Throughout my almost 48 years, I have had several favorite bands. Depending on the time period of my life, the style of music has changed. There have been constants however. First, the Beatles are, and always will be, one of my favorites. Throw in early 80s U2, early R.E.M., and the Police you have most of my young life. In the 90s, that all changed. I th0ught Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Rage Against the Machine defined the 90s as bands. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of Pearl Jam and the release of Ten, their first album. For me, there was not a greater time for music. The band was fresh and new and released a lot of music in a short period of time between the album, CD singles, and soundtracks. In honor of the 20th anniversary, Cameron Crowe will be releasing a documentary, PJ 20, this fall on PBS and on September 3 and 4, Pearl Jam will be holding a 20 year celebration concert.
I have always loved Pearl Jam. I don’t really know why. Maybe it was the lyrics, the rawness, the fact that they rocked hard, or it could have been the fact their music was about their music and not their hair, sales, or clothes. The antithesis to the hair bands of the late 80s, so called grunge rockers looked like the kids and young adults around the block. Nobody went around dressing up like Poison unless they wanted to get beat up.
Now, I have waxed poetic about Pearl Jam before. Once about Ticketmaster, the other about Roskilde. Today, I will be writing and posting about what I think is the strength of Pearl Jam – their ability to play live. They are one of the best live bands of all time. What I would like to do is to put together what I think would be the ultimate Pearl Jam concert. It would include all my favorite songs by them and some covers. It would be full on rock, some acoustic moments, and some rare and obscure songs.
From time to time, Eddie Vedder is known for coming out and playing a few songs by himself. My ultimate PJ concert would start off in this format.
I have always loved the idea of just a singer and guitar. Part of it is growing up in the 60s and 70s, the other is I think you get to hear the song and singer in an unmatched format. For this ultimate concert, Angel kicks things off. Written by Eddie Vedder and one time drummer Dave Abrruzzese, this little sounding Hendrix-like ditty has always been one of my favorites!
Next, Eddie calms the crowd with the Hunters and Collectors campfire song, “Throw Your Arms Around Me”.
Next up is Eddie covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Open All Night”. He gets some of the words wrong but who cares!
Closing out the pre-show is Eddie’s take on Neil Young’s classic coming of age song, “Sugar Mountain”.
The set begins with the classic Release playing as the band takes the stage. They launch in to Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” and segue into “Corduroy” off the Vitalogy CD.
The pace is kept up with the burner “Go”.
No let up as the band breaks out the classic up tempo “Rear View Mirror”. Taped for a rehearsal on Saturday Night Live, the song takes on extra weight as their is no audience.
The band continues blazing by breaking out “Brother” from the sessions for Ten.
The band bookends “Brother” with “Alone”, also from the Ten sessions.
Ending the trip down memory lane is “Breath” from the Singles soundtrack
Next up is “Sad”, an out take from Binaural
Next the band slows it down with the rare, “Hard to Imagine”
Next up, Ben Harper makes his first appearance of the night to guest on “Red Mosquito”
Next up is the euphoric (for me), “Given to Fly”
Andrew Rehn gets the first of his three back-to-back-to-back ultimate requests with “Down”
“Inside Job” takes things to another level
The first set comes to a close with the fury of “Evenflow”
After a short break, the band would return for this ultimate concert with an semi-acoustic set. To kick it off, “Of the Girl”
Next up would be the much under appreciated “Oceans” off of Ten.
“Footsteps” makes its greatness known. The music originally was used on the Temple of the Dog song “Times of Trouble”.
Another under appreciated song, “Off He Goes” makes its beauty known!
The band takes “State of Love and Trust” out for a spin
“Lukin” is redone with string quartet!
The beautiful “Just Breath” takes your breath away.
The band returns for “Last Kiss”
In a surprise move, “Yellow Ledbetter” gets the acoustic treatment
An excellent version of “Present Tense” begins the second electric set!
“Do the Evolution” cranks up the sarcasm!
The full on power of the band just keeps flowing with “Blood”
One of my favorite songs, “I Got Id” captures the band at its finest!
“Leash” returns and is unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd!
This band just doesn’t quit when they break out a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” in a powerful performance.
