Tag Archives: Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam Twenty: A Review

As Pearl Jam Twenty peels back the old footage and interviews, one thing is clear from the band’s early days: Eddie Vedder is an intense and volatile personality who is constantly at odds with his own band, his vision of what rock and roll should be, and his own audience. . Lead guitarist Mike McCready explains that Vedder wanted Pearl Jam to be like Fugazi and other underground punk bands, “and while we like those bands, we didn’t want to be them.”

Vedder’s war with his image as something of a spokesman for Generation X is nothing new to those who grew up listening to the band’s first two albums – Vs and Ten. The decision to scale back and do things on their own terms is a storied affair. Whatever you think of Vedder’ disposition to stardom (and there are instances in the movie where you could make the case that he was a complete dick), Pearl Jam Twenty proves that in the end, despite all the odds, somehow Pearl Jam persevered. And just like their hero, Neil Young they managed to garner respect because they said “no” to anything that they felt could possibly strangle them.

As a rock and roll documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty ranks up there with some of the best. Crowe’s use of archival footage from early live shows proves what a great live band Pearl Jam was even in the early days. While Pearl Jam Twenty is mostly chronological in its storytelling, some aspects of the band are distilled into montages. The history of drummers is given a quick (and amusing) overview. Similarly, Pearl Jam’s politics are anchored by a 2003 performance of “Bu$hleaguer” where the band actually got booed.

Because Crowe is accomplished as both a director and music journalist, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions. In turn, the usually shy band members open up. Guitarist Stone Gossard admits to feeling bitterness towards Vedder in the early years, as he lost control of his own band to the singer. McCready talks candidly about his addictions. As for Vedder himself, the 2011 version is humble and careful with his words. As evident from recent live performances, the intensity is still there – but now it seems reserved for the shows.

For all of the anger and intensity associated with the band, there are some hilarious moments in Pearl Jam Twenty. At one point, Crowe asks Gossard if he has any Pearl Jam memorabilia. Gossard sheepishly admits that he doesn’t really have anything, because bassist Jeff Ament is the band’s resident collector. Gossard points to some DVDs and CDs – which he has in case he forgets how to play a song – and then pulls out an extremely dirty PJ mug which looks like it hasn’t been washed in years. The band’s drunken performance for the premiere of 1992’s Singles (which Crowe directed and Gossard and Vedder appeared in) is wildly entertaining. The drunkenness is evident in Vedder’s eyes as he grumbles, “everybody loves us!” He then proceeds to tear down a curtain on the side of the stage as the band tears through a sloppy version of “State of Love and Trust”.

Pearl Jam Twenty makes a great case for how Pearl Jam has turned into one of rock’s greatest bands. That much is evident if you’ve ever seen one of their shows or listened to their albums (even the post Vitalogy ones are great). However, Crowe seems to hammer that it into the ground a little too much by incorporating clips from Don’t Look Back, and The Kids Are Alright. At one point, even Vedder shows off pictures of himself with Joe Strummer, and Pete Townshend. As a fan of rock and roll, there’s no doubt that Vedder still thinks of himself as a kid who got lucky enough to meet his heroes. But underneath, both Crowe and Vedder still seem to want to tell everyone who left the band in the mid-90s: “these guys love us, so should you.”

As a portrait of a band, Pearl Jam Twenty is a rare feat. This is the story of 4 guys, whose wild different personalities conflicted with each other, and still managed to have their integrity. Varying set lists rewards the fans that stuck around – Gossard refers to this as “a gift” – and the belief that rock and roll can be salvation. Twenty years on, Pearl Jam finally get to be the band they always wanted to be.

 

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“Revolution 9” vs. “Stupid Mop”

 

I once fell asleep to The Beatles “Revoution 9” on repeat and had some pretty fucked up dreams. Nothing seemed to make any sense. People who were talking to me suddenly disappeared into violent colors. At some point, I woke up in a Russian prison – only to realize later I was actually asleep. Needless to say, I don’t recommend falling asleep to this song.

Ever since it was put to wax, “Revolution 9” has been a polarizing piece of work. Many have argued that it belongs on John and Yoko’s infamous Two Virgins album and doesn’t belong on any Beatles album. There’s some certain truth to that. It’s hard to even call it a song – its mash of tape loops, screaming and feedback is starting and disturbing.

