Dismissed by many as grunge interlopers, they’ve outwritten, out-sold and outlived most of those detractors.
Pearl Jam are grunge’s great survivors. Unlike Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and the other major bands from the Seattle scene’s graduating class of 1991, they’ve never gone away, either permanently or temporarily. And while they’ve endured their share of traumas – not least the deaths of so many friends and contemporaries – they’ve ridden them out.
But then resilience is part of Pearl
Jam’s DNA. They were born in tough circumstances: guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were previously members of Mother Love Bone, whose career had barely got out of the traps when singer Andrew Wood fatally OD’d.
They turned their grief into hope, channelling it into multimillion-selling debut album Ten, only to be disparaged by the gatekeepers of cool as grunge fifth columnists. Much of the scorn was directed at singer Eddie Vedder, the San Diego surf rat seen as an interloper in the insular north-west scene. His rich baritone and heart-on-sleeve sincerity sat at the opposite end of the spectrum to Kurt Cobain’s weaponised irony and punk-rock sneer.
The derision didn’t dent Pearl Jam’s rise – their second album, 1993’s Vs., sold nearly a million copies in its first week. But Vedder in particular hated their success. The band pushed back hard against it, refusing to make videos or be interviewed.
By late 90s the insanity was starting to fade and things had reverted to something approaching normality. Their record sales were a fraction of what they once were – 1998’s Yield sold a million copies compared, to Ten’s eventual 13 million
– and you suspect no one was happier about that than Pearl Jam.
There were still hard times to endure, not least the tragedy of nine fans who were crushed to death during the band’s set at Denmark’s Roskilde festival in 2000. But for the most part their troubles were largely behind them.
Since the turn of the millennium, Pearl Jam have existed outside the mainstream music industry. These days much of the band’s potency comes from their devotional live shows rather than from the commercial impact of their albums, repositioning them as a kind of Gen-X Grateful Dead (they were one of the first bands to make recordings of their gigs available to fans as ‘official bootlegs’). But it underlines that Pearl Jam in 2018 are much the same as Pearl Jam in 1991: a band of the people, for the people. Dave Everley
Pearl Jam: a band of thepeople, for the people.