"This song is called 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'," were the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's words when he introduced for the very first time what would eventually become one of the songs that defined a generation.
Actually, Nirvana debuted two new songs during their show at the O.K. Hotel, a bar and music venue, in Seattle, Washington. The first, of course, was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” while the other was Kurt Cobain ’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea.” Nirvana opened the show with the latter and closed it with the former. In between they played 15 songs, both originals and covers, and wrapped up the show with an encore that consisted of four more songs.
The setlist, according to this setlist, is as follows:
“Pennyroyal Tea” – “Polly” – “Big Cheese” – “Turnaround” (DEVO cover) – “Love Buzz” (Shocking Blue cover) – “D-7” (Wipers cover) – “Blew” – “Been A Son” – “Stain” – “Negative Creep” – “Wild Thing” (Naked Raygun cover) (jam) – “About A Girl” – “Breed” – “Floyd The Barber” – “Verse Chorus Verse” – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – “School” – “Dive” – “Territorial Pissings” – “Sliver”
Kurt Bloch, guitarist for the Seattle punk rock band Fastbacks, recalled hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time in the book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm.
“That show at the OK Hotel was legendary! There were a few genre-defining shows, and certainly that was one of them. I remember standing next to [former Sub Pop publicist] Nils Bernstein, and then ‘Hey, here’s a new song, blah blah blah.’ They started playing ‘Teen Spirit,’ and Nils and I looked at each other like, ‘Holy f**k! This song is unbelievable.’”
Anyway, at the time, Nirvana was about to start working on their second studio album Nevermind, which, as we all know, have gone on to become one of the most iconic albums in music. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a work in progress then, so you might notice the differences in the lyrics of this version from the final one:
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” would be officially released in September later that year as a single and as part of Nevermind. Both the song and the album would become highly successful – so successful, in fact, that this feat has been credited as that which introduced alternative rock into mainstream, and that even until today “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Nevermind remains relevant musical milestones.
All information in this article were sourced from YouTube, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, A.V. Club, and Setlist.fm. You may also read Rolling Stone’s interview with Kurt Cobain, in which he talked about “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” its success, and their thoughts about it (among many other things) here.