Why Pearl Jam Still Matters

•Because they're the only huge band left with their integrity intact. Not unlike Van Morrison (who would have been as mega as Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones by now if he had only played the right games), Pearl Jam could've released a fuckload of singles from each post-Ten album, shot videos for them all, willingly done tons of press, and gone on tours using Ticketmaster without ever questioning whether the company was playing fair—all stuff rock “stars” are supposed to do. But they didn't. They scaled back, trusting—correctly—that their hardcore crowd would follow. And anyone who slams the band for falling album sales because of these actions is missing that point.

•Because of their valiant-but-failed battle with Ticketmaster.

•Because of the 25 double-live CDs they just released—$12.99 each if you look around and even cheaper if you get them through the band's website. It's not a brazen act of fan-gouging; if it were, they would have done what Metallica did a few years ago: package them inside a single glossy box set and charge a single hideous price. And if this had been Sony's idea instead of the band's—in other words, if the band didn't have creative control—that box would've been tagged at a minimum of $300. By bootlegging themselves, with the appropriate bootleg packaging (no band photos!), they show off their punk rock tendencies, even though the band are hardly punk rock themselves.

•Because they're going to bootleg themselves again on their current North American tour, which means another 46 shows—92 CDs!—you get to plow through.

•Because the power of 30,000 Poles chanting “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” (on the 15/6/00: Spodek, Katowice, Poland CD) cannot be denied.

•Because I've known too many women about whom “Betterman” could've been written and too many men about whom “Nothingman” could've been written.

•Because they had X open their Forum show in July '98. Until that night, LA's most important band had never played their hometown's most famous room.

•Because Eddie Vedder still called it the Fabulous Forum, not the Great Western Forum.

•Because of Eddie and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's transcendent 16-minute, 41-second version of “The Long Road” from the Dead Man Walking score, which has the profound ability to get even the most ardent atheist believing in God and/or Vishnu.

•Because of the resurrection tale of “Given to Fly” and the acceptance anthem of “Who You Are.”

•Because they aren't on MTV.

•Because of Mirror Ball, their 1995 collaboration with Neil Young, dissed by many as not living up to expectations when it's really the most underrated 55 minutes of rock N roll put out during the '90s.

•Because of Lollapalooza '92 at (then) Irvine Meadows when they came out with “Baba O'Riley,” which incredibly did not feel overblown or pretentious but invigorating and right. They also smoked the Chili Peppers, who felt tired, creaky and cartoony (not-in-a-good-way cartoony) even then.

•Because these days, they do Who songs better than the Who. Not just “Baba O'Riley,” but also the warm, glowing love letter of “The Kids Are Alright” I witnessed in a tiny San Diego theater in 1993, with just Eddie alone on guitar.

•Because they really are deeper than their critics think.

•Because you appreciate them more each time a song by Creed (a band that actually is the epitome of all the torrid rock clichs for which less enlightened people think Pearl Jam are responsible—overly brooding, egocentric, whiny about being famous, blah, blah, blah) comes on the radio.

•Because they think concerts are for music, not commercials. Sacramento, June 22, 1995: not only did they have the clout to get the huge advertising billboards that ringed the Cal Expo Amphitheatre covered over with black plastic during their show, but they also requested that the arena's ushers and staffers put masking tape over the beer-company logos on their uniforms. When I inquired of one woman who was working a concession booth, she told me she “wasn't supposed to be talking about it.” Pearl Jam make people nervous like that.

•Because they'll still be around long after Limp Bizkit have flamed out.

•Just because!


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