Kurt Cobain walks up to the microphone, mumbles a few words and then begins playing a cover of a Vaselines song. Drummer Dave Grohl beats on the drums and whips his hair while bassist Krist Novoselic jumps around the stage barefoot. The crowd screams for Nirvana, which had recently released Nevermind and started its journey toward stardom.
It's a scene from the opening of the concert film "Nirvana: Live at the Paramount," screened Wednesday at the Kansas Union, but it probably bears a striking resemblance to the performance the band gave in the Kansas Union Ballroom on Oct. 17, 1991, less than two weeks before the film was shot.
Brad Roosa, a KU alumnus and the Student Union Activities live music chair in 1991, heard an advanced copy of Nirvana's breakout album, Nervermind, on a trip to Los Angeles and became obsessed with bringing the band to the University of Kansas.
"There was no basis and logic for booking them at the ballroom and spending this money," Roosa said, but he eventually convinced both SUA and the band's manager that the show was a good idea.
At the time, Nirvana was still a fledgling alternative band touring in a beat-up van, but that was about to change with the release of Nevermind.
"Everything was changing in music," Roosa said. "They were literally rewriting history books with this record."
Nirvana's sudden popularity coincided with their gig at the Union. Roosa recalls people trying to sneak backstage and into the sold-out show through hallways and road cases. The show itself was low key with very little banter or production; Cobain and company simply played song after song for 65 to 75 minutes, Roosa said.
"I remember they got up there and the place just went nuts," he said. "You could feel the floor giving, moving from people pogoing, just jumping up and down," he added.
More than 20 years later, Nirvana still has a big following at the University, even if not all the fans were born when the band played.
"I really love Nirvana and the grunge music scene," said Nathaniel Abeita, a freshman from Hiawatha who wasn't born until 1992. Abeita said that he couldn't believe the iconic band had played at the Union and wondered if his dad, the person who introduced him to Nirvana's music, saw them play at that show.
Nirvana also played at the Bottleneck and the Outhouse before it became a strip club.
Andrea Acosta, a sophomore from Paraguay, South America, was drawn to the screening primarily to get one of the commemorative posters that SUA handed out, which were made to look like the 1991 posters used to promote the show. But seeing one of her favorite bands play on a big screen was also appealing.
"This is like a dream come true. It's the closest to an actual concert of Nirvana," Acosta said.
But for Roosa, nothing can match the experience of seeing the band at such a pivotal point in its career.
"It was lightning in a bottle," he said.
Edited by Sarah McCabe