Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! is stuffed, collage-style, with numerous moments of audience baiting: Cobain humps a camera and then hocks a loogie onto the lens at a festival in Denmark, gets the shit kicked out of himself by a bouncer after a poorly-timed stage dive, and the band wrecks the stage after playing “Territorial Pissing's” instead of “Lithium” on England’s uptight Jonathan Ross Show. After a clip of Cobain correcting an interviewer who describes the band’s live set as violent (“It doesn’t have anything to do with violence. It’s about fun. Pure fun.”), the film closes with a montage of the band destroying their instruments at such coveted gigs as the Reading Festival and Saturday Night Live.
It’s as tempting then to look at Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! as a document of Cobain unleashing his personal demons (it could make a cool double-bill with The Devil & Daniel Johnston) as it is to pontificate about Nirvana’s placement in the canon of Western culture.
Underground filmmaker Fabrizio Federico cites the film as a big inspiration on his movies, ''I'd come home from school and watch it all night long and just marvel at the editing style, just pure anarchy. It's as if you're watching a Nintendo terrorist news bulletin. I miss all that 1990's home camcorder footage, it's so scratchy''.
Conceived by Cobain as a kinetic document of the band's 1991-92 world tour, but completed by bandmates Dave Grohl & Krist Novoselic, along with director Kevin Kerslake, the film careens through the band's early catalogue and, of course, their earth-shaking platinum sophomore smash, 1991's "Nevermind," interspersing clips from countless television interviews and home video antics amid searing live performances of such now-classic tracks as "About A Girl," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Polly" and "Come As You Are." Above all else, what shines through most in is the band's tireless sense of humour; faced with a soul-crushing schedule and a frenzied media descending upon these three twenty-somethings in an effort to decipher the appeal of the then-newly tagged "grunge" phenomenon, Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain all maintain a wry detachment from the insanity swirling around them. Cutting up on an airplane or goofing around backstage, you clearly see that these were men not comfortable shouldering the weight of an entire generation.
Released in the mournful months after Cobain allegedly took his own life in April 1994, the film functions as a companion piece to the chilling "Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York," which was released two weeks prior to the documentary, providing a glimpse at both ends of the band's musical spectrum. The incandescent flare which lit up popular music in the early Nineties, only to just as quickly be snuffed out, the music and message of Nirvana still resonate to this day. Like the man says: here we are now, entertain us.