Thirty years ago on a midweek night in late August, 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, let alone 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 well over a quarter of a century later.
Nirvana were by all accounts a stunning blast of noise and melody. The trio then went into the crowd to watch Sonic Youth. The late Kurt Cobain was very friendly, warmly engaging 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.
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.
Finally, enjoy this fascinating interview with Kurt about discovering his Irish roots on this tour, plus a link to an interview I did with Krist Novoselic on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind here.
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
Yeah, there were no other support bands that day. I was outside the side door drinking cans listening to Nirvana and Sonic Youth soundcheck. I was in for all bands. Dinosaur Jr were doing some other european dates with Sonic Youth/Nirvana but they played McGonagles the following week.
I remember buying a Nirvana t-shirt off the stand at the back and Krist was there – found out later it was his girlfriend selling the merchandise.
Yeah I was there too.
Hardly remember it to be honest. Most memorable moment was moshing and then falling backwards to slam into Sinead O Connor. Her boyfriend – some tall redhead guy looked like he was going to punch me.
My friends and I met Thurston & Kimby chance in temple bar that day, they filmed us for their tour film(The year that punk broke). Kim invited us back stage after the gig (For showing her where si/sé was). We met nirvana too and as we missed the last dart, they offered us a lift to the city centre on their tour bus!!! How ’bout those apples? I should also add, I asked Thurston earlier that day to play Inhuman to which he climbed 3/4 mounted stage monitors to announce their encore which was a song “this kid in temple bar asked me to play” ..
They actually opened with School. Kurt broke a string during the 2nd song (Floyd) and it took a few minutes to patch up. Some poor drunken sap slept through the whole thing at the back. I think they closed with Something in the Way cos I remember thinking ‘this one’s shit’. We had a chat with some affable hair metallers in the pub beforehand who were curious about who was playing. I don’t remember much more than that but they certainly played more than 6 songs.
Me and 3 band mates travelled down from Belfast but tickets were sold out, so we made our way around to the back where sonic youth’s huge racks of guitars where getting wheeled in. Somehow we managed to blag our way in as roadies and made our way up to the back, took some seats and rolled a few doobies and watched the soundcheck. Kim walked past us at one point and our drummer offered her a flyer for our band but she ignored his offer, ha ha, we gave him some stick about that. We were all big sonic youth fans, but fuck Nirvana blew me away.