perry was sitting on a video recording of Nirvana playing at the Cattle Club 20 years ago, it didn’t take long for friends in Sacramento’s music community to begin shouting “here we are now, entertain us.”
“Everyone was asking me ‘can I come over and watch it’ or ‘can you burn me a copy,’” Perry said. “Everyone under the sun was saying ‘I’ll have a BBQ and you bring the movie.’ I probably turned down the BBQ invitation about four times.”
“We did not want to let bootlegs (of the performance) get out everywhere, we wanted it to be really special and we didn’t want to exploit it,” Perry added. “So I thought, why don’t we just try and make it a big movie showing?”
And so it went that the dark, loud and quiveringly-raw concert performance film would be seen at the Crest on August 20, the to-the-day 20 year anniversary of Nirvana’s first performance at that venue (alongside Sonic Youth).
"Nirvana: Live @ The Cattle Club Feb 12, 1990" screens on Friday night at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K St. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the film beginning at 8 p.m. Perry has plans for a Q&A session with the crowd after the movie.
And as Perry would only have it, admission is free.
“I don’t know that I’d ever want to charge for this,” Perry said of the film. “It sounds good, but I’d never put it out on CD and release it. We just got lucky (with the footage) in some parts, but the energy in this is amazing; it really captures the energy of a raw, live Nirvana performance.”
20 years, six months and eight days ago, Nirvana’s performance at the now-defunct Cattle Club (Sacramento’s premiere live, all-ages music venue of the 1990’s) was attended by roughly 60 people, and cover was six bucks.
This was “Love Buzz” territory. It was the “Bleach” tour. It was before “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” before Geffen Records, before the band’s crown-of-thorns superstardom.
Nirvana was still an opener when they returned to Sacramento the next year, to warm the stage for Dinosaur Jr. and local alt-rockers Kai Kln at the Crest.
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were barely a public item when Cobain showed up in the wings to watch Love’s band Hole play alongside Smashing Pumpkins at the Cattle Club later in 1991 (how’s this for a little serendipity).
“Nevermind” was released later that year. Nirvana never played in Sacramento again.
Virtually the only public mementos that remain of the iconic rock band’s presence in Sactown are a poster or two in the pool room at Monkey Bar, and Perry’s footage.
The rest of the memories exist in stories told over coffee and beer that emphatically start with the word “dude…”
“We had to make sure the Nirvana camp was OK with it, but Friday before last, we got the word,” Perry said, “so we said ‘let’s give Sacramento this cool little moment of what happened 20 years ago.’”
The one hour and five minute film was shot with two cameras. Perry had set up a stationary camera next to the stage for the show, and crowd-perspective footage was taken by Shayne Stacy. The two stocks of footage were edited together nine months ago by Jim McClain (whom Perry lovingly refers to as “Taper Jim”).
“I was so excited (about the show) that I made it a point to film them; not that I thought they were going to be the next big thing, I just really liked them,” Perry said.
“There was nothing remarkable done to the sound,” Perry said. “Between the two cameras, Jim discerned that the sound off mine was the better sound, so he used that audio track and cut back and forth between the two.
“If you watch either one, they’re OK, the sound is good,” he added, “but the camera (on mine) never moves, and Shane’s is being bumped around in the crowd and sometimes the shots are really dark.
“But when one camera goes dark and you can cut over to the other one, between the two, it was almost like you could hide all the flaws.”
The film opens with a trio of guys decked in flannel and barely of legal drinking age tuning guitars and hanging out – and it never looks back.
“Kurt was kinda quiet, but he was really nice,” recalls Perry. “Krist (Novoselic) was really great, he was a very affable guy; he was totally game to go up to the DJ booth and spin records.”
“No one ever suspected they would be as big as they were, they were just this other cool band from Seattle,” Perry added. “When I found out Kurt Cobain died, it was so sad to me. It wasn’t even ‘celebrity sad,’ like when John Lennon died, it was so horrible.
“I felt like we all kind of had the same vibe about things, no attitude, no nothing, he just came in and rocked. I wish I knew him better.”
(Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic will be speaking at Sacramento State on September 23, discussing the effects of social media and technology on the First Amendment. For details, go here.)