The recent “Unthought Known” does well and raises the roof
“Not for You” gets the crowd going even more!
The band breaks out some Bob Marley before turning into a poignant version of “Better Man”
“Leatherman” makes a rare appearance
Hail Hail revs up everyone’s engines
“Immortality” closes out the second electric set
The jam begins with “Daughter”
One of my favorites, “Last Exit” kicks it into overdrive!
“Alive” is brought back to life
Closing out encore 1 is the always great “Crazy Mary”
Encore 2 kicks off with a special guest…Mr. Ben Harper
Eddie does his best Daltry impersonation with this powerful version of “Love Reign O’er Me”
The band states its motto, “Five Against One” in the chorus of the bruising Animal.
The band ends the second encore on a high note….”Porch”
As people head for the aisles, the band returns for a third encore…with some special guests
Chris Cornell turns up to perform the classic, “Hunger Strike”
“Amongst the Waves” brings things up a notch
The classic “Black” appears in a ten minute tour de force
In a nod to the late Andy Wood, The band breaks out a Mother Love Bone classic, “Crown of Thorns”
The band breaks out a Neil Young classic, “F’in up”
The Godfather of Pearl Jam joins in to bring it home
The band takes a bow and collapses after playing the greatest show of all time.
There are a hundred other songs I could have put in, but these are my favorites. Let me know yours!
Roskilde is an unassuming town. It is located on the island of Zealand in Denmark. The town itself dates back to Viking times. Since 1971, the city has been holding a rock festival. Originally started by two high school students and a promoter, the festival was eventually taken over by a foundation that has run it since 1972. In the summer of 2000, Pearl Jam took the stage as the headlining act on the orange stage. By the time the night was over, eight people lay dead crushed among the crowd (another would die later), .
In 2000, Pearl Jam had been together for nine years. Nirvana long ago disbanded in 1994 after the death of Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley was in the throes of drug addiction and would soon die. Soundgarden had broken up a few years earlier. Pearl Jam was the only major Seattle band left. In the spring of 2000, the band released their sixth studio album, Binaural. The band hit the road in support of the new album. First they went to Europe, then to North America, Australia, and then Japan.
Here they are nineteen days before Roskilde:
The band headlined Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark on June 30, 2000. Billboard Magazine reported the events as follows:
“The horrific Danish accident happened about 45 minutes into Pearl Jam’s set. Lead singer Eddie Vedder halted the show because of extensive pushing and shoving among the 50,000 people in attendance. As the crowd attempted to come closer to the stage following problems with the sound, Vedder repeatedly pleaded for the crowd to “take two steps back.” Several people attempted in vain to withstand the pressure, but lost their balance on the muddy surface and got trampled on from behind. The victims likely succumbed to suffocation.”
In the conflict of who was to blame, Pearl Jam cooperated with the Police in their investigation. In fact, Pearl Jam was unaware of any deaths until after their set had ended. The band was devastated and canceled the rest of their European tour but continued the rest of the tour in the fall. The band issued the following statement:
June 30, 2000
Statement from Pearl Jam in Response to Roskilde Festival Tragedy
This is so painful…I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare…. And there are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of these precious lives that were lost.
We have not yet been told what actually occurred, but it seemed to be random and sickeningly quick…it doesn’t make sense.
When you agree to play at a festival of this size and reputation it is impossible to imagine such a heart-wrenching scenario.
Our lives will never be the same, but we know that is nothing compared to the grief of the families and friends of those involved.
It is so tragic … there are no words.
The band would release every concert that summer on CD from their European and American tours except for Roskilde. Eddie Vedder would seek solace in surfing and in the friendship of Pete Townshend of The Who. The Who had a similar incident when 11 died at one of their concerts in Cincinnati in the 1970s.
The ensuing debate was about who was to blame. Initially, Danish Police and Roskilde management blamed the band calling them “morally responsible”. Pearl Jam called for a deeper investigation. The band stated, “We feel that we are ‘morally responsible’ to bring out the truth with regard to what happened that night. The recent re-opening of the investigation will hopefully further these truths.“. After a thorough investigation, the Police placed blame on security, malfunctioning speakers, bad weather, alcohol, and lack of seating. No charges were ever filed – against Pearl Jam nor Roskilde management or Roskilde security.
