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Nirvana's Unforgettable Shows at the Pyramid Club: Book Excerpt

Frank Mastropolo
© Frank Mastropolo

Where did Elvis record “Hound Dog” and Bill Haley record “Rock Around the Clock”? Where did Dylan play his first major gig? Or the Beatles make their US debut? Where was Hendrix discovered? New York City, where rock history has been made on the street corners of Harlem, the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, and the city’s clubs, theaters, studios, and arenas.

New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock tells more than 200 stories of the artists, writers, DJs, and impresarios who came together in Manhattan to make rock history from the 1950s to today.

In this excerpt, Seatlle grunge rockers Nirvana make two memorable apperances at the East Village's Pyramid Club.

Built in 1876, the East Village hall that housed the Pyramid Club was used as a social and entertainment venue by the local German-American community for decades. In the 1960s, the East Village In was one of a variety of music clubs, followed by Shipwreck and Jazzboat, to occupy the space.

The Pyramid Club opened in 1979 and soon became the focal point for the East Village's drag and gay scenes. Politically conscious drag performers like Lypsinka, Lady Bunny and RuPaul appeared and made the Pyramid Club their hangout. Madonna attended an early AIDS benefit here in 1986.

"If your navy blue trademark is your hair, not your suit, you might prefer the live bands and progressive sounds featured at the Pyramid Club," noted the New York Times in 1985. Live bands included the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1984 and Nirvana in 1989.

The Pyramid Club closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened.

Nirvana, Pyramid Club, April 26, 1990

Nirvana was founded in 1987 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. The band was part of the Seattle grunge scene that formed in the late 1980s. Nirvana's first New York appearance was at the Pyramid Club on June 18, 1989, three days after the release of their debut album Bleach. The performance was marred by a drunken fan who climbed onstage during "Floyd the Barber" only to be shoved off by members of the band.

"In Bloom" by Nirvana

Even more memorable is Nirvana's second visit to the Pyramid in 1990 as part of the club's New Music Seminar. The group spent the day in East River Park and the Financial District, shooting the video for "In Bloom," which would appear on the Nevermind LP.

That evening Nirvana gave what many, including the band, felt was a mediocre performance at the Pyramid. Many in the audience heckled the band, though Iggy Pop cheered. The punk rock icon would cite Nirvana's performance in his 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech for Nine Inch Nails.

The band was so frustrated by the club's poor sound quality and their own playing that they ended the show by smashing their equipment. Novoselic was so upset that he shaved his head bald in the New Jersey motel where they were staying.

Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.

New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

New York, NY

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