This Sunday I'm heading up to Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin for Pearl Jam Destination Weekend. Celebrating the band's 20th anniversary, it's a two-day festival of sorts--and Pearl Jam's only U.S. dates this year--but the Saturday and Sunday lineups are the same. Thus I only got a ticket for Sunday, though I've enjoyed seeing Pearl Jam on multiple nights in the past as they are one of those treasured acts who make each set list--and thus show--completely unique.
Handpicked by the band--originals Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, who's been with Pearl Jam steadily since 1998--other acts include Mudhoney, Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes, Liam Finn, John Doe and Glen Hansard. There are three stages, but no overlap in performance times, so I'll probably get up there mid-day, enjoy whatever I hear on the side stages and find my reserved seat for Mudhoney, Strokes, QOTSA and Pearl Jam on Alpine's main stage.
Although in the early days of grunge, I initially paid a bit more attention to Nirvana and still believe they were superior, I must have gotten Pearl Jam's debut album not all that long after it was released in August 1991. Thus, they are one of relatively few bands--especially among those with a 20-year reign--that I can say I have followed and enjoyed throughout their entire career.
While I still rue being unable to score tickets for their March 1994 show at Chicago Stadium, probably should've gone to their on-off-on again show at Soldier Field in July 1995 (I instead saw them in Milwaukee on that brief tour) and kick myself for not seeing them--and Nirvana--open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in L.A. in late '91 (I was living there at the time), Sunday's show will be my 14th Pearl Jam concert. Most of them have been truly sensational as the band clearly stands--in my book at least--as one of the best live acts of all time. In August 2010, I ranked Pearl Jam as my 11 favorite popular music artist, and that remains about right.
The remarkable Ten still stands as my favorite Pearl Jam album, but though I can't readily differentiate among their four post-2000 albums--of 9 studio albums plus a great 2-disc set of B-sides & rarities--having recently played a whole bunch of their songs on iTunes' random mode, I'm reminded how strong their entire catalog is. They really have very few subpar songs, which explains while they've been able to mix up their set lists so much, one of my favorite things about them.
I also really like that after some early growing pains involving Vedder complaining in interviews about not wanting to be a rock star, they've become one of the classiest and socially-conscious bands ever. You never hear of the band members doing anything stupid and they really respect their fans, to the point of their 1995 battle against Ticketmaster's ridiculous fees--imagine if they won that fight--and their being among the first acts to releasing their concerts as official bootleg albums.
Always the most politically pronounced, Vedder was outspoken in his disdain for George W. Bush and the Iraq War--likely at some risk of record and ticket sales--and recently was central to helping bring the release of the West Memphis Three. No one's going to need to hold a telethon for the band members, but they undoubtedly could be substantially richer if commerce was their primary aim. As their music remains vital, especially live, their approach remains remarkably refreshing.
So beyond looking forward to seeing one of my favorite bands once again, I'm really excited to be participating in this celebration. In a Booth Reviews salute, here are my 11 favorite Pearl Jam songs, with some pretty good live clips culled from YouTube. (Note: the last clip is a compilation of the first 11, in case you just want to let them run sequentially as you listen).
Jeremy - from Ten
Once - from Ten
Glorified G - from Vs.
Corduroy - from Vitalogy
Rearviewmirror - from Vs.
Alive - from Ten
Down - from Lost Dogs (the B-sides/rarities set)
Betterman - from Vitalogy
Come Back - from Pearl Jam
In Hiding - from Yield
Yellow Ledbetter - from Lost Dogs
Here's all 11 videos running sequentially: