Review : Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam Twenty
PopmattersIt’s a bit surprising that the most important track on Pearl Jam Twenty, the soundtrack to the accompanying film documenting Pearl Jam’s 20 years as a band, is not even a Pearl Jam original.
“Walk with Me”, from Neil Young’s outstanding 2010 full-length Le Noise, contains poignant and telling lines, which Pearl Jam augmented onstage with guts and panache at Young’s Bridge School Benefit in October of 2010: “I feel a strength / I feel your faith in me / I’ll never let you down no matter what you do / If you just walk with me and let me walk with you / I’m on a journey / I don’t want to walk alone.”
That night, exactly 20 years and one day after Pearl Jam played its first gig together, those lines encapsulated what Pearl Jam stands for as a band. They have continued to exist for 20 years not because of fortune, fame, or even hit records (see 2003’s plodding Riot Act), but for a reason much more elemental altogether: their fans. And as listeners hear Eddie Vedder singing those lines to the northern California crowd, it’s easy to imagine him saying those words to every single person who’s ever counted himself as a Pearl Jam fan. In short, Pearl Jam owes a lot to their fans. Which is why it’s fitting that the soundtrack to PJ20 was chosen not by the band or their record label, but by director Cameron Crowe, who has been a Pearl Jam fan since its inception. There is an element of faith when it comes to exchanges between the band and its fans, and PJ20 provides as prime an example as one will ever hear. The band trusted Crowe to choose the tracks for the soundtrack, and Crowe came through in spades. What you hear on PJ20 are the highs, the lows, and the kind of honesty which has become a Pearl Jam trademark.
Spread over two discs (and eventually, two vinyl LPs), the first disc features tracks taken directly from the film, while the second is a collection of rarities and demos. Some tracks recognizable by even the most casual Pearl Jam fan are represented, but even then, Crowe went to great lengths to ensure these tracks stand out. “Alive” is taken from a 1990 gig, only PJ’s fourth as a band. Yet it still contains all the raw, visceral energy which it does today. The band’s performance of “Black” is a stirring, emotionally-laden six-minute take from their 1992 MTV Unplugged session that features Vedder nearly crying out the words “We belong together” to end the track. “Do the Evolution” was taken from the band’s 1998 Monkeywrench Radio broadcast, which effectively marked a turning point for the band as far as accessibility after a largely difficult run during the mid-‘90s. And “Betterman” features the aforementioned fans in as tangible a manner as possible: The Madison Square Garden crowd sings the entire first verse and chorus, drowning out Vedder until he has no choice but to relent and let their voices fill the cavernous room. There is a touching call and response between Vedder and the crowd; for twenty years, Pearl Jam fans like Crowe have heard the band with a sense of pride and passion. That passion has grown strong enough that now Pearl Jam hears it too.
And as anyone who’s attended a Pearl Jam gig can attest, there is more to the band than the tracks which commercial radio stuffed down listeners throats in the ‘90s. PJ20 makes great efforts to expose the fringes of the band’s catalogue. “Be Like Wind”, the soft rolling Mike McCready-penned gem takes a backseat only to his solo, acoustic and instrumental performance of “Given to Fly”. Arguably the band’s most rousing song, Crowe ensured that equally rousing roots would not go unheard....full text
TwitchfilmWhile I would never claim to have been a truly devoted fan of Pearl Jam, their early work, in particular their debut album "Ten" and the single "Alive" were pillars of musical splendour upon which my teenage years were constructed. I remember a good friend of mine at school had the 7" single of "Alive" and I would make any excuse to borrow it time and again, playing it on a persistent loop until I knew every vocal and guitar stroke. Not that I was any kind of musician, just an enthusiastic air guitarist.
If I'm completely honest, as the years went on I found myself siding more with the Nirvana than the Pearl Jam camp, not because I was concerned over accusations that were flying around during the early nineties, which labeled Kurt Cobain as the Second Coming and Vedder & Co as corporate sell-outs, Nirvana just seemed the more appealing in the eyes of a simple-minded teen more besotted with Cinema than Music. The iconography was more prominent and I was easily swayed. As the years passed my attentions moved even further away from the Seattle grunge scene, and it is only now, twenty years later that director Cameron Crowe has fueled a fire within me I never even knew was burning. What was at-best only ever a casual, almost flippant support of Pearl Jam has become a ravenous hunger to revisit that soundtrack to my most awkward of years and painstakingly explore the band's back catalogue from its overzealous arrival in 1991 to the present day. Such is the power of Crowe's PEARL JAM TWENTY, and, one must concede, the band's music.
Crowe made tracks for Seattle in the mid-eighties, where as a budding young music journalist he came upon a live scene unlike that in any other major city in the country. Here the bands were collaborative and supportive of each other, rather than fighting tooth and nail to claw their way over each other to get to the top. Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were little more than enthusiastic kids back then, but with talent to spare and a band called Mother Love Bone that was quickly making a name for itself. The tragic death of their charismatic frontman Andy Wood forced the guys to take a step back and it was the intervention of Wood's housemate, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, that got them playing again, working with Mike McCready and a shy, soft spoken young vocalist named Eddie Vedder. Within a year, drummer Dave Krusen had joined and Pearl Jam was formed.
Using a staggering array of footage, including band interviews, performances and backstage antics, Crowe is able to vividly chart every step of the band's evolution in the past two decades. We see Vedder's transformation from insular young poet to the headbanging showman who would scale lighting rigs during gigs before throwing himself into the crowd, or the band's Spinal Tap-like misfortune with drummers who couldn't commit to life on the road in a famous rock band.
We learn through numerous candid interviews with each member of the band how the creative balance of power within Pearl Jam changed from Stone to Eddie, and how they all remained committed to their craft while so many of their contemporaries fell by the wayside. We witness their struggles with fame and the industry - from their seminal MTV Unplugged performance to the disastrous SINGLES release party that could have ended their career. The film takes the time to detail the band's long-running battle against Ticketmaster, as well as the dark days that followed the tragedy at Roskilde in 2000 that saw 9 members of the audience crushed to death in front of them.
Crowe's gushing yet intoxicating portrait tells you everything you could possibly want to know about Pearl Jam while never feeling like anything more educational than a thrilling fly-on-the-wall concert film. Audience members who have seen the band play live will be aching to return to that sweaty club or rain-drenched arena while those who have never had the chance to attend a Pearl Jam gig will no doubt be more determined than ever to track them down. ...full text
GuardianPaired together like a plaid shirt and a crippling sense of self-doubt, Cameron Crowe and Pearl Jam have travelled a long road. The music hack turned film director and the grunge survivors first worked together on Crowe's 1992 film Singles, which fictionalised the rock scene of late 80s Seattle. Two decades on, the less puerile, markedly more press-shy band have allowed Crowe access to their recollections of 20 years together. The result is a homely, fans-only affair; there's energy, but little focus. Key events – the Roskilde tragedy, the Ticketmaster boycott – are given brief solos amid the long drone of concert footage. There's no outside voice to allow perspective (barring the odd chip-in from Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell) and Crowe seems reluctant to mix in much of his own story. Vedder is charming, his band rather bland. As trips down memory lane go, it's a bit of a trudge....full text
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