This movie began as a conversation over the years. At many a show, or on the occasion of a new Pearl Jam release, Kelly Curtis and I would casually have the same discussion – someday we had to do our PJ movie. “Someday we’re going to really tell the whole story. We’ll use everything! The unreleased stuff, the best of the live performances….” Even in the process of making our short film, Single Video Theory, released around the time of Yield, we were already banking sequences for our mythical movie down the line. We never quite knew what the shape would be, just that it would be our version of Jeff Stein’s magnificent ode to the Who, The Kids Are Alright. To any Who fan, that film caught the experience of being a fan of the band. It gave their music a home on the big-screen, unfiltered and alive. That was our goal, our mutual filmic obsession. Our Pearl Jam movie.
Finally, about three Christmas seasons ago, the project became very real. Pearl Jam’s twentieth anniversary was just around the bend, and suddenly there was more than a reason. Now there was a deadline. With the help of Barbara McDonough, Kevin Shuss, Rick Krim, Tim Bierman and many others in all the nooks and crannies of the media world, we cast a big net out there. We wanted to find everything, all the footage floating out there, from fans and networks alike. By the time we were finished collecting, over 30,000 hours of Pearl Jam film and music had been assembled. Rooms of hard drives were wheezing under the load. The editors – Chris, Kevin and Adi – had become nearly automatic in their retention of dates and performances and nuances. Every long and short fade, every usable soundcheck jam, every outtake from other filmmakers’ shoots… they knew where to find it. The band never walked through a show, never wasted the opportunity to make a mark. The richness of the footage made our path very clear – just tell the story of the band and let the music guide us. And so we did.
Our cuts were dangerously long, and jammed with footage from endless sources. The band had been filmed extensively, though not a lot had been officially released. We put so much into the film – moments, pieces of footage shot by band members, audio snippets, visual bursts, new and old interviews – many different formats, all meant to present an emotional scrapbook of what it felt like to be a member of the band on this twenty-year journey. The early ethic of the band defined them. Mix the shows up, change the songs, follow your instincts. Don’t do every interview, don’t chase the trappings, stay focused on the music and the songs… and keep playing.
Their personal story, I always felt, was almost a campfire tale that deserved to be told. To every musician who thinks about playing, or wonders if they should continue, there were answers in the way Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron, Boom Gaspar, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder had traveled the last twenty years together. Andrew Wood, the front-man and songwriting force within Mother Love Bone, deserved a place in this story too. Jeff and Stone’s still fresh memories of their friend and inspired band-mate, lost to an overdose in 1990, would also give us a visceral feel for the time and place and mood around Seattle when Pearl Jam was born.
And finally, our film is about the fans. It was a joy to show how close the relationship had been through the years. Pearl Jam, a band made up of music lovers, had been supported in good times and bad by the very experience that made them pick up their instruments – a love of music, a love of what it is to be a fan. If you love a group, and love their music, you sign on for the big ride. And if the band is deserving, they’ll feel it every night. The audiences in all of our whirring hard-drives were amazingly consistent and electric in their support of the group. And the band always volleyed back with the same intensity, spinning the feeling into places we hope we’ve captured in PJ20. As Eddie says in our film, “There’s this communal exchange. There’s obviously a line drawn between who’s on stage and who’s in the crowd… but not really.” So in that spirit, here is our Pearl Jam movie, filled with images and music, both personal and public, that shine a flashlight on the path of the last twenty years. Here are some of the memorable stops along that amazing journey, the life of Pearl Jam.
“Release” (Sept. 16, 2006 – Arena di Verona – Verona, Italy)
This has always been one of the key songs in the birth of the band. Written shortly after Eddie Vedder’s arrival in Seattle, “Release” always felt like a personal epiphany as well as an invitation to write from the heart. This is one of the early songs that tipped where the future would lead them – raw emotion would always have a home in their music, married to the sonic explosion of the band. As proven by this version, “Release” is still played with grace and commitment. The emotions are still fresh, years later.
“Alive” (Dec. 22, 1990 – The Moore Theatre – Seattle, WA)
I still remember sitting in the Moore, hearing this performance. Like some of the other tracks on these discs, sonic quality must be sacrificed in favor of a little bit of history. This is when many of the group’s friends and family first heard the band, and by the time they played “Alive,” heads were turning, faces were lighting up. This shy new singer singing with the power of his convictions, this new band . . . born from the ashes of Mother Love Bone . . . this could all really work.
