Every year there are a few acts that dominate the festival scene, showing up atop lineups across the globe. This year one of those acts is American rock legends Pearl Jam.
While the group are undoubtedly one of the biggest bands in the world, it seems to me whenever they're announced on a bill, people react with tacit acknowledgement before focussing on other names, not realising the magnitude of a Pearl Jam tour.
I'd say a lot of the festival-going public could use a little refresher on the grunge pioneers. So to help everyone out, I reached out to super fan Jamie Feltham to get the low down on what you need to know before catching Pearl Jam at Mad Cool and NOS Alive this weekend.
Here's what he had to say.
I know they play rock music, but that doesn’t really narrow it down. How would you describe their sound?
They're hard to pin down. Pearl Jam are best known for their earlier, heavier sound. Their first album, Ten, has a very airy tone to it, but it becomes much more raw with Vs and Vitalogy. Songs like Blood could be described as full on grunge, while slower ballads have English mod influences and more.
As their albums progress, they get much more experimental, until towards the last three or so wear their punk rock and classic rock inspirations on their sleeves.
Where did they come from and what scene did they grow out of?
They're largely known as one of the defining bands on the grunge era (even if they hate the term), though there's a little more to it than that. Two of the band's founding members, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, were in a Seattle band named Mother Love Bone, whose lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose. A short time after this, the pair joined a new band started by guitarist Mike McCready.
Singer Eddie Vedder sent an audition tape from San Diego and moved to Seattle to join the band with Dave Krusen as the original drummer. As part of the grunge scene, they shared a close relationship with bands like Mudhoney and Alice in Chains.
In fact, their first record was actually as an entirely different band named Temple of the Dog, which was created as a tribute to Andrew Wood and spearheaded by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell (who also sang on every track).
I assume there are more people in the band than Eddie Vedder. Who are they?
Yup, Pearl Jam is way more than a one-man band. Rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard wrote most of the earlier songs. The impossible-sounding guitar solos are handled by Mike McCready and bass is Jeff Ament.
They've been through a lot of drummers, but the current and longest-running drummer is Matt Cameron, who also played drums for Soundgarden and even managed to play in both bands for a time. Boom Gasper joined the band in 2002 to play keyboard and organ.
If I haven’t heard any of their songs and have no attention span, what’s the track I should start with?
Alive is probably their most instantly recognisable song, though personally I'd go for Do The Evolution.
If I have a little more time, what album should I start with?
Ten is lined with their best-known hits, so it's the perfect introduction.
What are their top 3 albums?
Hard one! People might call me crazy but I'd say Ten is nudged out by the three albums that followed it: Vs, Vitalogy and No Code.
Does Eddie Vedder sing like the 90s or do the 90s sing like Eddie Vedder?
Everyone wanted to sound like Eddie after Ten. He has endless imitators but I'm (pretty) sure he was the original. Definitely not the guy from Creed.
Is their live show a jump up and down or a stand and contemplate life type of thing?
It depends on where you're seeing them. In Europe and South America there's definitely a lot of jumping, but in the US it's all about singing your heart out.
If I want to sing along with the crowd, what songs should I learn the lyrics to?
Those would definitely have to be Better Man (a crowd favourite), Alive, Nothingman, and Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.
Do they stick to a regular setlist or do they mix it up?
This is one of the things PJ is best known for; they never play the same show twice. Two nights at the same venue can be entirely different, with songs ranging across all their albums as well as hidden gems and covers. Plus they can play anywhere between 25-35 songs in a single show (don't leave after the first encore).
Didn’t they have a beef with Nirvana?
Yeah, if you were a 90's grunge kid you kind of had to pick a side, even if either band didn't really have much of a say in the rivalry. Since those days though Pearl Jam have played with Dave Grohl and Eddie has often spoke fondly of his few interactions with Kurt.
And Ticketmaster too?
That one was a little more legitimate. Pearl Jam took issue with the share of money Ticketmaster would take from sales, meaning higher overall cost of tickets for fans. They boycotted the platform and went on tour without their help in the 90's. These days, though, they're back on Ticketmaster.
What’s a piece of trivia about the band that I can impress my friends with?
The band was originally called Mookie Blaylock, after a professional basketball player, but were forced to change it. Instead they named their first album after Mookie's jersey number, ten.
Find all the festivals Pearl Jam are playing this year here
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