Best of Vs., Live: Reviewing the Top Live Performances of Each Song
Several months ago I did a write-up on the 30th anniversary of Ten where I was asked to pick my favorite versions of each song. It was quite a tall order to pick my favorites, having been an avid bootleg collector since the early 90s.
So now Vs. turns 28. It’s an album that has been continually in my top 2-3 albums of all-time almost since its release, and it was essentially the soundtrack to my senior year in high school. If Ten was near impossible to pick definitive live versions, Vs. is not far behind: “Daughter,” with all of the tags over the years; “Blood,” with the angry early versions and jammed out mid-90s versions; and “Rearviewmirror,” which has evolved continually. And what about songs like “Go”, “Animal”, “Elderly Woman”, “Dissident” and “Leash” that generally stick to the script?
Well, just like I did with Ten, I’m going to give it a shot. And just like I tried to do with Ten, but failed on one occasion, I am going to try and avoid duplicating a show. This will be every bit as subjective, fun, and difficult as my Ten write-up, and I’d love to hear what people think I got right and what they would have chosen differently.
Century II, Wichita, KS – 11/24/1993
“How stupid was that?”, Stone quips and the band quickly goes into “Go” to start the show. To this day I’m still not sure what Stone was referring to, but I do know this is a monstrously intense “Go”. The band and Eddie are firing on all cylinders, even if Mike seems a little too eager to start the solo a couple of seconds early. It ends with a great climax with Ed howling as the song comes to conclusion.
I remember reading an interview many years ago talking about how Mike had always found it difficult to play the main solo in “Go” live. Well, he certainly nailed this one. It’s as good as any of the fiery versions from 93-94, and it just seems amped up just a bit more than usual.
Honorable mentions: The song is still amazing live, but there’s something about those early, angry versions with Dave. See: any 1993 or 1994 version and odds are it’s killer. As a matter of fact, that is a theme with a few songs on this list (like “Animal” and “Blood”). 2/5/95 (Seattle) is worth checking out for the “false start” intro from the album (which they have done a couple of times since).
MTV Video Music Awards, Universal Amphitheater, Universal City, CA – 9/2/1993
For most of us, this is the first time we heard this song. I will never forget tuning into MTV to watch this performance and just being floored by this new song. There are so many noteworthy snippets: Stone and Jeff (and Dave for that matter) are very animated. Eddie’s voice is perfect (how the hell does he scream like that during “Why would you want to HURT me?”? And Mike’s solo is atypical for “Animal”: it’s not the standard “Animal” riff at all. He just goes for the jugular right off the bat and wails.
There are several songs on this list where I felt like I was having to choose a favorite kid. This one was easy.
Honorable mentions: Several 93/94 versions are great (take your pick for the most part). I’m also a sucker for the guitar tones in “Animal” on the ’00 tour.
Saturday Night Live, New York, NY – 4/16/1994
From 5H: “‘Daughter’ is ended with ramblings including a quote from Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),’ which is the song inspiring the reference in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, “it’s better to burn out than fade away.” This performance contrasts darkly with the previous SNL appearance in ’92”
The early versions of “Daughter” were good, but to me when they really started incorporating tags into the song and extending the jam is when it got interesting. Some of those 95-08 versions are just a thing of beauty. But as with “Animal” above, there was really just one choice here for the definitive version. Coming just days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found, the band played SNL for the second time. They played 3 songs, including this hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Daughter”, complete with tags directly relating to Kurt’s suicide. You can tell it’s a very, very heavy moment in time for the band and they play with a quiet intensity. The YouTube link I provided is for the rehearsals 2 days prior. It’s hard to find a good quality rip of the actual performance online (they get taken down because of copyright issues a lot), but if you can find it it’s well worth checking out.
Honorable Mentions: There are almost too many to choose, so I’m just going to list a few: Obviously the version from “Live On Two Legs” (9/19/98) is a gem with the “RITFW” tag and psychedelic jam. 7/8/03 from MSG is a must-listen (clocking in at around 10 minutes), which includes Ben Harper telling everyone in attendance “This is the greatest band in the world!”. 4/22/03 (St. Louis) is a different beast altogether, featuring a harmonica jam and nice extended outro. 8/3/00 (Virginia Beach) and 8/24/00 (Jones Beach) which both feature early “It’s O.K.” tags, the former of which was heavy and emotional as it was their first show back after the Roskilde tragedy just a few weeks prior. Check out the numerous Summer/Fall ’95 versions, several of which contain very unique tags. 7/10/18 Barcelona) and 7/14/18 (Lisbon) contain “It’s O.K.” tags sung in Spanish and Portuguese (also 8/10 from that tour in Seattle was great). Asbury Park 2021 featured a nice elongated “W.M.A.” tag.
Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA – 4/12/1994
“Glorified G” is a hard one. In general, if it’s played well and Eddie’s voice is in good form, it’s good. I chose this particular version from Boston’s Orpheum Theater because not only does Mike shred and Eddie sound great, but Dave is pulling out the stops with some great fills (he’s really the one to focus on if you end up listening to this one). The whole band just sounds great, as is true for most anything from this show.
