It Came From YouTube: Nirvana at the old Mason Jar
By Benjamin Leatherman
A decade ago, I used to be big-time into collecting bootleg concert videos of my favorite bands. I’d habitually visit stores like East Side Records in Tempe or Shirts ‘n’ Things in Mesa to scope out their latest tapes, or log onto eBay to buy up shakily-shot VHS vids of groups like the Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid, Dead Kennedys, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine.
These days, I generally don’t pick up bootlegs anymore (except for the occasional rare find on eBay) since my thirst for illicit footage of performances has been more than satisfied by YouTube.
As my friends and co-workers can attest, I’m kind of a whore for YouTube, constantly spending my free time digging through the online video powerhouse for music stuff, old TV shows, and various and sundry other clips. I’ve also occasionally come across shitloads of cool videos relating to music in Phoenix in some fashion or another, like weird interviews, third-generation copies of concert films, or other oddities.
To wit: I recently came across a bunch of clips of grunge vanguards Nirvana performing at now-defunct Valley rock club the Mason Jar way back in the day. The gig depicted went down on February 19, 1990, when the pre-Dave Grohl version of the band was doing a West Coast tour with fellow Seattle rockers TAD.
As evidenced by the clips (as well as “The Nirvana Video Guide”), the set 14-song set was a mix of songs from Bleach, the Blew EP, and even one from Nevermind (“Polly”). The video guide also mentions that bassist Krist Novoselic “opens the show by announcing ‘Hi, we're a Motley Crue cover band,’” and eventually stripped down to his underwear during the show.
Sadly, the footage shows neither of these moments, but check them out anyway.
“Been a Son”
While on the subject of Nirvana’s experience in Phoenix, according to Everett True’s voluminous tome Nirvana: The Biography, the band had kind of rough time when it played the equally bygone Sun Club (which used to be located in Tempe near Arizona State University) a few months prior in June 1989 (having just released Bleach). This gig (which also featured legendary Valley experimental rockers the Sun City Girls) came during the salad days for Kurt Cobain and company, when they were touring the southwest in support of the then-just-released Bleach and were virtually unknown outside of Seattle.
The tour continued on through Long Beach and Santa Fe, New Mexico and on into Texas, where the heat became so overwhelming the band would pull over onto garage forecourts and wait until the day had cooled down. The attendances weren’t very high – maybe a couple dozen people, often musicians connected with Sub Pop there to check out the new guys – but Nirvana was beginning to make an impression.
“Usually Nirvana ended up opening the shows,” recalls tour booker Danny Bland.
“Being from Arizona, I begged them to put this band on. I said you’ll love them; they ended up playing second of four bands. Their guarantee was $50 and a case of beer and the club didn’t event give them the $50. It was a place called the Sun Club in Tempe, Arizona. I remember going back years later and they had a framed picture of Nirvana. Fuck you: you didn’t even give them 50 bucks. Probably made them pay for the beer, too. That was what the deals were in a lot of places. People hadn’t heard of them.”
As a bonus, here’s a montage of songs from the band performing what would be their last-ever show in the Valley, at the Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in October 1993 during the Arizona State Fair.