Smells Like Teen Spirit
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Original Artist: Nirvana
Original Album: Nevermind (1991)
Historian: Martin Acaster
With the 1991 release of Nirvana’s major label debut Nevermind, Seattle was magically transformed into the font of all that was hip and cool in music. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the first track of the album and break-through buzz bin hit single, gave instant fashion sense to all those flying the flannel across the nation. This Kurt Cobain lyrical homage to fitting in was the key that opened the door to success for the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.
Grunge was alive and well and would dominate popular music until the death of its reluctant messiah signaled its imminent demise in early April 1994. The blend of disaffected punk angst and catchy power chord hooks was just the winning combination that both the newcomers to the hard rock genre and its longtime aficionados who had suffered through the new wave of the 1980s were looking for.
Phish performed this landmark Nirvana hit as the encore to their shocking (to some overrated) Utah ‘E’ Center show on 11/2/98; thereby making a gig that was already destined to go down in history as one for the ages (see “Harpua” -> Dark Side of the Moon -> “Harpua”) that much better (or worse). Perhaps this surprise cover was an indication of another album, which had been considered for the Halloween costume in Las Vegas two nights earlier. Based on the reputation the song carries as one of the worst performed covers Phish has ever attempted, the decision to play The Velvet Underground classic Loaded on Halloween was clearly the right choice.
Thankfully, for those who think that the Phish rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” carried an odor more akin to the one now emanating from its author, it has yet to return to a setlist. It did however make a brief (a single verse, by request) appearance at a Trey Anastasio show on 5/14/99 at SUNY Binghamton.