I’m certainly no huge fan of “Revolution 9”, but is certainly adds to the myth of The White Album. At that point, each Beatle was so focused on their own individual songs. Many of them are brilliant, others are quite good. Others barely even resemble songs – they’re more like ditties. Each Beatles’ songs on that album are a representation of their mind-set circa 1968. Paul was hammering out songs like nobody’s business, and John was struggling to bring his new-found creativity with Yoko into the fold. George, it seemed desperately wanted to be taken seriously by the other Beatles.

“Revolution 9” represents John at his most caustic – to his bandmates and audience. He had already put on Two Virgins, and only hard-core fans would attempt to listen to that. Putting “Revolution  9” on The White Album was his way of saying that he was done with The Beatles. Even though it would be another year before he was actually out, “Revolution 9” was the sonic equivalent of a middle finger. It practically screams “I’m done”.  It’s a declaration of the now, versus The Beatles of the past.

Pearl Jam have a heavily “Revolution 9” influenced track off of 1994’s Vitalogy called “Stupid Mop”. Like its predecessor, “Stupid Mop” is full of strange noises and feedback. If Lennon wanted to say he was out and showcase his creative side, Pearl Jam (and specifically Eddie Vedder here) use “Stupid Mop” as a way to confront their fans, many of whom they felt were strangling the band. Like Lennon, Vedder was struggling with being seen as a spokesman and trying to maintain what he saw as artistic credibility. “Stupid Mop” is even more alarming than “Revolution 9”. Even if you disagree about the artistic merits of “Revolution 9”, that was clearly in Lennon’s thought process at the time. “Stupid Mop” offers virtually no artistic merit. In “Not For You” off Vitalogy, Vedder directly confronts the casual fans: “This is not you. Fuck you.” 

Ultimately both artists would eventually come to terms with their fans and their own creativity. Lennon would make two more albums with The Beatles, before eventually going solo. Pearl Jam decided to cut down their accessibility, do less promotion and continue to make several more albums.

Maybe that’s why both “Revolution 9” and “Stupid Mop” are both so jarring. They’re not pieces of music – but rather a chance for both artists to exorcise their demons.

 

 

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My Morning Jacket: The Band That Jams For Those Who Don’t Like Jambands

As a general rule, I don’t particularly like jam-bands.  I’m sure that I might be missing out on some classic music (The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers), but I usually find the endless sonic detours into nowhere rather boring.  The extended jams seem to suggest (to me anyway) that they want the audience to know how well they play, not how good their songs are.

A friend of mine in college (a huge fan of all types of jam-bands) first told me about My Morning Jacket, my junior year in college, which was around the fall of 2002 or the spring of 2003.  “Augh, you know I don’t like jam-bands,” I told him with a bit of smugness.  I had already had enough of listening to the Dead at the numerous parties which were always held in his room.  One more band like that, would be one too many for me.   A few years later, another mutual friend told me to check out My Morning Jacket’s Okonokos live CD.  This friend was also a huge fan of jam-bands, but he also had a pretty broad taste, I didn’t dismiss his suggestion right away.  That being said, I never acted upon it.

I finally came around in 2006, when My Morning Jacket opened for Pearl Jam (who ranks among my best concerts list).  It quickly became apparent that My Morning Jacket might rival Pearl Jam.   Sure, their jams were extended – but they were loud.  But the biggest impact was Jim James’ magnificent voice.  There was a subtle tenderness for the slower songs, and cry from the tops of the mountains for the louder songs.  It seemed to cut through the band was playing.

After that show, I went out and bought (what was at the time) their latest album, Z, which remains one of my favorite albums of the past 10 years.  Its the soundtrack to summer twilight – hot and sweaty, and orange/reddish in color.  It rocks, but it’s also laid-back and relaxed.  You also hear each individual member of the band.  Jim James (sorry I can’t refer to him as Yim Yames) might be the frontman, but he never overshadows the music.

James may lead his band into adventurous territory, but his emphasis has always been on songwriting – which is  why his side projects have included Monsters of Folk with Connor Oberst and an EP tribute to George Harrison.  Though they might be considered a “jam-band” by nature and rock out like the best 1970s bands, My Morning Jacket have a down-home feel that takes more cues from The Band, than The Grateful Dead.  “I’m Amazed” (one of the best rock singles in the past few years) sounds like a Basement Tape out-take.

