Pearl Jam may never again be that omnipresent, chart-topping band of rebellious rockers of the early 1990s. But they don't have to be mainstream rock superstars in order to produce some great music and embark on one memorable tour after another (every other year, on average). Pearl Jam have built a loyal fan base the world over, and whatever you think of their records post-Vitalogy, this band has always been an exciting and even legendary must-see live act.
Tours from earlier in this decade have been well chronicled on audio bootlegs and on a couple DVDs (see Amazon list below), so it was only a matter of time for Pearl Jam to pick out some highlights of their more recent 2005/2006 tours to sell their fans. First came the Live at the Gorge 05/06 audio box set, and now comes Immagine In Cornice, a concert film/documentary directed by the renowned filmmaker Danny Clinch (Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust).
Based on the band's five shows and weeklong stay in Italy in September of 2006, Clinch and his crew of cameramen give fans an intimate look at what the band does on-and-off stage, in the towns of Milan, Bologna, Pistoia, Torino and Verona.
As far as performances go, Pearl Jam was in peak form for most of these song selections; they had five shows worth to choose from for this film, after all. Fan favorite "State of Love and Trust" rocked at a faster and more furious pace than on the Singles soundtrack. "Evenflow" got the extended treatment; McCready's solos channeled Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Matt Cameron showed off his drum solo skills to the delight of the crowd in Torino.
Whether playing in an obscure town like Pistoia, the Forum in the beautiful city of Milan, or weathering the rain in Verona, Pearl Jam played for packed stadiums that had both home and international flavor; fans from as far away as Finland and Israel traveled to experience these shows. But it didn't matter where the audience came from or how new or old Pearl Jam's songs were; cameras caught fans passionately moving or jumping to and singing the words to everything from "Better Man" and "Comatose" to "State of Love and Trust" and "Alive."
Eddie Vedder literally took his stage antics to new heights at Duomo Square in Pistoia, as he climbed one of the poles on the side of the stage and sang from the platform during the popular show closer "Rockin' In The Free World." On the near mosh pit-worthy "Blood," one of the less popular, but killer tracks from the Vs. disc, Vedder began the song by spitting out some whiskey he just drank, while he and the band gave everything they had to finish out this less than perfectly executed live version.
Another smart move was the inclusion on this DVD of Eddie Vedder joining opening act My Morning Jacket – a top notch live rock band in their own right – in Torino for an excellent, exhilarating cover of The Who's "A Quick One (While He's Away)."
Perhaps just as valuable as the performance footage is some of the off-stage moments Clinch caught on film. Lead guitarist Mike McCready is full of stories, explaining the origins (and admitted obsession) with tattoos on his arms. After a brief shot of him talking to fans and signing autographs in the light of day outside his Verona hotel, McCready recalled how he used to be like these rock star chasers; he claimed that around 1982 he hid under The Scorpions limo until he spotted and received their singer's autograph. Mike McCready: a guitar virtuoso and man of the people.
Here's some other highlights:
- Eddie working on an 8-track recording of the Tom Waits song "Picture In A Frame" after a soundcheck. The song is also later performed near the end of the DVD by his likeness as background music.
- Pearl Jam organist Kenneth "Boom" Gaspar's emotion-filled performance of a song of his on a vintage church organ in Pistoia, a small Italian town known mainly for organs.
- A short clip of a couple of Italian acoustic guitarists playing "Porch" on a sidewalk for the locals.
- The short appearance of Eddie Vedder's little girl Olivia, riding aboard the tour bus with her dad as they say goodbye to "Milano" and take in its beautiful scenery. Vedder's well-rehearsed attempts at addressing his audiences in Italian aren't bad either.
My only minor complaint is that although this film strikes a mostly satisfying balance between the old and the new, there is only one song from Vs. on it, and there could have been a few more full songs included from these five shows overall. For example, late in the film, Eddie and the boys are shown backstage at the Arena di Verona crossing out and ultimately deciding what to play for an encore: "Blood" and "Indifference" were among the chosen, but only "Blood" was shown.
In all, Pearl Jam's Immagine In Cornice DVD is a real treat, and though it was released two months ago, any serious PJ fan must add it to their collection this Christmas if he/she does not already have it. Though it doesn't have everything you would want, this film offers more than just another concert; it gives fans some valuable insight on the touring lives of this band, which is still one of the best live American rock bands around.
Note: Although the track list linked here looks complete, it only represents songs played in full or with live video footage. There are some other songs that Pearl Jam either toyed with offstage, during soundcheck or played as background music to more Clinch footage, including "Immortality," "Love Boat Captain," a short Vedder/McCready acoustic run through of "Lukin" and the aforementioned Tom Waits cover "Picture In A Frame."