Pearl Jam celebrates 20 years of music making this month with the 1-2-3 punch of Cameron Crowe's Sept. 20
March Pearl Jam announces its intention to keep ticket prices for its upcoming summer tour below $20. In doing so, the band challenges what it feels are unjust service fees being charged by Ticketmaster, the dominant ticketing agency in the country.
March 6-7 Paramount Theater, Denver
Pearl Jam begins the second leg of its North American touring in support of Vs. and debuts two brand-new songs: the rip-roaring punk rocker "Spin the Black Circle" and a three-chord screed on the commodification of the band's music, "Not for You."
April 2-3 Fox Theatre, Atlanta
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.
April 8 Patriot Center, Fairfax, Virginia
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."
That night, the stunned members of Pearl Jam play a tense, emotional, but rarely somber show. "Sometimes, whether you like it or not, people elevate you . . . and it's very easy to fall," Vedder tells the crowd. "I don't think any of us would be in this room if it weren't for Kurt Cobain." Having destroyed his hotel room earlier in the day upon learning about Cobain's death, Vedder accepts Fugazi singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye's offer to spend the night at the famed Dischord Records house in Arlington, Virginia.
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 up here, but not quite the way they did. I always admired and respected him and felt a kinship. I would hear there were some competitive feelings there, and I kind of thought that was good.
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. April 9
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.
April 10-11 Boston Garden, Boston
At the first show since Kurt Cobain's suicide, Eddie Vedder tells the crowd that Pearl Jam is still feeling the effects of the news. "I've gotta admit, we've got a lot on our minds. It is tough to play. I personally felt we shouldn't play at all. It is really very odd-it's just like that empty feeling." During the second show, "Immortality" is played for the first time, with very different lyrics than what would wind up on the version from Vitalogy. Vedder smashes a hole in the stage with his mike stand during the show-closing "Rockin' in the Free World" and disappears into it as the song ends.
April 12 Orpheum Theater, Boston
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.
April 17 Paramount Theater, New York
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."
Unable to find suitable venues to perform in that do not have exclusive contracts with Ticketmaster, and frustrated that the company would not agree to limit its service charge to 10 percent of the face value of each ticket, Pearl Jam cancels its summer tour, with manager Kelly Curtis telling Billboard that "the band's committed not to tour until they find an alternative" to what it perceives as Ticketmaster's unfair service fees.
Representatives from the US Justice Department approach the band about filing a memo with the department's antitrust division, which Pearl Jam agrees to do. In it, the band asserts that Ticketmaster, through its extensive, exclusive contracts with major concert venues, controls a monopoly over the marketplace, and that the company has pressured promoters not to handle Pearl Jam shows. On May 31 a Justice Department spokeswoman tells Billboard that the antitrust division is looking into "the possibility of anticompetitive practices in the ticketing industry," thereby launching an investigation. Stone Gossard: Because of our dispute with Ticketmaster and feeling, really, that the only way we could tour was to sort of go outside and try to do it on our own, and given the amount of time we had and our feelings about security and whether we could actually put on a safe show consistently, we just felt that it wasn't appropriate, and we should deal with this issue first and focus on recording music.
June 30 Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament testify in Washington, DC, before the Information, Justice, Transportation, and Agriculture Subcommittee at congressional hearings regarding possible antitrust action against Ticketmaster. The crux of Gossard's and Ament's testimony is that because Ticketmaster has exclusive contracts with nearly every major concert venue in the United States, bands have no meaningful alternative to distribute their tickets, giving Ticketmaster the power to exercise excessive control over things such as service fees.
Stone Gossard: "Our interest is really quite narrow. We simply have a different philosophy than Ticketmaster about how and at what prices tickets to our concerts should be sold. We can't insist that Ticketmaster do business on our terms, but we do believe we should have the freedom to go elsewhere if Ticketmaster is not prepared to negotiate terms that are acceptable to us."
Although several congressmen seem genuinely interested in conversing with the musicians on the topic, others ask absurd questions ("What does Pearl Jam mean?") or interject that they've been practicing Pearl Jam songs on guitar. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey even tells Gossard and Ament, "You're just darling guys." At one point, an exasperated Ament excuses himself to go to the bathroom.