When My Morning Jacket do jam, the extended instrumental feels as if they written into the song, to give the song the extra punch and emotional power. Sometimes they contain loud and slow passages (“Dondante”), other times it’s cathartic (“Gideon”) or just a logical step (“Off the Record”).  The Okonokos CD showcases a band at the height of their power – one who is not afraid to take chances taking their audience for a ride, but also one who knows when to bring it in as well.

I’ve only listened to their latest CD Circuital once, but so far its seems like James and company have made another masterpiece – 2008’s “Evil Urges” was a little too bizarre and scattershot though it did have some great moments – once again making a claim for America’s best band.

“Gideon”

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What The Clash Mean to Me

I recently read the feature on The Clash in the new issue of Rolling Stone.  While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about the band, it certainly reminded me of why I love them so much.

In 2003, when I saw Pearl Jam in Pittsburgh while in college, I decided to wear one of my Clash t-shirts.  For a long time, my concert credo was not to wear the shirt of the band you were seeing, unless you purchased one at the show.  One fan saw my shirt.  “Pearl Jam doesn’t like The Clash!” He yelled at me.  I brushed him off, because I knew he was wrong.  Later on during the show, when Pearl Jam busted out a cover of The Clash’s “Know Your Rights”, I seemed to be one of the few that recognized the song and cheered loudly when Eddie Vedder shouted its famous line: “This is a public service announcement with guitar!”

I discovered The Clash sometime in high school.  I had been exposed to a few songs – “London Calling”, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” through mix tapes my sister made for me.  But on my 18th birthday, I received a copy of their live album From Here to Eternity from my older brother.  From the beginning of the opening song – “Complete Control” – I knew right away that this would be a band that I could identify with.  Here a band cutting down their own record company in song – they weren’t going to bullied by anybody.  The backing vocals which point out that “CON” is spelled out in the middle of “control” were captivating.  Strummer was clearly drawing a line.  You could either go with them, or be left behind.  I quickly knew which side I was on.

I’ve often joked that I credit The Clash with moving me towards a leftist way of thinking.  And while it’s certainly true that songs such as “Clampdown”, “London Calling” and “Career Opportunities” are Marxist theories put to thrashing music, The Clash opened a lot more doors than a political awakening.

The Clash incorporated world-music into their repertoire, which eventually lead me to seek out some of these sounds.  The only reggae artist that I knew before listening to The Clash was Bob Marley, but soon I was scooping up albums by Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals.

When Joe Strummer died in December of 2002, it was the first time I felt a void when a star died.  If The Clash were the “CNN of rock”, then Strummer was its Walter Cronkite – providing positive insight into a world that seemed to veer out of control.  While other bands have attempted to take The Clash’s place of political rock for a new generation – particularly Rage Against the Machine – none of them succeeded on the same level.  The Clash made have been “the only band that mattered” but they were also one of the few bands that were really were for the people.

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5 Rarity/Unreleased Collections

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series 1-3


The Basement Tapes had already proved that Dylan had a tendency to leave some of his best material in the vaults – which I’m not including because I could write an entire post on the subject.  This is certainly true on this first installment of his famous Bootleg Series. “She’s Your Lover Now”, “Talking John Birch Society Blues” rank among with some of his work from the 1960s.  Elsewhere, “Blind Willie McTell“, “Foot of Pride”, and “Series of Dreams”  show that no one could write a song like Dylan, despite decent but not earth-shattering albums such as Infidels and Oh Mercy. But for me, the real revelations comes from alternate versions of familiar songs.   The original version of “Tangled Up in Blue” opens up like a novel becomes even more poignant and devastating than the original.  “Idiot Wind” loses some of its bite from the scathing version found on Blood on the Tracks, but the sting is worse.  Dylan seemed more wounded here than the possessed.  “If Not For You” gets some extra help from George Harrison – who would later take this arrangement for his own cover of the song on All Things Must Pass. Many artists would kill to have songs Dylan just seems to leave on the cutting-floor.  And this isn’t even my favorite installment of the Bootleg Series – that would go to Volume 8 – Tell Tale Signs.

