Twenty years of Pearl Jam

For Pearl Jam, it’s been a great 20 years, writes An­drew Fen­ton

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - CONTENTS -

DUR­ING the en­cores at Pearl Jam’s last ma­jor con­cert in front of 40,000 fans at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, front­man Ed­die Ved­der turned to the band to thank them for ‘‘tak­ing a chance on a young kid’’ and invit­ing him join the group more than 20 years ago.

The emo­tional words of grat­i­tude, to guitarists Stone Gos­sard and Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament in Ved­der’s home­town, were heart­felt.

‘‘Yeah how about that,’’ says Gos­sard, sound­ing chuffed.

‘‘We were pretty smart. He’s be­ing too hum­ble there – I think we’re lucky we got a chance to take a chance on him, I’ll tell you that.’’

It was just one high­light in a truly mem­o­rable night. Seven songs into their set, thou­sands of fans had to be evacuated from the field into the stands be­cause of an elec­tri­cal storm and a tor­ren­tial down­pour – a suit­ably ironic way to de­but songs from new al­bum Light­ning Bolt.

Af­ter a two hour de­lay the band fi­nally re­took the stage around mid­night – an hour af­ter the noise cur­few – and played the re­main­der of a blis­ter­ing 32 song set that cul­mi­nated in a 2am ren­di­tion of en­core sta­ple, Rockin’ in the Free World.

‘‘There were prob­a­bly some par­ents with kids asleep in that neigh­bour­hood who were not psyched about it,’’ Gos­sard says. ‘‘But it ended up be­ing a great show and for Ed, it’s his home town and a place he has a lot of feel­ings for.’’

Re­ports back sug­gest Pearl Jam are match fit for their Aus­tralian tour as Big Day Out head­lin­ers (they’ll play a full two-hour con­cert set).

‘‘I don’t know if we were ready (to head­line a fes­ti­val) 10 years ago, but right now the band is play­ing bet­ter than ever be­fore and we’re ex­cited to come down and tear it up,’’ Gos­sard says.

Light­ning Bolt, the band’s tenth al­bum, is the fol­low up to 2009’s well re­ceived Backspacer – their first US chart top­per since 1996.

Record­ing be­gan early last year but the band wasn’t en­tirely happy with the re­sults from those ses­sions.

The al­bum was fin­ished off at LA’s Henson Record­ing Stu­dios ear­lier this year.

In the in­terim: ‘‘Ed did a solo record and tour, I made a Brad record, there were some kids born, there was some time off,’’ he says.

‘‘It was like: ‘We’ve made nine records, we can take a lit­tle bit more time’.’’

While Gos­sard was the main song­writer in the early days, now all of the mem­bers show up with a hand­ful of tracks for long­time pro­ducer Bren­dan O’Brien to ei­ther work his magic on or diplo­mat­i­cally set aside.

McCready ‘‘who hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily writ­ten a lot of songs for the band’’ stepped up his game, pen­ning the first two sin­gles Mind Your Man­ners, which bris­tles with raw punk­ish en­ergy, and the emo­tive and melan­choly Sirens – ‘‘two of the best Pearl Jam songs I think we’ve ever writ­ten’’.

Stylis­ti­cally, those two cuts cover more ground than some bands man­age in en­tire ca­reers.

‘‘That’s what’s fun about be­ing in this band that it’s all OK,’’ Gos­sard says, adding he has al­ways as­pired to the diver­sity of the Led Zep­pelin era.

‘‘That’s when a lot more ex­per­i­men­ta­tion was go­ing on in re­gards to bal­lads and coun­try songs, and songs in­flu­enced by east­ern rhythms,’’ he says.

‘‘When we came out a lot of that stuff was maybe not as OK.’’ Even dur­ing their ’90s peak, Pearl Jam had more in com­mon with clas­sic rock bands, than with the cliches of grunge.

‘‘Grunge was just a con­cept some­body came up with af­ter the mu­sic was al­ready done, so yeah I think we were al­ways a band that was in­flu­enced by hard rock, heavy-metal, punk and folk and those things are al­ways pop­ping up in our mu­sic,’’ he says.

In a per­cep­tive re­view of Backspacer, Al­lMu­sic’s Stephen Thomas Er­lewine’s wrote that the band: ‘‘bat­tled their suc­cess for so long, in­tent on whit­tling their au­di­ence down to the de­vout, that it of­ten felt like a chore (to lis­ten to some records) that’s no longer the case it sounds as if they en­joy be­ing in a band, in­tox­i­cated by the noise they make’’. Gos­sard con­cedes that’s not far from the truth. ‘‘There’s some of that go­ing on,’’ he says. ‘‘We’re more com­fort­able and con­fi­dent that we were 15 years ago about who it is we are, and what we are do­ing some of it is just as a 40-some­thing per­son you look back on your life and go, ‘Wow, I’m lucky to even be alive, I should just en­joy my­self’.’’

And al­though ‘‘all that’s sa­cred comes from youth’’ Gos­sard can see the band play­ing into their 70s. ‘‘I don’t think that could ever be­come tir­ing,’’ he says. ‘‘I could see it evolve. I could see as 70-year-olds we prob­a­bly wouldn’t be run­ning around as much and we’d prob­a­bly kick the tempo back a lit­tle bit I just think that sounds like a blast.’’

Pearl Jam, Ar­cade Fire, Blur, Snoop Lion and more play the Big Day Out, at Met­ri­con Sta­dium, on Janaury 19; Light­ning Bolt is out tomorrow.

Pearl Jam . . . Gold Coast-bound for Big Day Out

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