In 2003, the band released their seventh CD, Riot Act. The CD contained two songs about Roskilde: I am Mine and Love Boat Captain. Love Boat Captain states:
“Is this just another day,… this God forgotten place? First comes love, then comes pain. let the games begin,…Questions rise and answers fall,… insurmountable. Love boat captain, take the reigns and steer us towards the clear,… here. Its already been sung, but it cant be said enough. All you need is love. Its an art to live with pain,… mix the light into grey,..Lost nine friends well never know,.. two years ago today… And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret? “
For some unknown reason, the band played on as The Who did some 20 years before. In an interview on how close Pearl Jam came to breaking up, guitarist Mike McCready stated:
“I think the thought crossed all of our minds, but it wouldn’t have been a good way to end it all,” guitarist Mike McCready said by phone yesterday from a tour stop in Boston, where the group performed two concerts earlier this week. “We realized we’re making viable music. We can’t stop. We can’t end on a down note.”
And for the past ten years, Pearl Jam has continued on. They have become close with many of the families who lost loved ones that night. It has been a long road for them and will continue to be. Every time Pearl Jam has played “Love Boat Captain”, singer Eddie Vedder changes the lyrics to fit how long it has been (lost nine friends we’ll never know, ____ years ago today). It was last played on July 20, 2008.
Here is a track eerily left off the Binaural CD. Originally called “Open Letter to the Dead”, it was retitled “Sad” and released on the Lost Dogs CD.
Not every path to success is a smooth road. Some bands rise slowly, others shoot across the sky like a meteor only to burn up after a few years. For Pearl Jam, they rose from the ashes of Mother Love Bone and in a matter of three years they grew so big they almost imploded from their fame. At the center of it all was control – How much control would Pearl Jam have over their career and how much would corporations have. In this case, the corporation would be Ticketmaster.
In 1990, Pearl Jam was started after the overdose of Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood. Guitarist Stone Gossard recruited friend Mike McCready to play on some demos. Soon Gossard contacted fellow Mother Love Bone and Green River bassist Jeff Ament to join in, and Soundgarden Drummer Matt Cameron lended his talents for the demo. In search of a drummer and a singer, Gossard contacted former Chili Peppers skins man Jack Irons. While Irons did decline, he gave the tape to his surfing and basketball friend, Eddie Vedder. Vedder sent the tape back with lyrics and vocals for three songs – Alive, Footsteps, and Once. Within weeks, a new band was born: Mookie Blaylock. That’s right…Mookie Blaylock. The band named themselves after the NBA player. When the band went into the studio, they realized there could be possible litigation and they would soon change their name. In 1991, Mookie Blaylock became Pearl Jam and released their first album, Ten. The album sold slowly at first, but as of today, it has sold over 13 million copies in the US alone.
Word about the band’s live shows spread. They played anywhere with a mix of high energy and their songs connected with audiences. Their first video “Alive” was shot and recorded live. The second single “Evenflow” helped sales. Two events coincided to turn Pearl Jam into a household name. The first was their performance on MTV’s Unplugged. The show featured the band playing a six song acoustic set. The energy of the band in the acoustic setting highlighted their interplay along with Vedder’s voice. This was a band to be seen live.
Then came Jeremy. Of all the songs, Jeremy visually struck a chord with fans the most. The video would win three MTV Video awards. Based upon a true story, the lyrics tell the story behind the story of a school shooting. Eddie did not like the attention given to the song. He has always resented the record company and corporate media for killing the song through overexposure. As a result, Jeremy was the last video the band made for over 9 years. It was the first in a series of battles the band fought and won. After Jeremy, the record company wanted to release “Black” as the next single. Vedder and the band fought back to stop its distribution.
In 1992, the band felt overexposed. To go from being nobodies on the streets of Seattle to being part of the Grunge music scene was quite a shock. Along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden, the band did not want to be seen as poster boys of a generation. The band retreated to San Francisco to record their second album Vs. With the line “Five Against One” from the song “Animal”, Eddie summed up their attitude towards the music industry, the media, and the world in general. They would meet with success and failure. The failure tore apart the band, its fans, and Vedder.