The WhoOdds & Sods


I admit to not having listened to Odds & Sods in a few years until the other day since I’ve come out of my Who-phase.  This was one of the first of these collections that I bought.  In high school, I was obsessed with The Who – they’re the perfect soundtrack for teenage angst.  The original material is interesting and worthwhile for Who fanatics.  The kid’s story of “Little Billy” is a  anti-smoking ditty with some of Keith Moon’s best drumming.  The Lifehouse center-piece “Pure and Easy” has border-line pretentious existentialist lyrics, which is saved bv the music which contains some of the Who’s best 1970s harmonies and a pretty awesome fade-out.  But the real highlight of the set comes from the early R&B covers including frenzied versions of “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Leaving Here”.  With these versions The Who rightfully secure their infamous “maximum R&B” tag.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise


I don’t have Tracks, so I can’t comment on that particular set.  But The Promise, unlike a lot of similar collections is a full-realized work albeit in different ways then its spawn, Darkness on the Edge of Town.  While there is some of the bleakness on The Promise (particularly the title track) many of the songs show Springsteen’s affection for early rock and roll and pop songs from the 1960s.  The backing vocals on “Gotta Get That Feeing” recall some of the early Phil Spector singles.  “Wrong of the Side Street” is rocking fun in the best possible E-Street Band way.  The inclusion of Springsteen’s version of “Fire” and “Because the Night” are a nice addition, but Patti Smith’s version of the latter remains the definitive version.  What is most interesting about The Promise though is that Springsteen ditched some of his most accessible work here in favor of the more challenging songs found on Darkness. What would his stature be like if he had released some of these songs between Born to Run and Darkness?  It’s hard to say.

Pearl Jam – Lost Dogs


Lost Dogs is a collection that won’t bring any converts to Pearl Jam.  But it does contain some stellar material that showcases Pearl Jam taking on a wide variety of styles thats not always apparent on their proper albums.  The Howard Zinn inspired “Down” is one of their catchiest songs.  “Alone” is Ten-style rocker that should have replaced “Deep”.  Surprisingly for Pearl Jam there are a lot of songs that are pure fun.  Guitarist Stone Gossard takes lead vocals for the crunchy rocker “Don’t Gimme No Lip” which has very few words outside of the title.  “Whale Song” contains some cool guitar effects to recreate the sound of whale calls.  And then there’s “Dirty Frank” a ridiculous ode to one of their bus drivers.

R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office


By no means a great collection and Peter Buck admits as much in the liner notes.  But I have a soft spot for this collection since it was one of the first ones of these I owned and it introduced me to the Velvet Underground with three covers – “Femme Fatale”, “There She Goes Again” and “Pale Blue Eyes“.   Like Lost Dogs, R.E.M. show their playful side here with the surf inspired “White Tornado”, and the hilarious “Seven Chinese Brothers” alternate take, “Voice Of Herald” which finds Michael Stipe singing lyrics off of an old Christian LP.  A must!  Worth having because the CD version contains their first LP Chronic Town.

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Goodbye Borders

Not that it really comes as a surprise, but Borders announced its Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and plans to close 30% of its stores.  The digital age has already taken its toll on the record industry, and now bookstores are beginning to feel the heat as well, since e-books the literary equivalent of an Ipod.

Before I moving to Baltimore, Borders was essentially the only place where there was a large selection of CDS.  It was either that or Best Buy.  But Best Buy didn’t have the back catalogues of most of their artists, and they also only displayed artists with track records of moving copies.  It was also one of the few places that I was allowed to drive to by myself when I was in high school.

I would spend hours at a time just browsing through the CDs making mental notes of which artists I needed to eventually check out.  Borders was also one of the first places I remember that had a listening station for new CDs.  Usually the description of the album was off-base, but at least you were able to actually hear what you were about to purchase.  Many of my favorite albums were purchased from Borders – London Calling, Sticky FingersZiggy StardustRaw Power, several Pearl Jam bootlegs, etc.  The bargain bin (selected albums were $7.99) was also my first introduction to Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.

When I wasn’t looking at the CDs, I would wander off to the music book section and read through many of the rock encyclopedias, and memoirs.  If you’re ever wondering where most of my knowledge of artists comes from – it’s a direct result of that.  At the time, I desperately wanted to be a rock critic (still do actually) and I figured the best way to do that would be to study up on the subject.  Before I listened to Iggy Pop, I knew of his affection for peanut-butter on stage.  It was in a Borders’ chair that I first learned about the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal with the Devil at the crossroads.

