Category Archives: Pearl Jam

Rocks In The Attic #811: Pearl Jam – ‘MTV Unplugged (1992)

19075921591_JK001_PS_01_01_01.inddAnother year, another Record Store Day: Black Friday event. These have always been hit or miss for me in the past. Most years I’ve stumbled into my local stores on the weekend following the Friday and picked up one or two things, and some years I’ve disregarded it completely. Back in 2012, I walked into Real Groovy on the Sunday following Black Friday and picked up their only copy of the super-limited 10” pressing of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, now highly sought-after but evidently not by Auckland folk at the time. Last year, I think my only purchase was a rainbow-coloured vinyl pressing of the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing.

The continued rise of soundtracks has meant that the last couple of RSD events have seen some interesting releases. Earlier in the year, at the main April event, I picked up soundtracks to the Knight Rider TV series, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Lost In Translation and Howard Stern’s Private Parts: The Album. This Black Friday, I was lucky enough to pick up soundtracks to Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Bill Conti’s score for 1987’s woeful Masters Of The Universe.

One of my non-soundtrack purchases from this year’s Black Friday event is this 1992 classic: Pearl Jam’s entry to the MTV Unplugged series. Strangely, considering the band’s stature during the grunge years of the early ‘90s, this marks the first time that the performance has been officially released on vinyl (several bootleg releases have made it to market in 2016 and 2017, but this one’s the real deal). R.E.M., Nirvana and Alice In Chain’s respective entries into the Unplugged cannon have slowly crept into each band’s back catalogue as essential releases, and so it seems like this will do the same for Pearl Jam. Now, if only they would release Stone Temple Pilot’s performance officially, so I can retire my bootleg copy.

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Comprised of six songs from their debut album Ten, plus one of their contributions to the Singles soundtrack (State Of Love And Trust), Pearl Jam’s set starts off slowly with the slow-burning Oceans. ‘A little love-song I wrote about my surfboard,’ Eddie Vedder tells the audience, as the applause dies down. There isn’t a great deal of communication with the audience, and very little of the surprisingly amusing banter you can hear on Nirvana’s Unplugged performance (‘What are you tuning? A harp?’). It’s this earnestness which turned me off Pearl Jam from the start, and which I’ve only been able to look beyond over the last decade or so.

All the big hits from the band’s debut are covered – Alive, Jeremy, Evenflow – but if anything it feels a bit too short. The seven songs featured are the same as those which were broadcast in the original 60-minute (including commercials) TV special. Their cover of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is omitted, plus any rehearsal and off-screen performances.  I have a bootleg of the full Aerosmith unplugged performance from 1989 which is almost twice the length of the version that was broadcast. I wonder if the same can be said of Pearl Jam, particularly when we’ve just recently seen a reissue of Nirvana’s unplugged set containing previously unreleased rehearsal takes.

The one thing I can’t stand about these early ‘90s unplugged releases is the amount of whooping and hollering from the audience. I can appreciate the applause when a song ends, but the ‘realisation’ sounds of approval from the crowd, one or two bars into each song really irks me. It reminds me of ITV’s Stars In Your Eyes when the studio audience would give a complimentary round of applause one line into the first verse of Rocketman when they suddenly realise that yes, that tubby little IT consultant from Walthamstow really does sound like Elton John.

Hit: Jeremy

Hidden Gem: State Of Love And Trust

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Rocks In The Attic #441: Pearl Jam – ‘Vitalogy’ (1994)

RITA#441.jpgAll I remember about this album when it first came out is an incredible amount of hoo-ha around the size of the CD case it came in (purposefully larger than a standard CD case so that it wouldn’t fit into a CD rack), and the band’s continued boycott against touring with Ticketmaster. One of the biggest bands in the world after just two albums, and people were already discussing things like packaging rather than the music.

Even the band had realised this. “I think we all agreed that it had gotten insane, that it was no longer about the music,” Vedder said after the end of the tour was cancelled due to him suffering from a severe bout of food poisoning.

This is the last Pearl Jam album I remember hearing at the time. I wasn’t a fan, but I still saw the videos and heard the singles. But from here on – after Better Man – they stopped producing hit singles, and slowly turned into an album band. You couldn’t escape Ten and Vs. In fact, if you gave me a pencil and a piece of paper today, I couldn’t even draw what I thought was the cover of the album after this – I just have no idea. After Vitalogy, they just turned into a band for Pearl Jam fans.

A couple of years ago Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty documentary made me reappraise the band, and go back to these first three records. Vitalogy might sound to most like a band growing up; to me it’s the sound of a band sitting on a fence between playing for the mainstream and playing for themselves.

Hit: Better Man

Hidden Gem: Not For You

Rocks In The Attic #265: Pearl Jam – ‘Ten’ (1991)

RITA#265From the early ‘90s and beyond, Pearl Jam were my mortal enemy.

I’ve always felt that your taste in music is just as defined by the bands you don’t listen to, than by the bands you do listen to, and there was no way in hell I was ever going to listen to Pearl Jam.