The band redid things for Vs. Musical acts in the early 90s mainly released videos for singles. Because of the backlash against Jeremy within the band, they did make any videos for Vs. The first week of its release, Vs. sold an astounding 900,000 copies. The band felt validated to let their music do the talking. The tour was very successful and Pearl Jam was doing things on their own terms. However, they also stopped doing interviews with Rolling Stone and preferred independent magazines.
It was during the Vs. tour that the band noticed their fans were being charged surcharges by Ticketmaster. The band did not like this and vowed to change things. 1994 was not a good year. The band tried to tour as best it could but it was a giant mess without Ticketmaster. When Vitalogy was released in 1994, sales were brisk. The band refused to book any shows with Ticketmaster. The resulting tour or lack thereof was a disaster. Security, sound, and seating were terrible. The band wound up canceling the tour and alienating many fans. The Justice Department contacted the band and asked for details. Stone and Jeff wound up testifying before Congress.
Here are some excerpts of their testimony. The full portion can be found here:
A series of run-ins with Ticketmaster during our last tour illustrates quite clearly the power that Ticketmaster wields and the risk that any band undertakes in attempting to utilize an alternative to Ticketmaster’s distribution system. Last December, we had made arrangements with a local promoter in Seattle to perform at the Seattle Center Arena. A portion of the proceeds from this concert were to go to charity. We originally had an agreement with Ticketmaster under which they would distribute tickets for the concert and impose a service charge of $3.25, of which $1 would be donated by them to the charity, plus they would make an additional contribution from their revenues so that their total contribution would be $20,000 if the concert sold out. Pearl Jam also agreed to contribute $20,000 to the charity. At the last minute, just as the tickets were about to go on sale, Ticketmaster reneged, and threatened not to sell tickets if it could not raise the service charge by $1 per ticket to cover the amount of their contribution. After a tense impasse, Ticketmaster finally relented and agreed to charge only $3.25, but it limited its contribution to the $1 per ticket portion of its undertaking and did not make the full contribution it had originally agreed to make.
After this, our run-ins with Ticketmaster became increasingly threatening. In Chicago last March, Ticketmaster insisted on imposing a $3.75 service charge on top of the $18 price of a ticket to our concerts. We negotiated with Ticketmaster’s general manager in Chicago and obtained an agreement to identify that service charge separately from the actual price of the ticket. Then, just as tickets were to go on sale, Ticketmaster again reneged. It was necessary for us to threaten to perform at another venue before Ticketmaster backed down and agreed to sell tickets that separately disclosed its service charge. Even then, Ticketmaster told us that its concession only extended to our Chicago shows and we should not expect them to be willing to do it elsewhere.
Chicago was followed soon after by Detroit. In Detroit, we decided to try to bypass Ticketmaster by distributing tickets through our fan club and by a lottery system. We were informed that Ticketmaster threatened the promoter of this concert with a lawsuit for violating its exclusive Ticketmaster agreement by allowing this method of distribution to occur, and also temporarily disabled the promoter’s ticket machine to that it could not print tickets for the concert for that time.
In New York, where we played a show at the Paramount Theatre in April of this year, we tried to distribute some tickets over the radio. Using a city-wide promotion, tickets were sold through the Paramount Box office. Here again, we were informed that Ticketmaster threatened the Paramount’s management with legal action for supposedly allowing us to evade Ticketmaster’s exclusive rights.
While we were experimenting with these alternative distribution arrangements, Ticketmaster attempted to threaten and intimidate us. For example, at one point the person in charge of handling concert arrangements for us was told by Ticketmaster in essence that he had better watch himself and that if we didn’t back off he would be run out of the business.
After the conclusion of our winter tour, we began to plan for a tour this summer. In attempting to arrange that tour, we made it clear that we would only perform if the service charge imposed on our tickets was limited to 10 percent and was separately disclosed. Ticketmaster responded by spreading the word to promoters that it viewed our efforts as a threat to its business and urged promoters to refuse to deal with Pearl Jam. For example, as we disclosed to the Justice Department, in March of this year, Ben Liss of the North American Concert Promoters Association — a group of all major promoters in North America — sent a memorandum to the Association’s members in which he referred to them as “brother raccoons” and warned that:
“Ticketmaster has indicated to me that they will aggressively enforce their contracts with promoters and facilities. Ticketmaster’s stance is that they have been loyal to their partners in this business and they hope and expect their partners will reciprocate.”
