Special Feature: Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam hasn't played live in nearly five months, and it's been just shy of a year since their sixth Epic album, "Binaural," hit stores. There are no plans to record again until 2002. But this is

Pearl Jam hasn't played live in nearly five months, and it's been just shy of a year since their sixth Epic album, "Binaural," hit stores. There are no plans to record again until 2002. But this is no ordinary quiet offseason for the veteran Seattle rock outfit. Instead, Pearl Jam is gracing its fans with an unprecedented array of new releases.

By month's end, the band will have issued an astonishing 72 double-disc live albums via Epic, the third installment of which hit retail earlier this week. Then there's its first-ever concert video, "Touring Band 2000," due on DVD/VHS April 10. It all chronicles what band members say was one of the most emotionally trying years in Pearl Jam's history. The band even considered splitting after nine fans were crushed to death during its set at the Roskilde Festival near Copenhagen last July.

But Pearl Jam pulled together and pressed on, and the North American tour that followed was an unqualified success. It's from these shows that "Touring Band 2000," which will be available to members of the band's fan organization, the Ten Club, on Tuesday (April 3), was assembled.

The film sports 28 songs drawn from 19 different concerts. The footage was shot on digital cameras by crew members Liz Burns, Steve Gordon, and Kevin Shuss, and was combined with soundboard recordings made by engineer Brett Eliason. An hour-long edit of the video will air April 14 on VH1, while still another edit is set to run starting in July on PBS. Screenings in theaters with digital projection are set for New York (April 5) and Seattle (April 9).

The latest round of bootlegs, which includes the band's 10th anniversary show in Las Vegas and the three-disc tour closer in Seattle, looks set to challenge Pearl Jam's own record of seven simultaneous chart debuts, set earlier this month by the first North American installment of shows.

In an exclusive interview with Billboard, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament reflected on the year that was, and looked ahead to what other surprises the band may have in store.




2000 was quite a year for Pearl Jam, with extreme highs and lows. What made the band decide to document this tour they way they have?

Jeff Ament: Well, I think before everything kind of went down in Roskilde, I think we felt like we were playing better than we'd ever played. Two or three weeks into the European tour, we were just really excited about being a band. I think once we got back going in the States, I think we kind of continued to feel the same way. I think everything that happened at Roskilde too joined us in a new way, you know? We were feeling really good about what we were doing and how we were playing. I think that was a lot of why we felt right about putting this stuff out. And also, we've been trying to do something like this for six or seven years; doing the bootlegs, and putting a live video out. But we've just never been that excited about what we saw or what we heard.

Why is the climate right to release these things now? Does it have anything to do with lower production costs, or the increased distribution channels within the Ten Club?

JA: Yeah. I think that has a lot to do with it. Over the last two years, the Ten Club has become a whole different organization. It's a pretty amazing way to distribute just about anything, whether it's information or something that has artwork on it, or music. I mean, I think that the climate is more right just because we finally got it together to get something out that we felt good about. And um, I think that's probably the main.. and also the people that worked on it. Up until this point, in terms of video stuff, Kevin Shuss was kind of the only guy shooting stuff. Maybe he might pull someone else in from the crew or something who would help him out once in a while. But over the last year we had Liz [Burns] and Steve [Gordon] and Kevin all doing the video. We had guest video people come in and do stuff. [Soundman] Brett [Eliason] really had the sound together, which was a big, big part of it. On past things, we hadn't really been as excited about the sound. And that's more than half of it for us, because it's still music.

Do you mean in terms of [the 1998 live album] "Live On Two Legs" or something like that?

JA: Well, no, just trying to do videos in the past. Or even filming. Man, it just didn't sound great.

How involved in was the band the DVD assembly process? Did you guys shoot anything?

JA: Um, I think [lead singer] Ed [Vedder] shot some stuff but I don't know if any of it wound up on the DVD. Ed and [guitarist] Stone [Gossard] were particularly hands-on with the setlist. I'm actually super excited about it. There's some stuff on it that I didn't think.. stuff we didn't really play as much as other stuff that actually wound up on it.

Do you have any favorite moments? What about the outdoor show in Milwaukee in October [it was 28 degrees at show time]?

JA: Jesus. That was one of the strangest shows I think we've ever played. We had little heaters on stage, so in between songs we could warm our hands up. But usually about a minute and a half into a song, your hands went completely numb, so.. But the crowd was so into it, and it was kind of like, you know what, [laughs] they're all here ready to make it happen, so we need to make it happen. It really did feel like a Packers game or something, or how you'd imagine a Packers game to be.

Were there any other standout moments for you?

JA: You know, I think it's the version of "Given To Fly" where there's a woman using sign language. That was a pretty beautiful moment. I think the "Rockin' In The Free World" in Albuquerque, a nine- or 10-year-old kid came up on stage. And he gets totally into it.

What was the thinking behind tagging certain shows with the "ape man" logo?

JA: For each leg, we sat down and picked six shows purely from memory that we felt were really exciting. Those have a little asterisk. I think maybe a couple we had questions about, if somebody said, 'I think Paris was an amazing show.' And someone else would say, 'Well, I don't think it sounded that great.' And we'd go back and listen to some sections.

