Toronto Sun - October 1st, 2000

What lies ahead for Pearl Jam?


Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready says it would be nice if his Seattle rock band was still racking up multi-platinum sales with each album they release.

The group's most recent studio recording, Binaural, has sold a respectable 100,000 copies in Canada and two million worldwide since it came out in May.

But those figures are nothing compared to Pearl Jam's early-'90s heyday.

"I'd love the records to go crazy and sell six million or whatever, like they used to, but maybe we've just got to a point where that doesn't happen anymore," says McCready, down the line recently from the band's hometown. Their current tour brings them to the Air Canada Centre for a sold-out show Thursday night.

"But we don't really promote ourselves so much. We don't do videos, we don't do a lot of interviews, so that probably has something to do with it. Or maybe the changing times. We're not as hip as Britney Spears. We're working on it. We've got a whole new stage show. It's going to be all cool. We got a Burger King thing lined up."

McCready is joking. But he and the rest of the group -- rounded out by singer Eddie Vedder, fellow guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron -- do consider themselves survivors from another musical era.

"Yeah, I guess," says McCready. "I feel like we're still around and we're making good music, but I think we've progressed along with the times. We're not stuck back in the f---ing '90s anymore. We keep moving on."

'Raw goodness'

Pearl Jam made the unprecedented move last Tuesday of releasing 25 live bootlegs from shows on the European leg of their tour from May 23 (Lisbon, Portugal) to June 29 (Oslo, Norway). Each double-CD set sells for $10.98 on Pearl Jam's Web site. Retail prices vary.

"We were into it," McReady says of the unusual concept. "We've been recording shows forever, pretty much since we began. So we had the stuff already and we have a good sound man who mixes it the night after the show. We were just excited about it because it was a new thing."

McCready says the recordings are virtually untouched.

"We don't fix anything, so you get everything. You get all the raw goodness -- and mistakes along with it."

The dilemma now is what will Pearl Jam do next?

"I don't know how we top it. That's a good question. We're going to have to start working on a plan."

First is another wave of bootleg recordings, this time from the North American leg of their tour.

"We'll release the U.S. ones, too; I'm not sure what the date is," says McCready, adding it will likely be before Christmas.

Also still to come is another studio recording.

McCready says that the band has been in a prolific writing mood as they have toured.

"We're all writing a lot of songs on the road so we'll have a bunch ready to go whenever we go back into the studio. I don't know when that will be, but everybody's bringing their little four tracks on the road, working on stuff -- Ed has, and Jeff and Matt. I've got a couple ideas and I know Stone does."

Cameron, formerly of Soundgarden, took over for drummer Jack Irons just three weeks before Pearl Jam's tour for their 1998 album, Yield, was to begin.

But he's now considered a fullfledged member.

"I would say Matt is yeah, definitely," says McCready. "He hasn't signed on officially or anything, but he's around and playing with us. He's enjoying it and we love having him, so I hope he's gonna stay as long as he wants. He's a very level-headed, very cool guy. He's a funny guy, definitely, and he's a hell of a drummer. He's brought us to another level of playing. He's made us a way better band."

Despite their diminishing returns -- album sales-wise -- Pearl Jam has always been a solid live act.

Their Toronto show, with Brit power-pop trio Supergrass opening, sold out in an hour. (Three-thousand tickets released later took about another month to sell.)

"It's been really great," says McCready of the North American leg of the tour, which kicked off Aug. 3 in Virgina Beach. "The crowds have been super receptive. The shows have been really fun. We've been mixing the set up every night. It's been really good to get back on the road."

Pearl Jam has seemingly recovered, as much as any band can, from the June 30 tragedy in which nine fans were trampled to death during their performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. They were recently cleared of all blame in the incident.

Their incredibly devoted fans have helped ease them back onto the stage.

"They've been very empathetic," says McCready, who already spoke at length about the tragedy in an interview with The Sun published Sept. 19. "It was an awful thing. We certainly feel bad about it and to have people empathetic to that is nice."

In their current show, McCready says Pearl Jam is playing about a half-dozen new songs from Binaural, the serious and folk-leaning collection that featured them working with producer Tchad Blake (Sheryl Crow, Crowded House, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Suzanne Vega) for the first time.

"It was a little harder to make, 'cause we were using a different producer. We had a different personality to deal with, so we had to adjust to that and play a little differently," says McCready. "We'd do songs over and over and over again instead of just cutting them like we usually do."

'Cool song'

Still, it was Vedder's decision to record Soon Forget, accompanied only by himself on a ukulele.

"It was a cool song," says McCready. "He does it live. He'll end the show with it sometimes. It's pretty funny, especially if he can get the damn thing in tune."

The live show also includes covers like Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World and The Who's Baba O' Riley.

"We just cover songs that we like," says McCready. "Eddie can sing The Who very well. He loves them."

But perhaps Pearl Jam's best-known cover -- certainly their most successful -- is Last Kiss, which inexplicably became the group's biggest single of their career in 1999.

It was recorded as a fan club-only single for Christmas 1998, but was released the next year as a commercial single and on the Kosovo benefit compilation, No Boundaries.

"It was huge -- a big single," says McCready. "I have no idea why. People just loved it. We recorded it at a sound check at Constitution Hall in D.C. and then it blew up. People started calling and wanting it. I was just surprised. I was like, 'Oh, my God.'"

The Pearl Jam File

Formed: 1990
Members: Eddie Vedder (vocals), Stone Gossard (guitar), Mike McCready (guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), Matt Cameron (drums).
Discography: Ten (1991), VS. (1993), Vitalogy (1994), Merkin Ball EP (1995), No Code (1996), Yield (1998), Binaural (2000), Pearl Jam Bootlegs (2000).
Total Sales: Over 30 million.

QUOTE: "Things like that are always kind of happening and always selling big and we still do fine when we go on the road so we enjoy that. Hopefully we're making music that's viable and that's why we still love doing it 'cause we love making it and playing it."-- McCready on how Pearl Jam is faring in the current teen-pop boom.


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