As our memorandum to the Justice Department explains, Ticketmaster’s exclusive arrangements with promoters and venues are unreasonable restraints of trade, and its use of those arrangements to prevent promoters and venues from dealing with Pearl Jam amounts to a group boycott, in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Ticketmaster is also a monopolist, having acquired and perpetuated that position through its acquisition of Ticketron and various other regional ticket services and the use of long term exclusive contracts. In acting to preclude Pearl Jam and other bands from distributing tickets to their own concerts other than through Ticketmaster, Ticketmaster is unlawfully exercising that monopoly power in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.
Since we brought Ticketmaster’s conduct to the attention of the Department of Justice almost two months ago, public support for us and more generally for efforts to reduce ticket prices has been overwhelming. Although our success as a band gives us a degree of power to try to stand up to Ticketmaster that newer and less established bands do not have, we do not consider ourselves to be crusaders. And while we recognize that the issues we have raised have implications that go beyond Pearl Jam, our interest is really quite narrow. We simply have a different philosophy than Ticketmaster does about how and at what price tickets to our concerts should be sold. We do not want to force Ticketmaster to do business on our terms, but we believe we should have the freedom to go elsewhere if Ticketmaster is not prepared to negotiate terms that are acceptable to us. That is the essence of competition. As we learned in attempting to arrange a tour this summer, given the current state of Ticketmaster’s dominance of the industry, that may well mean that we must play non-traditional venues and use non-established promoters or promote our own shows.
The level of the service charge is not the only problem that Pearl Jam faces in connection with the sale of tickets to its concerts. Beyond the excessive service charges there are the problems of ticket scalping, counterfeiting, and commercial advertising on tickets. For example, at some of our recent concerts, an informal poll of fans in the audience revealed that more than 40 percent of them bought their tickets from ticket brokers. At many of our concerts, we are experiencing a counterfeit ticket rate of about 2.5 to 3%. And at one recent concert in Boston, we learned that some of these counterfeit tickets had been sold to fans for $250.
Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen says he “intends on taking a very strong stand on this issue to protect Ticketmaster’s existing contracts with promoters and facilities, and further, TM will use all available remedies to protect itself from outside third parties that attempt to interfere with those existing contracts.”
On May 6, 1994, unable to find suitable venues to perform in that do not have exclusive contracts with Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam cancels its summer tour. Representatives from the U.S. Justice Department approach the band about filing a memo with them under their anti-trust division. Pearl Jam agrees. In the memo Pearl Jam claims that Ticketmaster, through its extensive exclusive contracts with major concert venues, controls a monopoly over the marketplace, and that Ticketmaster has pressured promoters not to handle Pearl Jam shows.
Despite the testimony of Stone and Jeff along with members of R.E.M., Ticketmaster never had charges brought up against it by the Justice Department or by Congress. On July 5, 1995, the Justice Department drops its Ticketmaster investigation with the following statement: “The Department of Justice announced today that it has informed Ticketmaster Holdings Group, Inc. that it is closing its antitrust investigation into that firm’s contracting practices. The Department will continue to monitor competitive developments in the ticketing industry.”
Attorney General Janet Reno, commenting on the Department’s dropping of the case, says,
“[i]t did not seem an appropriate time to continue to pursue the investigation…My understanding is that the division found that there were new enterprises coming into the arena and based on that evidence…we do not have a basis for proceeding.”
Pearl Jam responded that they were “disappointed” with the decision stating that “those who will be most hurt by the Justice Department’s cave-in are the consumers of live entertainment.” The band added that it “will continue to work on behalf of our fans to keep our tickets affordable and accessible to everyone.”
Vedder was devastated. He retreated back to Seattle. The band would come to a compromise with Ticketmaster for their next tour – if there was one. Members of the Pearl Jam Fan Club, Ten Club, would be given preferential seating and they would also be allowed to buy tickets ahead of the general public. The effects of this compromise would not be truly seen until the late 90s when Ten Club went online.
