If you went to see Nirvana in the wake of Nevermind’s huge success in the early ‘90s and were particularly looking forward to a faithful rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit, you were often in for a rude awakening. Kurt Cobain & co. had a playful relationship with their biggest hit that regularly transformed into full-blown sabotage. It was a reaction prompted by the fact that the video to the song had been played relentlessly by MTV and was therefore the Seattle trio’s most well-known song outside of the band’s diehards. Kurt Cobain did not like this.
Even as early as 1991, there was their infamous Top Of The Pops performance with Cobain miming in a deathly baritone, whilst at a show in Buenos Aires in 1992 the frontman was so miffed at the crowd’s negative reaction to the support band that he punished them by playing the intro to Smells Like Teen Spirit to every song only to then swerve into a rare Nirvana cut instead.
Their mischievous approach to playing Smells Like Teen Spirit did result in one of the most curious collaborations of their career, though. It was during a chaotic performance at the Hollywood Rock festival in Rio, Brazil, where the band were one of three headliners alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers and, umm, Simply Red. During a set that took in much instrument-swapping and covers by The Clash, Iron Maiden and Duran Duran, Chili Peppers bassist Flea arrived onstage to provide a cracking trumpet accompaniment where a guitar solo should’ve been in Smells Like Teen Spirit, headbanging and dancing like a maniac whilst waiting for his turn. Unfortunately they didn’t bring on Mick Hucknall to play didgeridoo on Breed but you can’t have everything.
It wasn’t the last time that Flea leant his trumpet skills to fellow artists. He provided trumpet on a Thom Yorke solo song titled Daily Battles that the Radiohead man recorded for the Ed Norton film Motherless Brooklyn, and he also cropped up as part of the brass section backing ex-Fugees singer Lauryn Hill at a show in New York a couple of months ago. But still, Mick Hucknall playing didgeridoo during Breed. That really would’ve been something.
Witness Flea’s trumpet skills turning Smells Like Teen Spirit inside-out below: