"I finally understood that I was in the middle of a Nirvana reunion": revisiting the night that 'Sirvana' - Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana - rocked Madison Square Garden for charity

'Sirvana' at Madison Square Garden
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Clear Channel)

By Dave Grohl's own admission, Paul McCartney's links to Sound City Studios were somewhat tenuous, if indeed they existed at all. When promoting Sound City, his 2013 documentary charting the history of the legendary Van Nuys, California facility where Nirvana recorded Nevermind, Grohl initially suggested that McCartney's involvement in the project was justified on the basis that The Beatles might have rehearsed there ahead of playing the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 1964, or maybe 1965, but he subsequently admitted that he didn't actually give a flying fuck whether or not there was any substance to said rumours.

"Everyone said, 'Did Paul record at Sound City?'" he told Empire magazine. "I don't care!" 

Impressively, given the calibre and fame of the musicians involved in the project - McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Rick Springfield, Corey Taylor to name but a handful - Grohl managed to keep news of Sound City under wraps while the cameras were rolling. But on December 12, 2012, the world would get to hear its most news-worthy collaboration, during Paul McCartney's show-closing set at the globally-televised 12-12-12 (A Concert For Sandy Relief) hurricane relief concert, which with a line-up that included The Rolling Stones, The Who, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen and more, featured arguably the strongest line-up of artists assembled in one place on US soil since the star-studded Farm Aid benefit gig staged in 1985.

"This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden," Mick Jagger noted during the Rolling Stones’ two-song cameo, joking, ‘If it rains in London, you’ve got to come and help us, okay?’

It was after midnight when Paul McCartney closed out the six-hour event. Five songs into his set, following a beautiful acoustic reading of The Beatles’ Blackbird, McCartney passed his guitar to a crew member, and strapped on a Bo Diddley-style cigar box guitar. 

"So, recently some guys asked me to go and jam with them," he told the MSG crowd, and the millions watching at home. "So, I showed up, like you do, ready to jam. And in the middle of it, these guys kept saying, you know, 'Well, we haven’t played together for years.' The penny finally dropped, I finally understood that I was in the middle of a Nirvana reunion."

As the capacity crowd roared its approval, McCartney turned to welcome a familiar face to the drum kit at the back of the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Dave Grohl," he said, before also welcoming, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear to the stage. "We’re gonna do the song we jammed. First time we’ve done it live, for you, here tonight."

Understandably, the reaction to the surprise world premiere of Cut Me Some Slack on the night was... appreciative, rather than rapturous. Not that Dave Grohl, or anyone else on the stage, cared too much, as they were very clearly having the time of their lives. For Grohl, who learned to play guitar by working his way methodically through The Beatles' Red and Blue greatest hits sets, the collaboration represented, "the most full-circle moment of my entire fucking life."

Krist Novoselic would later describe Cut Me Some Slack, as  ‘kind of Helter Skelter meets Scentless Apprentice", a pretty decent approximation of its sound.

"It was a lot of fun to do that song," the bassist added. "I never thought I’d be playing with Paul McCartney. He’s a cool dude."

It would be Courtney Love who would have the final word on the 'reunion'. Asked about the idea that McCartney had replaced her late husband in this new-look 'Sirvana', Love told gossip website TMZ that she was "not amused".

"Look," she added dryly, "if John (Lennon) were alive it would be cool."

Watch the performance below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.