Pearl Jam hunkers down in Atlanta to play two sold-out shows at the venerable Fox Theatre and track the first session for its third studio album with Brendan O'Brien. The April 2 show includes a live improv-jam dubbed "Out of My Mind," which later appears as the B-side to the "Not for You" single. With Epic Records footing the bill, the April 3 show is offered live on a free, nonexclusive basis to radio stations around the country - three hundred wind up broadcasting it-and is arguably the most memorable of Pearl Jam's career to that point. For many new fans, it's the first show they've ever heard and/or their first bootleg. The twentysix- song set includes the live debut of "Satan's Bed" as well as future staple "Better Man," described by Vedder as "a new song, but it was written a long time ago." After the show, Vedder spins records by Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Daniel Johnston, Eleven, and Shudder to Think during a DJ set that presages the long-form broadcasts Pearl Jam will host in 1995 and 1998.
Jeff Ament: That was sort of the beginning of us thinking about the live bootleg thing. That balance of playing the songs well plus it being this visceral experience that we knew we presented as a rock band, I just remember trying to figure out how to balance it out. How do I play my instrument in a way that comes across good on a radio, on a live tape, and also play a real rock show? We were listening to ourselves differently from that point on. It made us a better band to put us under the microscope like that. It gave us the confidence to put out every show knowing there'd be some mistakes, and we'd be okay with it.
Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain is found dead in his Seattle-area home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Cobain had escaped from Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles on March 31, flown back to Seattle, and holed up in his house before killing himself. During the postshow DJ session on April 3, Vedder pleaded directly to his fellow front man, whose whereabouts at that time were still unknown, "Please be all right."
Ian MacKaye: I have a memory of listening to music, drinking tea, and doing a lot of talking. Eddie was deeply saddened by Kurt's death and, I think, trying to get his mind around the ramifications that would surely follow.
Eddie Vedder: Kurt still resonates in my life. It always comes up around a campfire, or playing music with a few guys in a room or in a garage, for no particular reason. Maybe there's a basement party with just a few people, of which he had known. I always think, He would have liked this. If he stuck around, this would have been a good night for him. But I didn't know him that well. We were going through similar things. And I understand there were certain things that were in the press; certain things that were maybe motivated by the press and other things that I think he was sincere about. I honor whatever he said, because I had the same feeling, and I've had the same feeling since of, like, people kind of copping their trip. Had Nirvana not been the first band to come out of Seattle and have the attention spike so high, I still think that things would have happened
Mike McCready: I was pissed at him for a long time. I didn't know him or anything, but I'd seen Nirvana, and I thought they were great. But then they were talking shit about us all along. Jeff and Stone were always like, "Don't say anything. Just let it go." And they were right on that inclination. That's what the press would love. Kurt was comparing us to Poison, and I took that personally. It's sad that he went out the way he did. It was just like, "Why can't we all be in this together?" because we had this camaraderie with Soundgarden. We all wanted to be successful. We were all ambitious, but we didn't step on each other to get there.
Jeff Ament: Stone has said something to the effect of that when Kurt was judging us, it had an impact on us and how we did things. That might have been true for him, but not me. I had a lot of musical peers at that time; people in my life that I really respected. Kurt wasn't one of them. I didn't even know him. The most disappointing thing to me at the time was that I wanted to be more friendly with him. He came from a fucked-up, homophobic small town, and so did I. I felt like there were things we could relate to with one another. Those handful of times when I went up to him to initiate a conversation, I got nothing back. Then he died, and as far as I was concerned, that was it; a lost chance. Having lost Andy a few years previous, I wanted to reach out to Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic to somehow tell them that it was going to be okay. The first time I saw Krist after that was probably eight or nine months later. I was with my friend Curtis, and we were going snowboarding. Curtis had just gotten a new Ford Explorer, and he wanted to drive me up to Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. The road conditions got superbad out by Monroe. We hit some ice and wound up going backward into a ditch at fifty-five miles an hour. The car rolled over. We were both upside down in his truck, looking at each other, like, "Are you all right?" We walked up to the edge of the road, and the thickest, most beautiful snowflakes were coming down. There was nobody in sight. I looked back at the car, wondering, Are we dead? What the fuck is going on? All the sudden, this truck pulls up, and it was Krist. I was like, "Maybe we are dead!" Krist stayed there with us for a little bit and then drove into town and told the cops that there was a wreck. I think about that a lot, and just how absolutely happenstance it was that he was the first person to find us after what I thought was a near-death experience.
