My Best Show – Scott Warner and Nirvana at Club Graffiti

Posted on July 2, 2024

There are times, and there are times! Anyone who’s been around for any length of time knows the difference. We’re referring to those special periods in history when society experiences a seismic shift, ushering in a new way of experiencing things. The early 1990s was such a time, especially as far as popular music was concerned, as Grunge became the dominant sound, and changed everything.

At the heart of it all were Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, aka Nirvana. It’s no exaggeration to assert that the band from Seattle defined a generation.

Nirvana appeared at Pittsburgh’s Graffiti Club on September 30, 1991, a notable day for them, as the video of their anthemic song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was broadcast on MTV for the first time. The club was sold out. Expectations were high as Scott Warner, today the owner of Karate Pinky Visual Design, got ready to light the show.

A lot of things happened that night. Kurt Cobain got angry with someone after the show. A couch in the dressing room caught fire. But as for the show itself, it was pure bliss. Cobain’s voice rang out beautifully, Novoelic’s bass play was spot on, Grohl’s drumming was perfect.

Warner has lit over 3,000 shows in his successful career, including ones by a long list of superstars, and has crisscrossed the world on arena tours. Still, it is this show from 33 years ago at a live music venue in western Pennsylvania that stands out as his favorite. Maybe it was because of the great performance – but beyond that there was the magic of the moment, when time turned, an iconic band solidified its place, and music changed, never to be the same.

Starting with the obvious question why do you consider this your best show ever?
“It was a perfect storm. The sound was loud, and Kurt’s Vocals were mixed perfectly. I used a great deal of smoke, but not overbearing. The lights were open white and chocolate, except for some blue gels in between songs. Kurt was a rockstar without looking like a ‘rockstar.’ Shows and acts like that are hard to come by.”

This was part of the Nevermind North American Tour and the Smells Like Teen Spirit video aired on MTV for the first time that day. Was there a lot of buzz in Pittsburgh about this show at the Graffiti Club?
“Smells Like Teen Spirit was also broadcast for the night before on 120 minutes. I was a Nirvana fan since before Bleach, and I scored a 12 Of SLTS cover that Kurt autographed for me after the show. The band had a strong following going into the venue. I believe the show sold out quickly. I told David Grohl that I watched the video. He asked ‘how was it?’”

Nirvana was really breaking new ground in music at the time. What was the closest thing to their sound that you lit prior to September 30, 1991?
“That’s a really hard question. I worked so many shows, but I can’t remember when I actually lit them. The venue Graffiti was really diverse in their bookings. I remember lighting The Kentucky Headhunters, the first band that asked me to tour with them. The Replacements were fantastic. Meatloaf and Leon Redbone were really happy with my show, so was Mary Chapin Carpenter. But I can’t say who was most like Nirvana.”

Can you describe the kind of looks you wanted to create to reflect the music and persona of Nirvana?
“At that time in my career, I just pictured what I wanted to see. I used to see the band Talas with Billy Sheehan back in the clubs. The LD used all white, and a lot of smoke. Looking back, that influenced me, I guess.”

Did Nirvana give you any direction or feedback about the lighting?
“Kurt did shake my hand and thank me. No direction at all was given. It was a different time back then.”

How was the band to be around?
“Kurt stayed by himself. Krist stayed with his wife – I think she did the merch. Dave was awesome. In addition to lighting, I was a recording and sound engineer. I had met Butch Vig at Smart Studios. He was getting ready to record Nevermind. So, before this show, I talked to Dave about his miking techniques with Butch – a super nice guy,”

Did you busk this show?
“Oh yeah! I beat up my console. Some of my bumps didn’t work, though. “

What about the Graffiti Club itself? It was an icon back in the day. How was it to work in?
“The club was awesome, except for the 40-plus stars you need to climb to load in. I started as a concert promoter at Graffiti when they had space heaters inside. To make extra money, I worked for other promoters and was a stage hand. My buddy, the promoter Mike Elko, would give me a choice to work the door, or do the lights. Guess which I picked? Always busking when lighting a variety of bands is good for your chops. I then worked for a local band, The Affordable Floors, they gave me free reign. That band and Elko both had a big hand in my development.”

Did lighting this show change your approach to design?
“Yes, it did! I did the same look when I lit Bad Brains at the same venue. As soon as GWAR came around, I reversed this design and went to more of a cartoon look. I did bring the look back for Bad Religion.”