In 1995, the band hooked up with one of Eddie’s heroes, Neil Young. They recorded with Neil as his backing band for the CD Mirror Ball. They toured with Neil and the relationship transformed not only the sound of the band, but their songwriting and how they got along as a band. Pearl Jam would release an EP called Merkin Ball with some of the songs co-written by Neil Young. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones said that being in a band was a young man’s game. Pearl Jam were now adults in their early thirties. In 1996, the album No Code was released to rave reviews but poor sales. Gone were the anthems of angst, alienation, and long guitar solos. The songs reflected a more mature band seeking to craft songs like their idols.
Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune stated in 1995,
“Pearl Jam’s revolt is informed by generosity and almost naive idealism; the band is staking its future on a battle to reform the entertainment ticketing industry that, it is hoped, would make concerts more affordable and accessible. It may sound quaint, and it’s certainly a gesture out of step with these cynical times. But, above all, it’s brave. Other bands have paid lip service to this goal, but none has followed Pearl Jam’s lead.”
However, the sale of their CDs has never reached the zenith of their early CDs. No Code, released shortly after the conflict, is the lowest selling CD in the Pearl Jam catalog. On the other hand, the band would rebound with Yield in 1998 and again in 2000 with Binaural.
The conflict marked several key turning points in the history of the band. They would no longer be the giant band of the early 1990s. The conflict changed them personally and it also changed their music. However, they did become legends by doing things on their own terms. Vedder’s role in the conflict reshaped what was of value to him as an artist, a human being, and as a member of a band. Today, the band still takes on the giant issues of the day. They may have lost some control but in the end, they ended up gaining more control of themselves.
It all began with a tweet: “The 12 year break is over & school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!” And with Chris Cornell’s statement – Soundgarden reunited. For one brief moment, I felt an adrenaline surge. I felt as if it was 1991-1994 again. Alice in Chains currently have a new record out. Pearl Jam does as well. It is as I have stepped off the time machine and I am in my late 20s and early 30s all over again.
To say that Grunge was a type of music is not quite true. In fact, it is utterly false. Grunge became a term for the Seattle Music Scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For each of the bands, there was no definitive sound. There was no definitive dress. There was nothing definitive between them except they were friends who played a lot of different types of music in one place – Seattle. The music itself was actually a mixture of punk music, metal, rock, and glam. It was a place where Black Flag met Black Sabbath. It is where punk met metal. Most people tend to focus on the flannel. Going back to John Fogerty and Neil Young, flannel had been an appropriate form of dress for rockers. But the Seattle scene was more about individual music than the flannel, the Doc Martens, or the long hair. What Seattle had that made it different from the music scene of the 1980s was it was not only loud, it was influential.
For most people, the Seattle scene started with Nirvana’s Nevermind and ended with Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. But the Seattle music scene really began back in the mid 80s. Bands like the U-Men and the Melvins were the early forerunners of the scene. The music world began to take notice with the release of Deep Six on Sub Pop Records in 1986. This compilation CD featured The UMen, Green River, Malfunkshun, The Melvins and Skinyard. That same year saw the formation of Soundgarden and one year later, Alice in Chains and Nirvana both started up. Major labels began perusing the scene. Green River would break up. Soundgarden would release two EPs, Screaming Life and Fopp, sign to influential SST Records and release Ultramega OK. In 1989 Soundgarden would be the first to sign with a major label, A&M Records. Nirvana would record its debut, Bleach, for a little over $600. The resulting album propelled them to a contract with Geffen the next year. Green River’s split resulted in two bands in 1988 – Mudhoney with Green River frontman Mark Arm and former Green River guitarist Steve Turner. The other, Mother Love Bone, had Green River bassist Jeff Ament and guitarists Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather hooking up with Malfunkshun frontman Andrew Wood. In 1989 Mother Love Bone signed a major label deal with Polygram. Alice in Chains would sign with Columbia that same year.
