I first saw Pearl Jam live in 1992. It was a free show at a small theater at Milwaukee's Marquette University. Out of the 1,000+ shows I have witnessed, the tempestuous energy of the night made it one of the best.
Pearl Jam's live performances have tamed somewhat since then, and Eddie Vedder no longer climbs to the top of any light standard or speaker stack he can find, but they are far from relics of a bygone grunge era.
It's completely absurd to assert that one of the last true headliner-worthy arena acts with a moral compass should call it quits any time soon. Are you kidding me?! You should see them live whenever they roll through your town.
Why Pearl Jam Should Call It Quits
In an era steeped in overwrought nostalgia and mundane reunion cash-grabs, Pearl Jam represent a band who fought their own way through the unsteady evolution of the music industry, while following their own specific set of rules.
Nirvana is held up as the saintly standard-bearer for the grunge movement of the '90s, but Pearl Jam also dealt with a similarly overwhelming level of fame that dwarfed their contemporaries of that era.
Rather than imploding or giving in to the trappings of celebrity, the band persevered with their dignity -- and most of their original lineup -- intact. This is a thriving, formidable band that fought hard against the pressures to do what MTV and Ticketmaster wanted them to do, and held together after that hellish tragedy of Roskilde in 2000.
Pearl Jam realized early on that trying to win over new fans with each record wouldn't lead to longevity. After selling a million copies of Vs. in the first week of release, the demand was established. Instead, they cater to die-hard fans by maintaining the Ten Club since their early days, giving members access to the best tickets, soundboard bootlegs, and other keepsakes.
Each year, the band releases a Christmas vinyl single -- which fan club members joke has now become the Easter single due to frequent delays -- that features unreleased studio and live recordings. The community built around their music is filled with lasting friendships that are rekindled each time you see a familiar face in the Ten Club seats.
Sure, there are some faults in Pearl Jam's recent studio releases. Binaural from 2000 is the last wholly satisfying album they released, while 1998's Yield is their last truly great record. But the group can still churn out a good radio-ready scorcher or reflective ballad with the best of 'em.
Diminishing returns in the studio would be the death knell of most bands, but Pearl Jam's legendary live show continues to draw in a dedicated audience who perhaps haven't bought one of their records since the '90s. This isn't a group that gets dusted off every few years in order to deliver the same set of songs to the same set of fans. The setlists tell a very different story.
Pearl Jam's live shows are a communal experience, with the songs meaning just as much to the fans as they do to the band. Vedder admits that their fans have turned a song like "Alive," which began as a desolate curse from an abandoned son, into a unifying anthem of survival that remains one of the uplifting high-points of any PJ show.
Pearl Jam will most assuredly be nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they first become eligible in 2016, 25 years after the release of their celebrated debut, Ten. Unlike plenty of bands who receive that honor, you can bet they'll be still around to play that ceremony.
Long may you run, Pearl Jam. Long may you run.
Just in case you'd like to see what I saw in this band back in '92, here's their set:
Pearl Jam. $69.50, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 19, at Xcel Energy Center. Tickets.
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