Cameron Crowe delivers the ultimate Pearl Jam mix tape
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Ever the storyteller, director and longtime champion of rock and roll Cameron Crowe willingly took on the task to share the tale of Pearl Jam, a band who has outlived (literally and figuratively) its peers and vaulted itself into a plane just short of phenomenon, touring to rapturous crowds and enjoying consistently healthy record sales.
But the story of the band isn’t really in the popularity, it’s in the music that spurred it. By all reports, that’s where the focus of his documentary Pearl Jam Twenty lies, and its accompanying soundtrack further expounds on the narrative.
In an instant-gratification culture, this soundtrack, spread over two discs and covering all the dips and turns in the band’s career, delivers quickly. But there’s also a slow burn, an element of revelation as the songs reveal themselves.
The opening track, a live take on “Release” from 2006, offers both. The sudden and obvious brilliance of the performance is revealed right away. The passion present in Pearl Jam’s best music is there, as is the enthusiasm and a sense of taste. But let this version sink in over a few days. Eddie Vedder’s voice, though breaking at times and skipping registers towards the end, reveals little quirks that keep appearing. I imagine there are more surprises in store, too.
Some of these tracks have circulated in trading circles for years. “Why Go,” for example, sounds much like the muffled 1992 bootleg that has sat in my personal collection of CDRs for close to a decade. But offered within the context of the story, of the surrounding music, it bursts through the first disc with the power and emotion built up through the first three songs, the sound of Vedder getting his feet under him, learning to harness and control the power of this still-new band.
And it doesn’t stop. “Do the Evolution” brought back memories of taping the Monkeywrench Radio broadcast from my bedroom in 1998, and here as it was then, the raw energy of a dangerous new song is palpable. “Nothing as it Seems” turns from a haunting home demo by bassist Jeff Ament into an epic live anthem in just two tracks. The seeds of the band are sewn on the demos that begin side two. The relationship with the fans is evident on “Indifference” and “Better Man.”
Every hardcore fan, and even some just a year or two into the band, has tried to make their own version of this collection. Blessed with source material, an understanding of music and a love of the band, Crowe has assembled the ultimate version, a document that will live on its own for years, one that fans will continually reach for in their cars, on the bus, at home.
Nearly every aspect of this band that collectors and diehards love is covered here. A fan of the band’s earliest shows? Their later romps as a tight, fine-tuned unit? They’re both represented here. What about their unplugged appearance? Their killer 1995 Vitalogy tour? Monkeywrench radio? Bridge School benefits? Saturday Night Live? Demos? Outtakes? Soundchecks? On down the line, they’re all present and accounted for.
Where most fans (the author included) mess up in assembling their own tape and CD compilations is in length. Searching around will reveal several fan-made collections eight, 10 discs long. I could never get my ultimate package under three CDs. Crowe has done it in two. While there are favorites that might not be present, what he has created is an album that feels whole, where the absence of those personal gems aren’t even noticed.
If Crowe’s film, by his own admission, is his love letter to the band, then this two-disc set is a gift to the fans. In pulling this together, Crowe has given fans the ultimate Pearl Jam mixtape, one they can reach back for repeatedly, or hand to a new fan for initiation.
It’s no small feat. But it’s no wonder that a true music fan pulled it off.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org