Pearl Jam 20 Review
I remember about six months ago when i first heard Cameron Crowe was making a documentary based on the recent career retrospective book “PJ20”, I was beyond excited. I was even more stoked to hear it would air for free on PBS. I am 26 and grew up with the 90’s “grunge” ,”Seattle Sound”, whatever you want to call the genre of music, and I have always enjoyed watching the documentaries about the era in music. If you’re also a die hard fan of the genre then you probably may want to check out the documentary HYPE! that follows the movement in real time with actual interviews from the early 90’s. Kurt Cobaine famously talk trash on Pearj Jam’s Eddie Vedder. That can be viewed for free on youtbe. Now on to PJ20.
This is a complete career retrospective spanning Pearl Jam’s entire existence long before the front man that made them famous was in the picture and they were a band on the rise known as Mother Love Bone. Basically this is the exact line up we’ve seen in Pearl Jam, except with lead singer Andy Wood. Their sound was drastically different because Woods vocal style was more on par with the 80’s hair rock and very close to his friend, roomate, and Sound Garden front man Chris Cornell. The band was on the rise and looking at a record deal when Andrew Wood, like so many others from the era died of a heroin overdose. The band was crushed and took some time off to recoup. We see actual interviews from this time period as well as retrospective interviews from the band members now, 20 years later. Chris asked Jeff Ament and Stone Gassard to do a few tribute songs and this turned into the supergroup Temple of the Dog. The documentary spends a good amount of time on this part of their career pre Vedder and although as a fan of the era I knew a lot of the information, there was plenty that I had learned. For instance Andy Wood and Chris Cornell were not only roommates, but wrote songs everyday to try and one up each other. I had no idea that Wood knew Chris so intimately. Much of this portion has a ton of insight from Cornell.
Afterward it chronicles the hunt for a new front man for the new band. Mother Love Bone was dead, but Jeff and Stone would continue on after much deliberation. Here we see them talking about all of the demos they received from people trying to imitate Andy Woods vocals, I found it interesting they were ready to give up just before they heard Eddie Vedder’s demo. It was so vastly different from Andy Wood that they immediately called him and brought him up from California to join the group. What was really cool about this part was seeing how timid Vedder was. He was very shy and had difficulty adjusting to the lifestyle of being in a band. At this time the band was known as Mookie Blaylock which was the name of a popular basketball player at the time, until he made issue with it and then Pearl Jam was born.
Early on Eddie was still a really young and timid singer and hadn’t found himself. Then the documentary begins discussing a music video that was shot for Temple of the Dog. At this point Eddie had not met Chris Cornell and they went into the studio to record Hunger Strike. This time in the studio is when Eddie Vedder found his confidence. I found this really interesting because Eddie Vedder has been a very confident and outspoken front man for as long as I can remember. To see that he was terrified to be on stage and felt as if he didn’t fit in was new to me. After recording with Chris Cornell he realized he had the vocal capabilities to be great.
Once Eddie finds his confidence the band took off and quickly became one of the hottest bands in the scene soon the world. The documentary follows all of their struggles from Eddie climbing atop high equipment and diving into crowds almost killing himself while doing so to major issues like not touring together and band nearly breaking up after a performance in Europe when a fan in attendance was trampled to death, it chronicles everything and even talks about their cameos in Cameron Crowes awesome film from the early 90’s Singles and spotlighted some of the bands other mishaps like performing drunk on tv, doing mtv’s unplugged only because they had an equipment malfunction and played an all acoustic show just before the offer was made by mtv, to famously winning a grammy and Eddie Vedder saying onstage that the award was meaningless.
The documentary was like 4 hours long and should really be considered for an Oscar. Though if it were to win would the musicians really care? We see the careers of struggling musicians rise from disaster to be one of the most influential bands in history. This was possibly my favorite documentary I have ever seen and I highly recommend you watch it. even if you’re not a fan of Pearl Jam, “grunge” etc it still w very well put together documentary made by an amazing film maker in Cameron Crowe.