Honorable Mentions: 4/3/94 (Atlanta), 12/1/93 (Vegas – Eddie screams the “I CAN FEEL…” part which is not commonplace), 3/29/94 (St. Petersburg) and 11/7/95 (San Diego – “Glorified version of I hate this song”)
Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA – 9/16/93
As with “Glorified G” above, “Dissident” is a difficult one to pick. I’ve had several versions over the years that were great. This is a top-notch version with the band on point. In general, those 93 and 94 renditions were always great – Eddie’s voice as the song climaxes is just a beautiful thing.
Honorable Mentions: Several versions on the Vs. tour were incredible, but check out 4/17/94 (NYC – the band is just CRUSHING it). 7/13/98 (Inglewood, CA). 3/3/03 (Tokyo)
The Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA – 4/3/1994
“There’s a whole bunch of people listening on the radio. If you want to say hi to anybody, here’s the mic.”
Doug Pinnick from King’s X (the opening band) joins PJ for a stellar rendition of this somewhat rarity. The entire band is locked in for this angry/psychedelic version. Dave’s rhythmic drumming is matched by Jeff’s funk groove and Stone and Mike interplay. Ed and Doug trade lines throughout the song, and as the song ends Eddie says, “Tomorrow morning look in your history book and figure out why it’s an important day to remember.” Just like with Eddie, I’ll let you figure out what he meant there (hint: 1968).
Honorable Mentions: 2/5/1995 (Seattle) and 2/8/95 (Missoula) – whoever said only Dave could play this song? Jack annihilates these 2 versions. 6/14/08 (Bonnaroo) starts out as an Eddie acoustic rendition and the rest of the band joins in after the first chorus – it’s absolutely beautiful.
Spartan Stadium, San Jose, CA – 11/4/1995
Oh boy. This is one of the toughest ones for me (along with the next song). I love, love, LOVE me some 93/94 versions of “Blood”. They’re just SO angry and intense. So why in the world did I go with a Vitalogy tour version? While Eddie’s voice is a little strained (which is a theme for most of the Summer/Fall ’95 tour), the band is just on another level all together. The middle jam features a hi-hat jam by Jack, guitar feedback, and grunting by Eddie. That part in and of itself is amazing. But the ending jam is why I chose this version. Lots of ’95 versions of “Blood” have an extended jam, but San Jose just brings it to a whole new level. Mike is going nuts with feedback and delay, and Jack joins him in intensity. Around the 5:30 mark of the song, Mike and Jack reach a musical climax together as the jam eventually reaches it’s ending in spectacular fashion.
Honorable Mentions: Also from the ’95 tour check out 7/11 (Chicago), 11/1 (Salt Lake City) and 11/6 (San Diego). For earlier, intense versions go with 11/5/93 (Indio, CA), 12/1/93 (Las Vegas – that howling!), 3/29/94 (St. Petersburg) – as almost a precursor to the ’95 jams check out Mike’s guitar around 2:50), 4/2 and 4/3/94 (Atlanta) and 4/17/94 (NYC – what a cathartic end to the ’94 tour). ’96 also had a few notable versions. In particular check out 10/2/96 (Hartford, and maybe I am biased seeing as how it was my first show) which features a “Fame” tag, along with “Noise of Carpet”.
Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA – 2/5/1995
This particular version starts with the band playing WAY too fast. Eddie tries to start singing and eventually has a quick laugh and stops the song so they can compose themselves. What transpires as the song is played true to speed is nothing short of spectacular. The middle jam features Jack Irons going absolutely bananas as the band climaxes in a way rarely seen in “RVM” jams. The ending is stunning as well, and this ends up being the highlight of a stellar show. This is truly a version you need to hear.
Honorable Mentions: I love the early versions with Dave, but they were usually pretty standard. SNL ’94 was amazing, with Mike going off at the end and Eddie throwing in a subtle “Fuck off!” on live TV. 3/17/95 (Melbourne) features a really melodic middle jam. I remember getting the show on tape in a trade and thinking “wow, that’s something new for them”. 1998 – after Matt joined the band they really started extending the middle jams and doubling up the ending power chord section. Check out 6/21/98 (Park City) for an early version along these lines. 2003 through 2006 usually features really trippy breakdown jams. Check out 5/13/06 (Hartford), 7/8/03 (NYC) and 7/19/03 (Mexico City). 11/25/05 (Buenos Aires) is a very long version, clocking in at over 10 minutes long and contains a very elongated middle jam. I have to point out one that I witnessed: 5/25/06 (Boston). It is a really jammed out, and PERFECT version. The middle jam is quite long and very cool, but the ending is what it is all about. I distinctly remember the strobe lights going off, Mike standing up on the amps in front of the stage and soloing, Eddie/Stone/Jeff rocking out in front of the drums and Matt, ohhhh Matt…he was just POUNDING on the drums, probably harder than I have ever heard or seen him play. As the band kept playing harder and harder, the crowd got whipped into a frenzy. You can clearly hear this on the bootleg: if you have it, go to about the 8:30 mark to hear Matt starting to really go nuts, and then the crowd at 8:40 just getting swept up in the moment. I try to keep these reviews objective, but I had to throw that in there: that moment is etched in my brain.