Kelly Curtis: The biggest misconception was that we sued Ticketmaster or that we came to the Justice Department, but none of that happened. We bitched about Ticketmaster because at the time, our tickets were twenty-five or thirty dollars, and Ticketmaster was charging ten or twelve in service charges. We didn't understand that. Our big complaint was, at least separate the prices, so people know what we're charging for tickets. Ticketmaster was superpowerful, and I think they thought of us as snottynosed brats. If we were so stupid as to charge so little for our tickets, then they would take the money. How the Justice Department got involved was, I think, due to the publicity that was being generated by our boycott and what we'd said. Doing the congressional hearings-and I'm sure Stone and Jeff feel the same way-was just a joke. I remember thinking afterward that it was a humongous waste of time and just posturing.
Stone Gossard: Anytime you're invited to testify, you have no idea where the energy is coming from to make that happen. You can think, "Oh yeah, they really want to hear our testimony about this particular thing," but there's a lot of manipulation going on at that level. When you're on that big of a stage, it's not in your control. You're sort of playing a part to some kind of larger drama, and I think that's what we walked away knowing. Mike McCready: We had a lot of bands saying, "We're with you, Pearl Jam." And they all bailed, every one of them. A lot of big-name bands bailed on us. We were out there twisting in the wind by ourselves. I think that maybe that showed some integrity, and people thought, "Okay, they're really doing this for the right reasons. They're trying to keep the prices low."
Eddie Vedder: The guys went to the Holocaust Museum after they testified, and it was a free ticket. However, you had to reserve them. So on a free ticket to the Holocaust Museum, there was a three-dollar service charge from Ticketmaster. Just the idea that they were getting a service charge for a free ticket at the Holocaust Museum, I think that's a pretty symbolic story about who we were up against.
Dave Abbruzzese is fired from Pearl Jam after a breakfast meeting with Stone Gossard.
Stone Gossard: Dave Abbruzzese is a gentleman. He is a nice guy and a fantastic drummer, and he added a lot to the band. But he was one individual in a situation where five people had to work it out. There comes times when if a personality conflict is not resolved, sometimes you have to make changes. He was in a situation where the band felt they had to make a change, and I helped facilitate that, because I'm part of the whole. It was a missed opportunity for him, for sure, in terms of not figuring out a way to identify that there was a problem and to move through it; to put yourself in a position where you're not being kicked out. I think anyone who listens to those records realizes he is a great drummer. It wasn't his drumming that was the problem. The problem was that he needed to fit in with a group of five very different, strong personalities and do it in a way that worked with those five personalities. I'm sorry that it didn't work out. I wish that it had.
Mike McCready: Dave Abbruzzese was integral in getting us to the level where we were at because he was a really good drummer, and we were out there touring with him. I can't say that he wasn't an integral part of us kind of being huge. He fit in at first, and I got along with him. But I think Dave and Ed never really got along.
Brendan O'Brien: I remember the very last day I saw Dave. He was at the studio in Atlanta, and we were taking a break from Vitalogy. Eddie was having a hard time figuring out how to get his guitar sound going. I knew he was a big Pete Townshend fan, so I went and found him a beautiful gold-top '69 Les Paul. He came to the studio on one of the last nights we were there, and I said, "Hey, I got you something." He didn't know what to say. He really was about to cry. He and I at that time did not have a great relationship, but this was a really nice moment between us.
The next day, I see engineer Nick DiDia shaking his head. He goes, "Dude, you have to figure something out." Dave was running around because he had to leave early to do something. He says to me, "I knocked this guitar over. I'll pay to have it fixed." He'd knocked the headstock off. It was a complete and total accident. I remember saying, "Maybe you should hang around and talk to Eddie about it." But he's like, "I've gotta go." Eddie came later, and I showed him the guitar. The look on his face was one of such contempt. I'll never forget it. I felt so bad. Right after that, Kurt died. We were supposed to get back together and finish, but we took a long break. They didn't tour. Everyone was thrown for a loop. During that time, Dave was fired. I don't know that Eddie can ever really look at that guitar the same way. I had it repaired for him beautifully, but it was sort of a metaphor for their relationship. And that was not lost on Nick and I.
Rumors begin circulating on Usenet and the Pearl Jam forum on America Online that Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl has agreed to replace Dave Abbruzzese in Pearl Jam.
