Pearl Jam’s roots in the Seattle scene go deep: In the mid-’80s, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were members of the seminal Seattle band Green River, which split in 1987. Half the band formed Mudhoney, while Gossard and Ament joined singer Andrew Wood in Mother Love Bone. One of the earliest Seattle bands to sign with a major label, Mother Love Bone seemed on the verge of breaking big when Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990. Mercury Records wanted Gossard and Ament (with Bruce Fairweather on guitar and drummer Greg Gilmore) to checklist with a clean singer, but the band declined. (Gossard, Ament, McCready and Vedder, along with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron, recorded Temple of the Dog [Number Five, 1992], a memorial to Wood, in 1990.)
Gossard and Ament, along with Seattle veteran Mike McCready, started work on a demo tape in late 1990. They asked former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons to join, giving him a copy of the tape. Irons was involved with his own band but passed the demo on to a singer he knew in San Diego, Eddie Vedder. Vedder immediately wrote lyrics to the songs and mailed back a tape that included his vocals; he was invited up to Seattle.
With the addition of drummer Dave Krusen, the new band was entire. They called themselves Mookie Blaylock, for the basketball player, but changed the name to Pearl Jam, after a psychedelic confection made by Vedder’s halfâ€“Native American amazing-grandmother, Pearl. (The band did not forget Blaylock: Their debut album, Ten [Number Two, 1992], was named for his uniform number.) On the strength of its Mother Love Bone connections and a growing national interest in the Seattle scene, Pearl Jam was signed by Epic Records in early 1991. Krusen left the band after the sessions for Ten; he was replaced by Matt Chamberlain on tour, with Dave Abbruzzese filling the drum chair in the fall of 1991.
The band toured extensively, headlining small halls and opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young and U2. They headlined the 1992 Lollapalooza Tour and opened for Keith Richards on New Year’s Eve 1992. Vedder, Gossard and Ament took time out to play Matt Dillon’s backing band, Citizen Dick, in the 1992 Seattle-based movie Singles.
Although Pearl Jam was originally marketed as an “alternative” band, their connection to classic rock of the ’60s and ’70s soon became apparent. Vedder filled in for Jim Morrison at the Doors reunion for the 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies; he also took part in concerts honoring Bob Dylan and Pete Townshend. The band backed Neil Young on “Rockin’ in the Free World” at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.
It was apparent, though, that Vedder was having trouble coping with the demands of stardom: He would show up for photo sessions wearing a mask, and he was surly and uncommunicative in interviews. There were reports that he performed drunk, and in 1993 he was arrested in New Orleans for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace after a barroom brawl. None of this detracted from the band’s popularity â€” Vs. (Number One, 1993), its second album, sold a record-setting 1.3 million copies in its first 13 days of release.
Pearl Jam then canceled a summer tour when, in a public dispute over service charges against Ticketmaster, they couldn’t keep admission prices as low as they wanted; band members also testified against Ticketmaster before Congress. That fight ultimately ended in retreat for Pearl Jam. The band did not make any videos to promote Vs. Instead, it went back into the studio and recorded its third album, Vitalogy. The vinyl version was released two weeks before the CD and cassette, debuting on the charts at Number 55 â€” the first album to appear on Billboard’s album chart solely on the basis of vinyl sales since the proliferation of the CD in the mid-’90s. Once the CD arrived in stores, Vitalogy zoomed to Number One.
The following year, Pearl Jam backed Neil Young on his Mirror Ball album. The band also appeared at Young’s Bridge School Benefit concert (one of several it has done over the years) as part of its increasing involvement in political activism and various charities. Indeed, over the years, Pearl Jam have supported such causes as Kosovar refugees, women’s self-defense, opposition to the death penalty and Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Though Pearl Jam was at the peak of their popularity in the mid-’90s, they also went through some rocky times. The holder of the drumming seat changed again as Abbruzzese was replaced by Jack Irons. The band’s attempt to experiment with its sound, 1996’s No Code (Number One, 1996), met with tepid response. Despite its initial success, the album dropped out of the Top 20 within two months.
The band retreated to safer ground. Yield (Number Two, 1998) was easy hard rock and was accompanied by the band’s first music video since Ten’s “Jeremy.” Pearl Jam also returned to playing mainstream arenas (many of them selling their tickets through Ticketmaster) in the summer; drummer Matt Cameron became a permanent addition that summer as well. The band members, especially Vedder, even started to seem as if they were finally becoming comfortable with their status as rock stars. The group had also become strong enough to overcome a tragic accident â€” nine fans were crushed and suffocated during Pearl Jam’s set at the Roskilde, Denmark, festival on June 30th, 2000. Initially held “morally responsible” by the Danish police, the group was later cleared of all blame.
In many ways, Pearl Jam continues to defy expectations. For instance, they still play exclusive shows for fan-club members, who also receive limited-edition Christmas singles â€” one of them turning into the surprise hit “Last Kiss” (Number Two, 1999) when it got a wider release. With former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron in tow, Pearl Jam released the scruffy rock album Binaural (Number Two, 2000) in an era that located the MTV audience listening to either rap-metal or teen pop. In September, Pearl Jam made history by self-releasing 25 live double albums in one week, and by having five of them enter the Billboard 200 simultaneously: 16/6/00: Spodek, Katowice, Poland (Number 103); 22/6/00: Fila Forum Arena, Milan, Italy (Number 125); 20/6/00: Arena di Verona, Verona, Italy (Number 134); 30/5/00: Wembley Arena, London, England (Number 137); and 26/6/00: Sporthalle, Hamburg, Germany (Number 175). Pearl Jam continued to release documents of their 2000 tour, reaching a total of 72 sets by mid-2001. The one triple-CD, 11/6/00: Seattle, Washington, was the most popular, entering the chart at Number 98.
After Vedder and McCready performed with Neil Young at the post-9/11 gain concert America: A Tribute to Heroes, Pearl Jam returned to the studio for the more experimental Riot Act (Number 5, 2002), which included the Anti-George W. Bush track “Bu$hleaguer.” During the band’s Riot Act tour in 2003, Vedder would perform the song wearing a rubber mask of the president. Pearl Jam announced that year that they would not be renewing their contract with Epic Records after fulfilling it with the retrospective Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991-2003 (Number 16, 2004). Pearl Jam then recorded a one-off independent single, “Man of the Hour,” which ran over the end credits of Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish. The band spent much of 2005 on the road, headlining shows and opening a couple of dates for the Rolling Stones. In 2006, the band released Live at Easy Street, recorded the previous year at Seattle’s Easy Street Records, and released it exclusively to independent record stores.
Though Vedder earlier had announced that Pearl Jam was not interested in signing with another label, the band did just that in early 2006 when it struck a deal with Clive Davis’ new J Records, part of the same Sony BMG music group that controls the band’s earlier label Epic Records. The band’s first release for the label was a self-titled album that year which found the band returning to its earlier hard-rock sound. The anti-Iraq War single “World Wide Suicide” became the group’s first Number One Modern Rock single in a decade. In 2007, the band released a seven-disc box set Live at the Gorge 05/06, recorded at the Gorge Amphitheatre, an outdoor venue in George, Washington. In 2008, the band indicated it has begun work on a ninth studio album.
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