Pearl Jam accepts an invitation to tour the White House and meets personally with President Bill Clinton. Although they discuss Kurt Cobain's death, the conversation turns to basketball, as Clinton's beloved University of Arkansas Razorbacks had just won the NCAA men's championship.
Eddie Vedder: We were there specifically to find out whether some of the US military bases that had recently been shut down could be used as concert sites. It would have been a way to avoid using Ticketmaster, and it would have been a boon to local economics. I was also asked if I felt okay assisting in an official response to Kurt's suicide, but at the time I was too shell-shocked to offer any help.
Jeff Ament: We went with Mudhoney, and somebody came in and said, "You five people go with him"-the five people being us-and, "You eight guys go over here." The Mudhoney guys got the B tour, and we got the A tour. We saw the war room, the Oval Office, and hung out with Clinton. I have a roll of film of that somewhere. It was pretty incredible. We were cracking jokes. I'd just been to the Final Four in Charlotte, North Carolina, which he attended to see Arkansas play. Every single person that went to the game had to go through a metal detector, but there were only four or five of them in the arena, and I gave him shit about having to miss the first five minutes of the game because of it. Then he proceeded to talk about the Secret Service and how hard it was for him to make the adjustment; like, he couldn't drive his Mustang around. We weren't afraid to ask him anything, and he wasn't afraid to talk about anything. He was just one of the guys.
On the second-to-last show of the spring tour, Pearl Jam allows its crew to create the set list, resulting in a fan-favorite performance featuring several new songs ("Immortality," "Not for You," "Better Man"), old favorites in odd places ("Release" as the encore opener, "Even Flow" second in the set), and ultra0rarities ("Dirty Frank," plus a cover of the Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling").
Pearl Jam performs an unheard-of three songs on NBC's Saturday Night Live: the still unreleased "Not for You," "Daughter," and "Rearviewmirror." At the end of "Daughter," Eddie Vedder adds a line from Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," the song from which Kurt Cobain used the line "It's better to burn out than fade away" in his suicide note. As credits roll, Vedder opens his jacket to reveal a large K written just above his heart on his T-shirt, and holds his hand there somberly. Unbeknown to his bandmates, Mike McCready was heavily intoxicated for the live broadcast.
Mike McCready: We ended with "Daughter." I remember talking to Stone the next day, and he asked, "What'd you think of 'Daughter'?" And I thought in my mind, We played "Daughter"? I essentially blacked out on TV. I don't remember it. Those are the things I'm not proud of. It's just what I had to go through. That was a heavy time, for sure; some darkness. But that's how I dealt with it, for better or for worse.
This late addition to the tour itinerary winds up being Pearl Jam's last full live performance for nearly nine months, as well as Dave Abbruzzese's final concert as the band's drummer. The majority of the tickets are given to local fan club members, with the rest being distributed through local radio station giveaways, a procedure that also causes issues with Ticketmaster. The show itself is powerful but also ominous in that nobody really knows what will happen to Pearl Jam afterward. Vedder shows frustration when a female fan screams, "I love you, Eddie!" replying, "You don't love me. You love who you think I am and the image you have created in your mind." Prior to the show, Vedder pours out his emotions in an interview with the British music paper Melody Maker, saying, "This could be our last show in fuckin' forever as far as I'm concerned. Kurt's death has changed everything. I don't know if I can do it anymore. I don't know where we go from here. Maybe nowhere. I think this is going to be the last thing for a long time. I'm just gonna live in a fuckin' cave with my girlfriend. I don't think I'll be showing my face for a while. I don't think I'll be making any fuckin' videos. Maybe we'll eventually do some shows or something. I just don't know."