Twenty five years ago on a midweek late August night, Sonic Youth and Nirvana rolled into Dún Laoghaire, or technically the old end of the town that was a sleepy fishing village until the construction of the harbour and the railway changed everything.
Now, the Top Hat is another block of apartments opposite the Purty Kitchen. It hosted seminal shows by The Clash, Patti Smith and Metallica back when hardly any international acts came to Dublin or Ireland, whatever about Dún Laoghaire.
But it was the arrival of a then unknown Nirvana (on this side of the Atlantic at least) alongside alt-rock gods Sonic Youth that is still the most talked about and famous Top Hat gig a quarter of a century later.
It even gets mentioned in a brochure from the DLR tourist office. I wasn’t at the show as I was on holidays in Donegal, swimming and listening to John Peel on FM (perk of being close to the border pre-digital), but I’ve heard a few eye-witness reports.
Nirvana were by all accounts a stunning blast of noise and melody and played six songs and opened with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ a few weeks before its release. The trio then went into the crowd to watch Sonic Youth. I’ve heard that the late Kurt Cobain was very friendly and engaged with whoever said hello or complimented his band. About two short weeks later on September 10, Nirvana released a single called ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Everything changed very quickly.
Nirvana are now regarded as one of the last great guitar bands.
The video below is a pristine recording of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ from their appearance in Sir Henry’s, Cork the night before, plus their itinerary for the Irish tour and set list for their forty-minute Top Hat appearance.
SONIC YOUTH & NIRVANA IRISH TOUR SCHEDULE
18/08/91 – Nirvana meet up with Craig Montgomery, John Silva and David Markey at Los Angeles Airport at 10.30am to fly to London Heathrow.
19/08/91 – They arrive at Heathrow at 7.30am and meet up with Sonic Youth. Both bands travel to Wales on two separate coaches to catch the ferry to Ireland.
20/08/91 – Nirvana start a two-week European tour with Sonic Youth at Sir Henry’s in Cork. The two bands stay at a bed and breakfast attached to the club.
21/08/91 – Nirvana set list, Top Hat, Dún Laoghaire – Source: Nirvana Guide 1991
- Smells Like Teen Spirit
- Floyd The Barber
- Drain You
- Molly’s Lips
- On A Plain