Nirvana reunion: Dave Grohl's 13-year-old daughter steals the show

Violet Grohl performed Heart-Shaped Box with the surviving members of Nirvana and guest performers St Vincent and Beck at an LA charity gala

When arts charity the Art of Elysium announced the lineup for its annual Heaven Is Rock and Roll Gala in Los Angeles, the attention was on the second “reunion” of Nirvana: Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear would come together again for just the fourth time since the band’s demise in 1994. This time, St Vincent would join them (as she did at two 2014 performances heralding Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), plus Beck. But it was the least starry name who stole the show: Grohl’s 13-year-old daughter, Violet.

The setting was somewhat more sterile than Nirvana’s febrile 2014 show at a tiny Brooklyn venue. Before the bands got under way, a host of celebrities walked the red carpet including Rufus Wainwright, Bella Hadid, Jack Black, Moby and photographer Mick Rock. The more generous guests had paid up to $50,000 (£38,000) to attend a dinner and a two-hour show, curated by host Linda Perry, to raise money for sick children. But the performances were valiantly potent in the face of a largely sedentary room: 80s feminist punks L7 played their still riotously relevant call-to-arms Shitlist. “Right you motherfuckers, this is a fucking rock show!” screamed singer Donita Sparks, urging half a dozen game diners to form a small circle pit at the lip of the stage.

Although not a performer noted for fitting in with social conventions, Marilyn Manson traded his pantomime metal for an event-appropriate crooning cabaret act with Linda Perry at the piano, offering dramatic, sombre renditions of his hit The Dope Show and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).

Finally, the assembled set down their pizza and stood as close to the stage as they could for the act billed as “Dave and friends”. In 2014 Nirvana reunited at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Lorde, Joan Jett and St Vincent on vocals. In 2018, at Grohl’s own annual Cal Jam festival, he brought Novoselic, Smear and Jett onstage, plus Deer Tick’s John McCauley, to close out the one-day rockathon after he headlined with Foo Fighters. Two years on, Grohl walked out, slammed thrice on the drums and ushered St Vincent (real name Annie Clark) and Beck on to join him for still hair-raising renditions of Lithium (sung by Clark), In Bloom (shared by Clark and Beck) and Been a Son.

Breaking for air, Beck took a moment to reminisce as he admired the “pretty good mosh pit” the guests had formed in front of him. He said that the wildest crowd he had ever been in was in this room. “I walked out of that mosh pit and my hands were bleeding. I didn’t know why,” he says. “And the band was Nirvana.”

But it was Violet Grohl’s haunting rendition of Heart-Shaped Box that felt like a purposeful passing of the torch to a future generation. The teenager has already had her own bands, and made her live debut at LA’s Roxy Theatre in a daytime show that her dad described as being like “a hardcore matinee at fucking CBGBs or something”. She has appeared on stage with him several times in recent years, including a duet on a cover of a song by Billie Eilish at a 2019 charity event. (Strikingly, her father recently said that Eilish’s connection with her audience “is the same thing that was happening with Nirvana in 1991”.)

As Beck and St Vincent duelled on guitar and her father thrashed his kit behind her, she embodied Cobain’s lyrics as if wailing them in a room completely alone, channelling the alienation of adolescence that has made Cobain a leader for generations of youth eternal. And potentially offering Grohl a different kind of lifeline. In an outtake from a 2019 Guardian interview, he speculated on his oldest daughter’s musical future: “Maybe some day she’ll be the singer in a band so someone else can pay the fucking bills around here!”


Eve Barlow

The GuardianTramp

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