“Garden” (Feb. 19, 1992 – Albani Bar of Music – Winterthur, Zurich, Switzerland)
This is another snapshot from that adrenalized first flight of the band. Their first trip to Europe, and the casual idea to play an acoustic show to a tightly packed club crowd . . . a recipe for chaos turned into a beautiful chaos indeed. Jeff Ament had always admired the versatility of a band like Led Zeppelin, where acoustics lived hand-in-hand with the big beat. Here is a real-time account of the band learning that their music also worked in this context. Much would come from this discovery . . .
“Why Go” (March 10, 1992 – Markthalle – Hamburg Germany)
This version of “Why Go” is a companion to the explosive version in PJ20, captured in the camera of the band’s guitar tech and sometime videographer George Webb, who along with Kevin Shuss documented a great deal of the group’s infancy. This performance is included here with many asterisks attached. There is no better sound quality available, but then again, there is this recording. Again, a real-time document of the band finding their voice ,and an early crowd discovering it right along with them.
“Black” (March 16, 1992 – Kaufman Astoria Studios – MTV Unplugged – New York, NY)
Freshly back from Zurich, where their acoustic experiment had yielded much excitement, Pearl Jam agreed to an Unplugged appearance. Without much rehearsal, they duplicated the feel from the club show, this time on a world wide stage. Vedder shuts his eyes, forgetting the cameras, and provides a truly galvanizing moment. Sitting on the stool, singing one of his most personal songs, still so fresh to him. “Black” explodes with open-hearted anger and regret, a paean to lost love and youth. It was the second time he’d kept the song going too. A few nights earlier in Amsterdam, he’d added a piece of Rickie Lee Jones’ “We Belong Together” to the end. Here he did it again, as he still does from time to time, creating what the fans call “Black w/tag.” Instantly, iconic, the record company demanded the song be released as a single. The band fought back, and won that one. As a result, the song still feels personal, and is performed that way, to this day.
“Blood” (March 25, 1995 – Mt Smart Stadium – Auckland, New Zealand)
In telling the band’s story, we found this version of “Blood” to be especially vital. It’s an in-the-moment response to the group’s increasing success. The performance is almost violent, a demand for oxygen. “Blood” was more than a cry for help, it was Vedder’s demand to be heard above the white noise of fad-fueled popularity. Talk about ragged glory . . .
“Last Exit” (Feb. 24, 1995 – Taipei International Convention Center – Taipei, Taiwan)
The dynamics of survival had led to a period of transition. Drummer Dave Abburzzese, a strong and powerful musical base for the band, had been replaced by Jack Irons. Irons’ looser style drove the band into more nuanced areas, a bold and surprising step in the face of their enormous popularity based on the first albums. Pearl Jam’s 1995 world-wide tour showed new rhythms and strengths within the band. “It was a challenging time to go, I don’t know if we’re the same band. We might be a different band right now,” says Stone Gossard, “and maybe (the audiences) will like the new band . . . ” They did.
“Not For You” (Feb. 26, 1995 – Folk Arts Theater – Manila, Philippines)
Another stop along the same tour, this performance of “Not For You” is also an authentic piece of journalism. Spurred by Vedder’s early defiance that the band not be used as a took for salesmanship, this cornerstone song from Vitalogy shows the band at full raging force. “All that’s sacred comes from youth,” declares the lyric, and one can’t help but see the kinship with Pete Townshend’s similar statement in “My Generation” – “hope I die before I get old.” In one of our recent interviews for PJ20, Vedder offered a look from the other side. “These days I find inspiration from some of the older surfers I see out in the water,” he said admiringly. “They know all the inside stuff. You turn around and they’re the most skilled guys out there, whizzing past you, riding the biggest waves . . . ”
“Do The Evolution” (Jan. 31, 1998 – Monkeywrench Radio – Seattle, WA)
From the Monkeywrench Radio sessions, conducted in the band’s hometown, just after the completion of one of their stronger efforts, Yield. The band filmed the performances, making the most of a small room filled with big noise. There is an unidentified assistant or technician, nearly invisible blending into the wall in Vedder’s angles. Nobody could remember or identify him. We decided he might be a ghost. You be the judge. In the meantime, enjoy one of the great PJ performances from the era . . . the band on the verge of another creative surge. It’s evolution, baby . . .
“Thumbing My Way” (Sept. 6, 2002 – Chop Suey – Seattle, WA)
This graceful acoustic performance captured the spirit of one of the band’s favorite tracks from Riot Act. There was an inviting new dynamic in Pearl Jam, now powerfully in evidence with the 1998 arrival of drummer Matt Cameron. “Thumbing My Way” was written and recorded quickly, with a conscious desire to be less personal, yet the wistful flavor of the song made it immediately memorable. Still a highlight whenever it appears in the live show, the song was also a choice performance for PJ20. We used it to score a trip to Montana with Jeff Ament.
