On Friday 25th April 2014, ‘Novana’, a tribute to my all-time favourite band Nirvana, headlined the O2 Academy in Sheffield.
Nirvana are my favourite band of all time. From first hearing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ I was instantly hooked and I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the pioneers of Grunge music ever since. The heartbreaking thing for the Nirvana fans of my generation however is the fact that, due to lead singer Kurt Cobain’s untimely death 20 years ago, we never got the opportunity to see the band play live.
‘Novana’ attempt to bring the live Nirvana experience to that generation. Describing themselves as “The UK’s first and finest Nirvana tribute”, the group embarked on a not-so sunny Sheffield for the final leg of their tour celebrating 20 years since the release of Nirvana’s final album ‘In Utero’. As a massive fan, I was both excited and intrigued to see how this tribute band would tackle the job of recreating the live experience of one of the greatest bands of all time. I was not left disappointed.
Support for this evening’s show at the O2 Academy came from the highly entertaining ‘Facefull OfFender’ and the more serious ‘Soul Fire Saints’, both of whom played entertaining half-hour sets to warm up the Sheffield crowd ahead of the main event.
Shortly after 9pm, the room plunged into darkness before the opening chords of ‘Aneurysm’ sent the audience wild. This was followed by the rarer track ‘Molly’s Lips’, ‘Drain You’ from Nirvana’s most famous album ‘Nevermind’ and the slower ‘Dumb’.
‘Novana’ consists James Cooper (Kurt), Sam Howell (Krist) and Rob Burgess (Dave) and the trio replicated the live performance of the real band exquisitely. Drummer Burgess has a look of Dave Grohl to him and performs almost as powerfully and passionately as the real thing. The mannerisms of tall bassist Krist Novoselic are clear to see in the performance of Howell, while most impressive for me is Cooper’s emulation of the troubled front man Kurt Cobain. The contrast between Cobain’s withdrawn on stage persona before suddenly bursting into life, charging around the stage and playing wild guitar solos made it feel like you really were watching the real thing.
The band played through hit song after hit song as the crowd really got into the live performance, dancing and throwing themselves around. One of their most famous tracks ‘In Bloom’ was next before the Beatles-esque ‘About A Girl’. Tracks from the bands entire, yet short, history were played with ‘School’, ‘Come As You Are’, ‘Lithium’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ just a few of the standouts.
As the show headed towards its conclusion, the band played few a mixture of loud and quiet songs and it gave a nice mix. The performance of ‘Breed’ was particularly impressive, Cooper performing as Cobain particularly well during this song, running around the stage and clawing at the guitar during the insane solo.
The band had their own take on the song ‘Polly’. The first half saw them perform the slow, quiet version from the album ‘Nevermind’ before they fired out a full electric version for the second half, bursting the crowd into life once again. And the buzzing Sheffield crowd could no longer be contained as a few of them burst onto the stage during the song ‘Milk It’ after the lead singer requested they do so.
After a couple more songs, a beautiful rendition of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ from the album ‘In Utero’ closed the show. It had been a truly memorable night and the crowd had been simply blown away by the performance. There is always a danger that tribute bands can disappoint, but this was far from the case this evening with a superb performance that left you feeling as if you’d been to a real Nirvana concert back in the early 1990’s!
SETLIST: Aneurysm, Molly’s Lips, Drain You, Dumb, In Bloom, About A Girl, School, Sliver, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, Come As You Are, Spank Thru, Serve The Servants, Lounge Act, Lithium, Rape Me, Pennyroyal Tea, Tourettes, Breed, Polly, Milk It, All Apologies, Blew, Heart Shaped Box