Dave Grohl: I never talked to anybody in the band about playing drums for them. They never asked, and it was never even a question or an issue. Just after Dave was kicked out, I was in New York, and I was walking down the street with my girl. Some guy walks up and goes, "Hey, Dave. Will you sign my drumhead?" So I signed it, and it had Dave Abbruzzese's signature on it. I said, "Oh, you've got Dave from Pearl Jam." And he goes, "Yeah, he's right up the street doing an in-store." So I said to my girl, "Let's go say hi." I didn't know that there were rumors going around that I'd joined Pearl Jam. So I walk into this drum shop, and he's there signing shit. There's a line of people, and I walk past, and not really anybody recognizes me, and I'm like, "Hey, Dave. What's up?" And he looks at me like he'd seen a fucking ghost. He said, "Hey, is it true that the guys asked you to play drums for them?" And I'm like, "No! Why? Fuck no!" It was the weirdest timing.
October 1-2 Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, California
Although no formal announcement is made that he's officially joined the band, former Red Hot Chili Peppers/Eleven drummer Jack Irons makes his first public appearance with Pearl Jam, playing during the band's second performance at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit. On night one, the band plays "Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)" from the 1991 fan club single for the only time to date. "Bee Girl," a song that Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament had performed live on the air during their 1993 Rockline interview, is played for the first time the next night. Pearl Jam also offers stripped-down renditions of "Corduroy," "Not for You," and "Immortality" from the soon-to-be released Vitalogy album, and joins Young both nights to cover the song "Piece of Crap" from his then new album Sleeps with Angels.
Neil Young: We were making up verses on the spot. Eddie had some that were really great. That version of that song, there was something going on that I really enjoyed. It showed me what the possibilities were.
November 22 Pearl Jam's third studio album, Vitalogy, is issued on vinyl by Epic two weeks ahead of its CD release. The following week, the album debuts at no. 55 on the Billboard 200 after shifting thirty-five thousand copies, making it the first vinyl album to chart on sales in that format alone in more than a decade.
Michele Anthony: At that point in time, CD was all the rage, and most companies were not putting out vinyl on any releases. But it was very important to the band that the albums came out on vinyl. Pearl Jam was one of the first bands we made vinyl for in the nineties.
December Jack Irons is officially hired as Pearl Jam's new drummer.
Jack Irons: Pearl Jam had many phases of drummers. Each of those times, I was in the mix with the conversation and had conversations with them. It was definitely an opportunity they made available to me on a few occasions. But they were taking off so fast and they were so big that I was scared of committing my life to it. I didn't fare too well in the Red Hot Chili Peppers after really intense touring. In '94, I had moved out of L.A. My longtime band Eleven had just finished a tour with Soundgarden. My son was three or four, and my wife and I had made a pact to get out of L.A. by the time he was of school age. I saved just enough money to get this cabin in Northern California. My wife moved us up there while Eleven was on tour with Soundgarden. I was there in June, July, and August. Then I heard Pearl Jam fired Dave, and I told my wife that maybe the time was right, and maybe those guys won't be touring like they did two years ago. So I reached out to Eddie and told him I'd like to get in the mix and give it a try. The difference in '94 was that I wasn't the only choice anymore. They were definitely going to have auditions, and each guy had a guy in mind they wanted to work with. But it helped me that I was Eddie's guy. When it got to the point where it looked like I was the most likely guy to get the gig, I spent a bunch of time with Stone. We rehearsed in his basement studio. We never really confirmed that I was totally in the band. I went and did the Bridge School shows, but I didn't really feel confirmed until we started touring a few months later.
Mike McCready: We tried out Richard Stuverud, Jack Irons, and Josh Freese. I wish we could've tried out Chris Friel, but we just didn't do it. We had great jams with them. With Richard, I remember having a fantastic jam in Stone's basement. I think Ed felt like Jack was the guy that kind of made it all happen, you know? Jack gave the tape that he got from Stone to Ed, so Ed wanted to repay that favor. Ed wanted that to happen, so it did, and we all liked him. He's a killer drummer.
December 6 Vitalogy is released on CD. The following week, it leaps to number one on the Billboard 200 after selling more than 877,000 copies in the United States, the second-largest opening-week sum only behind Vs., which sold a then record of more than 950,000. Vitalogy spends five consecutive weeks atop the chart.