Describe that second night in Katowice, Poland [6/16/00]. It's one of the most unusual setlists Pearl Jam has played in years.

JA: We came out with a setlist, and the setlist was definitely a lot different than anything we'd done on the tour. Pretty much right at the beginning, we just said, 'let's relax and do whatever comes to mind.' That was a musical highlight for me live, just taking all the pressure off of being an entertainer, and just going up and playing songs like you're in your living room. Doing it in much more of a relaxed way. We just played some songs.

Well, it opens so mellow with "Release," "Of The Girl," "Sleight Of Hand," and "Thin Air."

JA: Right. Well, we've always talked about getting those kinds of songs, and going out and playing theaters; doing shows that were much more down. Maybe even partly acoustic. I'm sure at some point we'll do something like that.

Would you like to see these projects become regular documents to future tours?

JA: Um, you know, I think we'll probably kind of see how all this goes. I think in a year from now we'll be able to assess better if it was successful in our minds in terms of, do we feel like it was good, are people still psyched about it. I think at that point we can make a better decision on how we'll do things in the future. It's pretty cool. I mean, if you can put something out for a reasonable price, and keep the costs down on the production end of it, and have Liz, Steve, Kevin, and Brett be excited about doing it, then I think we'll probably continue to do more stuff like that. As long as we can change it up a little bit, and make it different.

What about releasing older archived shows on audio or video? Has the band discussed that?

JA: Yeah. I think if we could bump up the sound, or anything Brett could do to mix it a little bit better. I know when we went to Southeast Asia [in 1995], we have a ton of footage of that trip. About half of the stuff we had put together wound up being pretty cool. I think if you mix that in with maybe another European trip, you know, or maybe even some much older stuff, it would probably be pretty cool. I know there's old footage of maybe the second or third show, and Temple Of The Dog, and some of that kind of stuff.

Are you surprised at the commercial success of the bootlegs, in light of the fact that they were intended mainly for hardcore fans?

JA: Yeah. When they were talking about how many of each one they were going to press, I thought it was ridiculous. I think initially I thought it would be much better to put out a smaller number of them. I think we were shocked that Sony even was at all into taking this on, which is.. hats off to them for wanting to do it. I thought initially they'd turn it down and we'd just put it out through the fan club -- a couple thousand of each or something like that. But yeah, I think the whole thing has been surprising. I think that was the exciting thing. There was an element of just taking a rock'n'roll chance, and putting out 70-some live records. I remember when we first talked about it, we were all kind of laughing: 'that would kind of fuck everything up.' Everyone would have a comment about it for sure. So, I think from that end it felt good to just kind of fuck with the system a little bit, and do something a little bit differently. The main thing we haggled about was trying to keep the price down. Keep it bare bones and just let it be what it is: a live recording.

What are your thoughts on how receptive the Pearl Jam fanbase has been to all of this? It must be very important, even more so the longer the band stays at it.

JA: It's insane. I think as time goes on, I continue to be more and more blown away by how many people end up at our shows, and how many times you see the same faces at shows. You know, I think we're in an incredibly unique situation. And I've been fans of bands before where if you met them, or went to see them more than once or twice, somehow you were let down, you know? It almost seemed like maybe they didn't care. I think that stuff, when I was younger, 15 or 20 years ago, I think that stuff stuck with me. I think everybody has felt that before. It's one of those situations where I was like, 'man, if I was ever in a band, I would never just give up on a show, or never talk to a fan that way.' I feel like in a lot of ways I can relate to the fans, just being a fan of music myself. If I'm really into a band, I'll collect all the imports and do the same thing.

Can you talk about the evolution of Pearl Jam as a live band? Nowadays, the shows are much longer, and there are many more songs moving in and out of rotation.

JA: Yeah, I mean, there are some songs that have just naturally fallen away. Occasionally, whether it was something like "Breath," or "Garden" ... "Garden" was definitely something that I was really excited about, because I felt there was a way to rework it. We played it both ways: kind of down and a little more ambient, and we played it the old way a couple of times. Some of those songs we've played so many times that it is just naturally hard to get as excited as a new song. If anybody has any ideas in terms making a song a little different, making the dynamics different, taking a part out, or rearranging it, I think that's probably the main way you'll see some of the way older stuff. Probably by us doing something different to it. Or sometimes just giving it a break; not playing it for a tour. By the time the next tour comes along it's kind of exciting to play again.

Would you place a song like "In My Tree" in that category?

JA: Yeah, yeah. We definitely played it a few times. That was the thing, too. On "No Code," there are three or four songs that were such [former drummer] Jack [Irons] grooves, you know; grooves Jack worked really hard on developing. I think [current drummer] Matt [Cameron] for a long time was like, 'you know, it's too much of a Jack groove. I just don't feel like I can play it the way Jack played it.' It got to a point where we were like, 'just play it how you would play it' (laughs). I know we had some trouble playing that song live even back when "No Code" came out, and I think we finally realized that playing it a little bit more uptempo made it more exciting for us.

Did Ed play guitar on it during the first live go-arounds?

JA: I think initially he tried to, because there are like three or four different guitar parts on that. It might have been even that playing the guitar part and singing at the same time was a little bit harder than it is now.
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