“Crown Of Thorns” (Oct. 22, 2000 – 10th Anniversary Show – MGM Grand – Las Vegas, NV)
In 1993, I interviewed the band during the sessions for Vs. They had already passed through the turbulence of their early success, but there was much they still hadn’t said to each other. (Save for Jeff and Eddie who bonded early over the band’s artistic ethic.) I asked Vedder about Andrew Wood, the late singer-songwriter of Mother Love Bone, whose passing left the place that Vedder would later fill. Though Vedder chose not to name the song, he did say there was one Wood composition he would be honored to sing “one day.” He declined to say more. Seven years later, he surprised the band by telling them he’d like to perform one of Wood’s signature compositions, “Crown of Thorns,” for Pearl Jam’s tenth anniversary show in Las Vegas. Asked about it in 2010, Vedder recalled their afternoon soundcheck rehearsal of the song as a “nearly blinding light-show of emotions.” This is the performance that happened later that night.
“Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time)” (Sept. 16, 2006 – Arena di Verona steps – Verona, Italy)
A stolen moment from the road, captured for posterity by Danny Clinch’s cameras. The McCready/Vedder dynamic on full display, and the first “live” performance since the band’s 1994 Bridge School appearance.
“Walk With Me” (w/Neil Young) (Oct. 23, 2010 – Bridge School – Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA)
Neil Young championed Pearl Jam early and emphatically. The band was more than appreciative. Young became a mentor and collaborator on the Mirror Ball album, as well as a touring partner for a series of European shows in the early 90’s. They have often reunited for Young’s annual Bridge School benefit in Northern California, an event co-chaired with Young’s wife Pegi. Always searching for a song to perform together, PJ picked a choice track from Young’s Le Noise. Young obliged and the result is this soulful union of old friends.”
“Just Breathe” (March 13, 2010 – 30 Rock, Studio 8H – Saturday Night Live – New York, NY)
A new standard from the Backspacer album. Seemingly effortless and warmly personal, the group’s history only makes this open-hearted composition more powerful. To quote one of the fans interviewed for PJ20, “I think this band is really only beginning.”
“Say Hello 2 Heaven” (1990 – Temple of the Dog demo)
A seismic early recording in the lives of all the participating members. Temple of the Dog was Chris Cornell’s soul-aching tribute to Andrew Wood. The project began with a handful of early demos like this one. Cornell eloquently discusses this period in PJ20, and also contributes a cogent description of Mike McCready’s arrival as a force that would power both TOTD, and Pearl Jam in the years ahead. McCready himself recently discovered this recording tucked away in a box in his home, and sent a copy to all the members. Hearing this track and others brought back a flood of memories for everybody involved.
“Times of Trouble” (1990 Demo)
“Times Of Trouble” is a track from the original demo tape made by Gossard and Ament, with help from McCready and Matt Cameron. The one missing ingredient – a singer. This is a recording from the the tape that Jack Irons passed along to a young artist from San Diego – Eddie Vedder. With the music flooding his heart and soul, Vedder went surfing and quickly composed his “answer” – he’d soon applied lyrics and vocals and sent the recording back to Jeff Ament in Seattle. Vedder called the mini-opera he’d composed, “Momma-Son,” a trilogy of songs now called “Alive,” “Footsteps” and “Once.” (“Alive was originally “Dollar Short,” “Once” was called “Agyptian Crave,” and the middle song, which would become “Footsteps” . . . was this one, “Times of Trouble.” Together the re-imagined tracks told a compelling tale of murder, incest and incarceration.) Ament called Gossard, and as Stone recalls it, “He said, ‘I got the demo back from Eddie – you should come over and check it out. It’s good.'”
“Acoustic #1” (1991 Demo)
A stray tape found in the bottom of a box marked “Singles” yielded this peek into the band’s early creative process. Here’s Eddie and Stone trading ideas and rhythms, exploring their newly minted potential.” The ideas still sound fresh today.
“It Ain’t Like That” (1990 Demo)
A heavy slice of rehearsal magic, here’s the newly named Mookie Blaylock with a playful tribute to their soon-to-be touring partners, Alice in Chains. It appeared on an early band cassette passed around to friends and family, crafted with Ament’s signature handwriting and titled “Pearl Jam-Out.”
“Need To Know” (2007 – Matt Cameron Demo)
Matt Cameron has always maintained a healthy menu of side-projects. Bands like Hater and the Wellwater Conspiracy provide an outlet for his wonderful singing and songwriting. Cameron’s entry into Pearl Jam still delights the other members, who covet Wellwater tracks like “Sandy.” Here’s a self-made demo that Cameron would later submit to the band. They added their own touch to it. Overnight, this track became “The Fixer.”