While each band had its own style and influences, they all tended to play loud, distorted guitars, and lyrics filled with angst. In 1990. Mother Love Bone would record Apple, Soundgarden released Louder than Love, and Nirvana began its short courtship with Geffen while Alice in Chains released its first EP, We Die Young. However, all was shattered in the weeks before Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood died from a heroin overdose. The death shattered many including Wood’s room-mate, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Apple would be released a month after Wood’s death. Alice in Chains Facelift would come out that fall.
Cornell would record a tribute album with Gossard and Ament called Temple of the Dog. Goassard and Ament also would start up their third band together, Mookie Blaylock, with a singer recommended by former Chili Pepper drummer Jack Irons named Eddie Vedder out of San Diego. Along with Mike McCready and drummer Dave Krusen, Mookie Blaylock began performing around Seattle and would eventually change their name to Pearl Jam during the recording of the major label debut on Epic.
1991 saw the Seattle Scene explode. A little more than one year after the death of Andrew Wood saw Nirvana release its major label debut, Nevermind. With new drummer Dave Grohl on board, the sound of Nirvana, rooted in punk, exploded with energy and one single video blew everything up. The world turned its eyes on Seattle.
Over the next year, everything Seattle took over the record industry. Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger around the same time as Nevermind. It too sold well, not Nirvana well, but well none the less. Also released around the same time, Pearl Jam would release Ten and the Screaming Trees and Mudhoney would be taken along for the ride as well.
By the summer of 1992, the Seattle scene had totally reshaped the music world. The hair bands of the 1980s couldn’t sell a record and no longer could sell out an arena. For the Seattle bands, their own individuality made them unique. While Soundgarden was steeped in heavy metal lore, it was also experimental in its sounds and records in a way the other bands were not. Alice in Chains came from a dark place lyrically and the harmonies of Staley and Cantrell along with their sludgy sound would make them highly influential to bands like Godsmack. Nirvana revelled in its punk and alternative roots. Pearl Jam, out of all the bands, I do not think they knew what they were. Where as all the other bands had been together essentially for years, Pearl Jam was a baby and its growing pains over the next three years would be hashed out in the press.
By the time 1994 rolled around, the fame, the pressures of fame, and the inability to even breathe took its toll on all the bands. Mudhoney and other smaller bands had their crack at the national scene but faded back in to Seattle. Pearl Jam was imploding under the weight of fame, Ticketmaster and finding who they were as a band. They stopped making videos and doing interviews for most of 1993 and 1994. Soundgarden was getting ready for its biggest year yet and Alice in Chains were sinking into a pit of hell of which we must not speak. It all came to a crashing halt with the suicide of Nirvana singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain on April 8, 1994. Some felt the Seattle Music Scene died that day.
It was a devastating body blow. But the scene did not die. Nirvana would disband, Alice in Chains struggled through two more years of singer Layne Staley’s heroin and crack problems before going on “hiatus”. Soundgarden released Superunknown and shot to the stratosphere of Rock Gods. Pearl Jam continued making music. After a short rest in 1995 the band toured with idol Neil Young and emerged on the other side with No Code, an album of quiet songs along side punk influenced songs.
Soundgarden would break up in 1997 near the end of their tour for Down on the Upside. Alice in Chains was in retreat and Mudhoney and the Melvins were still going, but on a smaller scale – which is probably how they like it. But Pearl Jam kept going. Every couple of years they would release an album, tour, go away for a couple of years, come back, tour, suffer a tragedy, release 72 live albums at one time on one day, and keep touring. It has gotten to the point that Pearl Jam has become the Greatful Dead of the 21st century. Its loyal fans follow them not across the US but Europe and Australia as well.
Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell would go solo as would Chris Cornell for a while. Cornell would hook up with Rage Against the Machine trio of Wilk, Commerford, and Morello for a trio of albums as Audioslave before going solo again.
Starting in 2005, Jerry Cantrell began playing with former band mates Sean Kinney and Mike Inez at a few shows. Along with singer and guitarist William DuVall, Alice in Chians would later reform and release Black Gives Way to Blue in the fall of 2009. It has been a somewhat controversial release with many fans feeling that Layne Staley could not be replaced and it’s a besmirch upon the original work. Others feel the band was as much Cantrell’s vision. It is a very perplexing debate. My friend Dom stated this on Facebook,
[I have] “spent an inordinate amount of time listening to Black Gives Way to Blue since the day it came out. It has been far too many years since I have liked an album this much. Alice in Chains, your 4 1/2 albums have played such an amazing role in my life. I still have a picture with my Alice in Chains Rooster shirt when I was 13!”