My reasons were many: their annoying music wasn’t my cup of tea, I had a big problem with their pretty-boy front-man Eddie Vedder and his stupid voice, and their uniform of shorts, boots and flannel shirts not only made the band look idiots, but made their fans looks like hordes of butch lesbians. There was another reason I disliked them…but I seem to have forgotten it over the years…or have I?

I initially disliked all grunge music – or let’s call it alternative rock from Seattle (because the word ‘grunge’ is pretty pointless, isn’t it?) – but repeated exposure to Smells Like Teen Spirit turned me into an reluctant Nirvana fan. Nirvana spoke to the Aerosmith / Sabbath / Zeppelin fan in me, and so I soon became a huge fan. But I just couldn’t be moved on Pearl Jam. In fact, the early rivalry between the two bands probably put me off Pearl Jam even more.

Over the years I’ve always felt the same. I think I’ve even been to festivals where Pearl Jam have been playing, and I’ve simply ignored them. Why would I bother, right? (Although, there was that time I saw Oasis play at Glastonbury simply to see how bad they were – and my distain for Pearl Jam is nothing compared to the love lost between me and Oasis. That’s a whole other story.)

I think the only thing they had done over the years that impressed me was their stance against Ticketmaster in the mid-‘90s. More bands should do things like that – but as far as I know, Ticketmaster still have a huge dominance of the ticket industry so I’m not sure what permanent good their boycott did. In New Zealand at least, ticket sales are pretty much a duopoly between Ticketmaster and Ticketek, and the two companies are just as bad as each other, charging non-sensical booking fees on top of what are already rapidly increasing ticket prices.

I also felt very sorry for Pearl Jam for what happened at the Roskilde festival in 2000. It always sucks big time when fans die at festivals (or any kind of shows for that matter), and it must really affect the band who are playing at the time. Nobody gets into music to die at a concert, and nobody gets into playing music to kill people, otherwise you’re somebody like Nicki Minaj – very slowly making your audience dumber and dumber until they start walking into oncoming traffic with vacant smiles on their faces.

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Fast forward twenty years and I eventually catch Cameron Crowe’s documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, on TV. New Zealand television isn’t great so I always catch music documentaries whenever they’re on, even if I don’t like the band too much. I really enjoyed Twenty, despite my feelings for Pearl Jam. By the end of the film, my staunch attitude to them had started to thaw.

I saw the film a second time a couple of months ago, and enjoyed it just as much, if not more. Oh no, I was turning into a Pearl Jam fan…

I’ve only heard their first three albums so far (Ten is far too poppy, Vs. is excellent and Vitalogy sounds far too much like a band slowly going off the rails – Rolling Stone were right on the money in describing them in 2006 as having “spent much of the past decade deliberately tearing apart their own fame.”).

The band seems to have an issue with Ten sounding far too commercial, blaming the high levels of reverb used. Even though the remixed version of the album goes some way to address this (I have the double vinyl copy which has the original album and the 2009 Redux version), it still sounds way too poppy. I don’t think this is down to the production that much – it’s just that there’s a batch of popular songs on the album that are very well-written, with great, strong melodies.

In retrospect, I actually now think that I liked the wrong grunge band in the early ‘90s. Nirvana have a handful of great songs, and one great album (no, In Utero you fools!), but they’re essentially a punk band and as usual that means their guitarist hides behind a range of distortion pedals to compensate for a lack of ability. Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready is a demon on the guitar – a total Hendrix freak – and really I should have been listening to him, not Cobain, when I was learning to play.

And I still think Eddie Vedder is a bit of a douche. There’s a really cringewrothy moment in Twenty where he recounts singing his vocals (for the demo tape that got him into the band) just after a surf with the sand still on his feet. Ugh (although again, my feelings for him have thawed due to his support of the West Memphis Three). His constant whining throughout Twenty about being too famous is one of the least enjoyable aspects of the film. They seem to be doing everything they can these days to avoid sounding too commercial, but there’s still the odd song (like Daughter from Vs., or Better Man from Vitalogy) that makes me think if you don’t want to appeal to a pop audience, stop fucking writing songs that will appeal to them!

Ten does sound pretty dated now. I still don’t like the fact that the song titles are mostly single words – like they were paying by the word for the printing of the sleeve. Thankfully the horrible hue of pink / crimson / vomit on the cover has been replaced by a much less offensive beige for the Redux re-release, and I guess I can just ignore what the band are wearing on the cover.

It’s funny that when I first encountered the band, I was really annoyed with Mike McCready’s clothes – a duster coat and a hat just like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Now, I admire him for wearing that get-up while the rest of the band wore their butch lesbian-inspired uniform.

Some time after I watched Twenty for the second time, and finally admitted that yes, I was a Pearl Jam fan, I watched a couple of their early music videos. Eventually I stumbled on that last remaining reason why I had such a passion to dislike them back in the early ‘90s – the video to Even Flow! This opens on Vedder telling his lighting man to turn the stage lights off, shouting like a spoilt child. I still recoil when I think about it.

So, there you have it. I may be twenty years too late, but better late than never. And there’s still no way I’ll ever change my mind about fucking Green Day. That band really are the scourge of the universe.

Hit: Jeremy

Hidden Gem: Release