A Pearl Jam documentary celebrating 20 years of the Seattle sound.
Whenever a band reaches such a significant milestone as twenty years together, fans will ask, nay, demand that the occasion be properly celebrated. Pearl Jam’s biggest celebrity fan Cameron Crowe duly obliged by filming and archiving twenty years of their history in Pearl Jam: Twenty, released in 2011.
From the band’s very beginnings as part of a different group whose local fame grew into legend before the sad passing of singer Andrew Wood on the eve of their debut album, to their celebrated European tour of early 2010, the story of the band is told through a mix of personal recollections from band members and archive footage from the PJ camp, mixed with news stories and other cultural happenings of the time. Told through the eyes of Eddie, Jeff, Stone, Mike and several drummers (they themselves make reference to the Spinal Tap-esque amount of drummers they’ve gone through over the years), the film tells the story of how the music endured from their heady fame at the forefront of grunge to their modern-day maturity.
I used to really like Pearl Jam (and I’m one of those weirdos who likes their other stuff more than Ten), having watched their Touring Band 2000 video at least once a week for a full year shortly after it came out. Songs like ‘Better Man’, ‘Given To Fly’ and ‘Daughter’ are beautiful, heartfelt pieces as played on that film, while the likes of ‘Lukin’, ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Rearviewmirror’ are prime examples of how they can just flat out rock when called upon. It played a huge part in determining my music tastes during those all-important formative years, but all this time later and I struggle to relate to them as much as I used to.
This was probably decided after I’d watched this documentary, to be honest. They’re rightly regarded as cultural icons, but…man, do they whine a lot! Fame will affect you in all kinds of negative ways, but there was something very unsettling about seeing the disregard they had for their own lives. There’s a montage of all the early gigs where singer Eddie would climb the side of the stage and hang off the lighting rig, before dropping down to be caught by his fans in the pit. Many, many different instances of this. Forget how dangerous it was for him (as the other members said over and over again), what about the people he was dropping on?
And so it was this overriding attitude – not exactly cavalier but not entirely sincere – of the band which hangs over the film and leaves a bad taste for me. The tunes are great, and the film is extremely well put together – as you’d expect from Cameron ‘Singles Say Anything Almost Famous Jerry Maguire’ Crowe, but its sense of over-honesty doesn’t paint the positive picture of Pearl Jam I was hoping for.
Oh yeah, and Chris Cornell is in it. Fuck that guy.