I have mixed feelings about the record. While I like the songs and the sound, I think maybe it would have been best to call it something other than Alice in Chains. Unfortunately, many other bands have carried on after the deaths of members including The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Pretenders, and Metallica.
Also, Pearl Jam released a short action packed record in the fall of 2009. It finds the band playing with as much energy as ever and at the peak of their powers in the studio.
As for what the future holds for Soundgarden, I am not sure. Drummer Matt Cameron now has double duty since he has been the drummer for Pearl Jam for the last ten years. Will they record or just tour? Who knows. It will be interesting to find out.
As for me, I will be patient and not have any pretensions about the future. I just know this about the era. It has been the soundtrack to my adult life. Pearl Jam, along with Chris Whitley and Radiohead, have provided the music I have bought the last 15 years along with John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Music has just not been the same for me since nor for the public. If you look at the top of the album charts you will find them dominated by pop acts, American idols, and hip hop artists. It is unfortunate that rock music is not at the forefront of palette of America as it was during the heyday of the Seattle music scene. I thought the Rock Band or Guitar Hero games would help bring back rock but we will see.
VH1 Documentary on the Seattle Scene from the late 90s.
I have always loved Pearl Jam. They came along at a time in my life when I was struggling with what I was going to do the rest of my life. The album Ten has just been reissued, remastered, and remixed with some deluxe packaging and a DVD of MTV Unplugged.
As I sit and look back at what an exciting time that was I am amazed at several things:
1. I am still alive from that time period.
2. What intensity the band had
3. The songs from the record and singles are quite a collection
4. How well the record and songs have stood the test of time
I am alive…
Although it was the song that started it all, it has become the mantra for my life. Most people tend to sow their oats in their 20s and I was no different. I graduated from college in 1986 and did not find a job to suit my history degree right away (that would take another seven years). If anyone remembers music from the late 1980s, you know what a bunch of processed pop it was. From the hair bands to the teeny bopper set to rock. I had grown up loving the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. The connection came from the fact that these guys were my age but also from the fact that we were both finding our way in the world. No matter how crappy the world was, or my life, the music always made it better.
Intensity: MTV Unplugged
I first saw the video of Alive and instantly connected to the song. The video itself was shot live and the solo was reminiscent of the solos of the 1960s and 1970s in that it was built around emotion and not the Eddie Van Halen style of how many notes can you squeeze into a bar. This guitar gymnastics of the hair bands was not my cup of tea. When Pearl Jam appeared on “MTV Unplugged”, the emotion of the band catapulted my fandom to another level. Case in point…
Born on a surfboard out of tragedy, the songs of Ten and its subsequent singles are still some of my favorite tracks of all time. Alone, Brother, State of Love and Trust, Breath, Wash, Dirty Frank, Footsteps, and Yellow Ledbetter are classic songs of angst and hope. And the amazing thing is these are the b sides. Album tracks like Once, Evenflow, Alive Jeremy, Porch, Release, and Oceans still show up at every Pearl Jam show.
What has always set Pearl Jam songs apart is not the angst. The difference is hope. For example:
Promises are whispered
In the age of darkness
Want to be enlightened
Like I want to be told the end
(From State of Love and Trust (c) 1991/1992 – Ament/McCready/Vedder)
The Test of Time
18 years later, the album is considered a classic by many. The songs and production have held up well but Pearl Jam has changed their sound drastically in the years since. They shied away from the attention, stopped making videos, and even took on Ticketmaster (but to no avail). Today’s Pearl Jam has become the 21st Century version of the Grateful Dead. Playing to sold out shed shows across the world, their catalog of songs has charmed many a fan and I still think they may be the most underrated band in Rock and Roll history. Sure they may be derivative of The Who, Neil Young, and any other 70s rock Gods, but they maintain their feet in the modern world. Ten’s place in it is secure. The reissue only cements the power of it all.