“Be Like Wind” (2010 – Mike McCready Score)
McCready is a natural at film scoring, which provides another home for his sometimes ferocious, sometimes delicate, always truthful style. He added this piece of music to our score for PJ20.
“Given To Fly” (July 29, 2010 – Mike McCready Acoustic Instrumental)
Before starting our interviews for the film, Mike offered this instrumental version of one of his breakthrough compositions. “Given to Fly” was originally written during a snowstorm, shortly after McCready had battled back some blizzards of his own. The exuberance of the song is still strongly with him. It’s a personal anthem, and we’re proud to feature this version in PJ20.
“Nothing As It Seems” (1999 – Jeff Ament Montana Demo)
A collector, casual curator and inspired architect of much of Pearl Jam’s graphics, Jeff Ament recently unearthed this demo of one of his best songs. The song was written during one of the band’s tour breaks, and Ament reached down deep for this rich and emotional composition and vocal. Recorded in his home state of Montana, about Montana, “‘Nothing As It Seems’ will forever feel like a portrait of his roots. It appears here as a vivid example of the band’s songwriting process. This demo affected the other band members deeply. Vedder tore into the vocals, and McCready delivered a solo that is a structural homage to one of Amen’s favorite Pink Floyd tracks, “Comfortably Numb.”
“Nothing As It Seems” (Oct. 22, 2001 – Key Arena – Seattle, WA)
By then having been released as the first single from Binaural, “Nothing As It Seems” here finds its home on the stage.” Another Pearl Jam standard is born, and it’s a fiery showpiece whenever performed.
“Indifference” (Sept. 14, 2006 – PalaMalaguti – Bologna, Italy)
Audience and band unite for this version of “Indifference,” a visual and sonic highlight from our film.
“Of The Girl” (2000 – Instrumental)
There is so much going on in this track from Binaural, it deserves its own listening. We used it to score PJ20, but often found ourselves just listening in the editing room, appreciating all the layers to the 3-D sound. A treasure and artifact from one of the band’s more revolutionary recordings.
“Faithfull” (Sept. 20, 2006 – Duomo Square – Pistoia, Italy – soundcheck)
An afternoon sound-check in Italy. Outdoors, in the sun, a world away from Seattle, the soul of Pearl Jam is here on full display for a handful of onlookers.
“Bu$hleaguer” (April 30, 2003 – Nassau Coliseum – Uniondale, NY)
Here’s a portrait of PJ at their most political.” Not everyone was buying in on this night. Coins were thrown, cries of “Fuck You” echoed from the crowd, many boos mixed with the cheers. In the words of Jeff Ament, “It actually really bummed some of the band out. They were just like, ‘I never want to play that song again.’ I actually fucking dug it. It was art. It’s great to be in a band where you’re not afraid to do that. We’re not afraid to speak our minds and get booed once in a while. It’s alright.” This performance, filled with commitment from Vedder, is another highlight from PJ20. Comments Vedder dryly, as the rare wave of negativity washes over the band: “You didn’t like that one?”
“Better Man” (May 21, 2010 – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY)
An emotional snapshot of what Pearl Jam shows have now become. The band’s battle with Ticketmaster in the 90’s had led them down a rocky path. Those unsponsored and often sound-and-location crippled appearances had take the band into areas where others had rarely performed. Many of those DIY concerts were unsteady production ventures, but the fans never forgot. Today, the group’s audience is made up of the faithful originals as well as those who discovered them in those leaner mid-period years. All claim the band with more than a little personal pride. As Stone Gossard says, “there was a huge element of our fans that just kind of carried use through a period of time when we were not there all the way.” They are now. A PJ show anywhere in the world will often take you to a place like the one captured in this recent recording from Madison Square Garden.
“Rearviewmirror” (Oct. 1, 2009 – Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City, CA)
This is where the entire evening can take a turn, the crossroads where an already potent show becomes transcendent. “Rearviewmirror” consistently appears as an explosive set-closer in the band’s live repertoire, for good reason. The “RVM” jam is one of the best examples of what happens when the band is at the wheel, and the ride is often psychedelic in its intensity. You can hear echoes of all the group’s influences too, from the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” to Led Zeppelin to Fugazi and back again. All the energy, each member’s strengths, all of it is on display in this choice version of “Rearviewmirror.” As one of our favorite fans puts it in PJ20: “That’s why you go see Pearl Jam. It’s different every night.”
Courtesy of Columbia/Sony/Monkeywrench – Cameron Crowe – September, 2011