San Jose State University Events Center, San Jose, CA – 10/30/1993
Since I chose Atlanta for “W.M.A.”, and I tried to choose a different show for each song, I ended up going with San Jose ’93 for “Rats”. It’s a well-played version that is worth checking out. As with several Vs. songs, if it’s tight then it’s a good one. Rats doesn’t typically veer from the script, and this one is no different.
Honorable Mentions: 4/3/94 (Atlanta) – as the ending section is being played, Eddie sings several notable lines including: “Ben the two of us need look no more (a line from a Michael Jackson song). Michael Jackson was innocent.”, “Nothing changes. Torture then reward! Follows torture, follows reward.” and “I’d stop and talk but I’m already in love. Already in love, love, love.”, the latter of which was highly appropriate as the band then played an early version of “Satan’s Bed”. 5/12/06 (Albany) was special being the 8-year bustout. You can always count on the band playing this during an MSG or Brooklyn show in recent years due to places such as Wall St. and Shea Stadium being infested with rats.
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Bridge School Benefit, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA – 10/1/1994
“Elderly Woman” is always a welcomed song, but it never strays much from the original. The ’94 Bridge School version is a great, stripped down version with Eddie sounding vulnerable yet great, and Jack on hand drums. The crowd participation is also wonderful.
Honorable Mentions: The acoustic-only studio version (“Go” b-side). 12/8/02 (Seattle) opening song. A good, underrated recent version is from São Paulo 11/14/2015 where a rainstorm (during Lightning Bolt of all songs) forced the band to briefly leave the stage, allowing Ed to call an audible playing this solo acoustic on the fly. No 1-2-3-4-2-3 in that version either.
Moore Theater, Seattle, WA – 1/17/1992
For “Leash“, I’m going with one that was played almost 2 years before Vs. came out. This early rendition features a really amped up band and is kicked off by Eddie absolutely wailing “WAAAAAAAH” as the song kicks in. And considering the guys were all in their early to mid-20s when this song was written, it’s all too appropriate when Eddie sings “We are young!”. It’s a great one to check out, and the energy of this song in its infancy is nothing short of spectacular.
Honorable Mentions: Most of the earlier versions are great. A noteworthy version is the bustout at 5/25/06 (Boston). After several campaigns over the years (most notably a sign at 7/9/03 that read “Play ‘Leash’ you pu**ies!” that Eddie commented on), the band finally “dropped the Leash” in Boston for the first time in 11 years. While not the tightest version ever, it was special for those in attendance. I was in the 10C seats, and as my buddy told me later on “Looking down on the 10C seats, everyone was going apesh*t. But all around me people were just like ‘oh, cool, I like this song.'” That’s the kind of stuff that keeps us all coming back for more: you just never know!
Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, SC – 4/16/2016
Just like “Release” for Ten, I chose 1 song from the Vs. show. And just like with “Release”, it’s fascinating to hear “Indifference” midway through the first set. Whereas “Release” is almost always a show opener (or at least in the first 2-3 songs), “Indifference” is almost always one of the last 2-3 songs in the final encore. When it closes out a show in recent years, it’s usually celebrated as a singalong with the house lights up, but this version brings you back to 1993 reminiscent of when they’d close the show in complete darkness. This gorgeous rendition does feature a great crowd singalong and closes out the Greenville Vs. part of the main set, and I am just a liiiiiiiittle jealous of those who were in attendance.
Honorable Mentions: 4/3/94 (Atlanta), Self Pollution ’95 (where Eddie sings the loud part very quietly instead), and 3/17/95 (Melbourne) which is beautifully played and is followed by an absolutely amazing “Rockin’ In The Free World” with Dave Grohl sitting in on drums. Also, look no further than renditions where Ben Harper can sit alongside the band and sing his heart out on it, MSG 7/8/2003 is a great example of that.
So, there it is: Vs. after 28 years. What did I get right? What did I get wrong (nothing, right?)? Let’s hear it!
Share Your Memories
Kudos to Brian Horwitz for pulling this very good list of live performances together. Love seeing all of the 93/94/95 selections, which is admittedly a stretch of bootlegs I haven’t really explored thoroughly enough.
There are soooo many good versions of Indifference… Bologna 2006, MSG 2010, Red Rocks ‘95, but definitely would have loved to see Gimli ‘93 make the list.
My favorite album of all time. Thank you for assembling this.
I am the kindred spirit of the human being melting down at the end of Blood 11.4.95
Hah! I think he’s related to the “Laureeeeeeeeen!!!” guy from Atlanta ’94.