Because I was there so often, many of the cashiers knew me.  When I went to purchase a copy of The Velvet Undeground & Nico , the girl at the counter seemed genuinely interested – she had never heard of them before. When I explained to her what they sounded like – shocker – she didn’t seem as interested in anymore.

Since moving to Baltimore, I hardly ever go to Borders – Soundgarden is about two miles away from my apartment – but whenever I go back to visit my parents I almost always stop by.  The last few times I’ve been have been extremely depressing.  The CD section has all but been taken away.  There are no more back catalogues of artists – shit, even Target has a better selection of artists and albums these days.

I haven’t listened to it in a while, but perhaps I’ll break out my copy of Quadrophenia tonight.  It was one of the first albums I purchased at Borders.

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Top 20 Concerts Part 2

I should note that some of these artists I have seen multiple times, so I will only list my favorite concert from each particular artist.  Otherwise the top 10 could easily include multiple repeats.

Pearl Jam (May 2006 – Camden, New Jersey)

I’ve seen Pearl Jam a total of three times over the past few years, and I have yet to see a bad show by them.  Pearl Jam treat their shows like every single one is a special event.  Eddie Vedder is the Pete Townshend of lead singers – jumping across the stage and doing guitar acrobatics that lesser men would like downright silly even to attempt.   The last time I saw them in DC in 2008, they only made it about a minute into “Evacuation” before the band stumbled.  In the old days, Vedder might have walked off screaming.  Instead the band laughed it off, and went on to the next show like nothing happened.

I realize that I probably might get shit on for including Pearl Jam on this list by some people I know.  I still think that the lady at the concession lying when she said that drinks were no longer being served at the “artists’ request”.

 

The New Pornographers (October 2007 – 930 Club, Washington DC)

Twin Cinema is easily one of the best rock-pop records of the 2000s.   On record The New Pornographers have a lot of energy, but live they are well-oiled machine.   Neko Case and Carl Newman remain the band’s not-so secret weapon united in harmony, but it’s amazing to see them pull it off so effortlessly on songs like “All The Things That Go Make Heaven and Earth”, and “Use It”.  And when the coda for “The Bleeding Heart Show” kicks in, you wish it would go on forever.

 

Kings of Leon (October 2005 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

In 2005, Kings of Leon were down right sleazy.  Not like the pretty boys and rock- pop cons you know today.  If the whiskey soaked songs, and dank of Sonar weren’t enough, the show included girls dancing on poles between sets and a magic show.  You could feel the sweat flying from the Followills foreheads as they blazed through countrified-punk versions of “The Bucket” and “Slow Night So Slow”.  Appropriately enough, they closed with the aptly titled, “Trani”.

The concert was awesome, but things turned sour later on, including being stuck in a traffic jam with the gas-tank on empty, and a fall down a flight of stairs.  (Both incidents turned out to be ok, but the gas tank was a close-call.)

 

The Black Crowes (August 2007 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

Another show at Sonar. This is not really a criticism, but The Black Crowes are the best Rolling Stones cover band with original songs.  It was an old-fashioned rock and roll show at its best.  I distinctly remember it being the hottest night of the year – it was so fucking hot, and the compressed venue of Sonar only made it worse.  But somehow, it only seemed fitting to see the Crowes that way.

The Pixies (December 2009 – Constitution Hall, Washington DC)

I ended up going to this show at the last minute.  I got a phone-call in the afternoon from a friend telling me that an extra ticket was available.  So off I drove to DC during rush-hour to go see The Pixies.  I was almost late because I got lost to my friends house on the way – even though I had driven there at least 5 times prior.

This show was part of The Pixies “Doolittle Tour”. Prior to this show, I had never seen a whole album show, and was curious about how it come off.  The songs off of Doolittle are short and concise, so even the duds (there are really only about 3 off of an otherwise great album) are over before you know it.  The big songs – “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” got the most response, but it was on “There Goes My Gun” and “Vamos” The Pixies really came alive.  The former proved that even in his mid 40s, Frank Black can still scream like a motherfucker, and the latter included an extended feedback solo that peeled the paint off of the otherwise stale Constitution Hall.

 

 

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