Boston Globe - 04/08/94

PEARL JAM TAKES CHARGE

by Steve Morse

 

                    It's a question asked repeatedly these days.  Is Pearl Jam the new Led Zeppelin?  In sound, in sales figures, in crowd mania, in mystique, in personality -- and in concert -- the answer is a resounding yes. Seeing Pearl Jam in Miami last week was very similar, for this writer to seeing Led Zeppelin in England in 1969. Pearl Jam played an outdoor park in downtown Miami.  Led Zeppelin played an outdoor park in Bath, England. On both occasions, the bands were just hitting their peak, yet didn't fully comprehend how massively popular they were. In Pearl Jam's case, the crowd got unruly in Miami.  About 1000 fans crashed through a makeshift metal fence prompting 25 arrests.  Pearl Jam was not at fault -- the promoter blew it by having weak security and only one official entrance that took nearly an hour to pass through -- but the incident may have altered the band's future.  "It means that probably Pearl Jam can't play outdoor shows ever again," a band spokeswoman said in the Miami aftermath, even though no one was hurt at the city's Bayfront Park concert, attended by 8,000 fans.  "But the truth is, Pearl Jam doesn't think they're as big as they are." Right now, Seattle-based Pearl Jam, which plays Boston Garden Sunday and Monday and the Orpheum Tuesday, ranks with the most popular rock bands in America.  The Garden shows sold out in an hour.  The Miami show sold out in 11 minutes.  The group's two albums, "Ten" and "Vs.," have sold a combined 10 million copies.  Singer Eddie Vedder has been plastered on the cover of Time magazine, even though he didn't grant them an interview.  Like Zeppelin, Pearl Jam is an incendiary guitar act that plays erotically charged music.  Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, using screaming string bends with a bluesy wail, is a logical heir to Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. Vedder, though he's resolutely contemporary in singing about abused children and other underdogs, still has the raucous, razor-edged power of Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Both acts are also notorious for shunning the media. "The music comes first whether we talk to the media or not," said Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese, during a chat at a Miami restaurant the night before the band's Bayfront Park show.  "Right now, it's a democratic vote of the band not to do interviews, though it will come around again, eventually." One dissimilarity with Zeppelin, however, is that Pearl Jam isn't out to conquer the world monetarily.  Zeppelin was notoriously expansionist in that regard, as are many of Pearl Jam's contemporaries.  Pearl Jam has yet to fall into that trap. "We heard that Guns N' Roses are getting a $70 ticket in Europe," Abbruzzese said.  "But they never denied that they've always wanted to make a lot of money at this.  We don't feel that way." Pearl Jam is keeping their ticket prices to $20 or less for this tour -- a far cry from the $70-and-up that some rock heavyweights are charging.  "We want to make sure that most kids can afford our shows, not just rich kids," Abbruzzese said.  "None of my parents ever called up with a Visa card so I could go to a Kiss concert when I was younger. "And I think our policy is working," Abbruzzese added.  "Because we've heard other acts are talking about keeping their ticket prices lower this summer. The kids are saying, 'Well, if Pearl Jam can keep them low, then why not other bands, too?'  And the bands are hearing that." Pearl Jam's idealism was intact in Miami.  "We're all in one big boat tonight. Let's keep it up, eh?"  Vedder yelled early to the masses, who included everyone from loose, tie-dyed Deadheads to tightly wound alterna-punks in T-shirts that carried phrases such as "Visualize world fear" and "As serious as you can get." "What it's all about tonight is being together," said Vedder, who continued to display  his idealism by defending the homeless.  "I thought I'd throw in a bit of street education while you still have an open mind.  I just want you to know there's a little homeless community across the street.  These people aren't all crazy -- and sometimes it's not their fault." Vedder, who is from Evanston, Ill. and was a surfer in San Diego before joining Pearl Jam, ignited the crowd time and again with his primal, baritone vocals -- and his twentysomething philosphizing.  "We can accomplish a lot and show people who think we're a bunch of [expletive] losers that we can get along.... Let's make them think this generation might actually do something with their lives." He wailed from the outset on the grinding "Release," "Go" and "Animal," then hooked the crowd with "Dissident" and "Even Flow," where McCready's Page-isms were most evident.  Overall Pearl Jam was intoxicatingly fabulous -- and much more cohesive than its Lollapalooza set of two years ago. The Miami set kept intensifying (a small mosh pit also developed up front), before Pearl Jam showed some retro roots by covering Pink Floyd's "Another Brink in the Wall" (thown in after "Daughter," a song about child abuse) and Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World," a high-velocity encore.  Pearl Jam knew Young from touring as his opening act in Europe last year. The Miami show -- with a full moon hanging down from the sky -- was a case of orderly chaos.  A few fans got carried away up front, and one drew the ire of the band.  "One of you guys in front is hitting people," yelled Vedder. "Dave, pull him out. We don't want to see him again."  So Abbruzzese left his drum kit, ran over and yanked him out and security led him away. Pearl Jam rocked through later tunes such as "Jeremy," "Deep," "Alive" and a new one, "Not for You," which was addressed to ticket scalpers.  "This is for all those [expletive] people who were charging more than $18 for your  tickets," Vedder fumed. Then in a more conciliatory tone, the idealism was back. "Bless your soul," he said.  "And enjoy your youth.  It belongs to you."

OUTTAKES

Miami Set List Last Week (In Order): Release, Go, Animal, Dissident, Even Flow, State of Love and Trust, Glorified G, Daughter, Another Brick in the Wall, Jeremy, Deep, Blood, Alive, Rearviewmirror, Not for You, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Samll Town, Keep on Rockin' in the Free World, Indifference.

On Steve Cropper, who joined Pearl Jam in Nashville Recently:  "I could have talked to him all night," says Dave Abbruzzese when asked about the famed Memphis guitarist from Otis Redding's band, Booker T & the MGs.  "He told us about the Monterey Pop Festival.  A lot of people who were living back then don't remember it today.  But he remembers it all."  (Cropper and Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard later got together for a dialog that will appear in an upcoming Guitar Player magazine.)

 

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