By Victoria Hunt (KZOK in Seattle) and Brian Ives (Radio.com)
In the early ’90s, music was changing; a new strain of music had DNA that was one part metal, one part punk and one part college rock and a smaller, more hidden part classic rock; this became the commercial behemoth that would—ironically—be titled “alternative.”
In the midst of this movement came Pearl Jam, out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone, who were “the next big thing” until their frontman Andrew Wood died before the release of their debut album, Apple. MLB’s guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament hooked up with Seattle guitarist Mike McCready, and eventually drummer Dave Kreusen and singer Eddie Vedder. Where Wood seemed obsessed with Queen, Vedder’s was more influenced by the Who, Fugazi, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. With Vedder at the helm, Pearl Jam became a band that knew how to be punk and melodic, angry yet sensitive.
The Springsteen influence was important, and wasn’t immediately apparent; but like Bruce, PJ was able to infiltrate the mainstream in a way their peers weren’t. Immediately, people believed in the band, in a way that seemed (and still seems) to border on religious loyalty.
Over the years, they have always managed to stay true to themselves and true to their sound, and to stay relevant to their audience. While the mainstream doesn’t always get excited over a new Pearl Jam album, songs from their latest album, 2013’s Lightning Bolt, are treated as classics in concert. They’ve successfully created their own lane; they barely need the music industry anymore.
Related: Pearl Jam Covers Aerosmith in Boston
Speaking of their concerts: Pearl Jam’s shows are still held at arenas; a quarter century after their debut, they still headline the big rooms. Occasionally, they even hit the stadiums: this summer, they played two nights each at Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Their album tracks hold up to their hits: for every “Jeremy,” “Black,” “Better Man” and “Just Breathe” (a recent classic that has been covered by Willie Nelson) there’s a “Corduroy,” “Rearviewmirror,” “Amongst the Waves” and “Severed Hand.” In fact, some of their biggest hits have been unlikely choices: “Yellow Ledbetter” was originally a b-side, and “Last Kiss” was originally released as a 7″ single to their fan club.
Pearl Jam is still one of the best live bands in the land, and would be a rare Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee to get in (if they get in this year) at the peak of their powers as a live band.