Pearl Jam’s place in the great Grunge Explosion of 1991 remains a subject of debate in some quarters. How they got together, previous bands, and the fact that the singer was from out of town were all considered major strikes against them. To a vociferous few they were seen as serious strikes that is. The rest of us were too busy enjoying the music. 20 years later PJ are still going strong, while nearly all the others from that memorable year have sadly come and gone.
The new DVD Pearl Jam: Under Review tells the group’s story from the beginning right up to today. Like all of the DVDs in the Under Review series, it is an unauthorized documentary. That means there was no cooperation or involvement from anyone in the PJ camp. Instead, we get a collection of music critics talking about them, live footage from various sources, and some older interview segments.
While I understand the complaints about this format, particularly the inclusion of the critics, I found this 90 minute DVD to be very engaging. There are no enormous new revelations, or any groundbreaking new footage, but somehow the Pearl Jam story is presented in a consistently interesting and entertaining way regardless.
To the surprise of nearly everyone, Pearl Jam’s debut Ten was a smash hit. It won rave reviews both from the public and the critics. They followed Ten up with VS a year later, which sold a staggering one million CDs the first week. A battle with Ticketmaster came next, which had the net effect of stopping PJ from touring the US for three solid years. Vitalogy became their third hit album in a row in 1994., And Pearl Jam served as Neil Young’s back up band for his Mirror Ball album in 1995. Then they decided to scale it all back..
No Code was a record very few bands ever get to make. Pearl Jam’s fourth album consciously avoided the big anthems and ballads they had become so famous for. Although they would never admit it to the record company, No Code was specifically designed to appeal to only the hardcore PJ audience. They basically set out to jettison the mainstream crowd that had been with them since Ten.
It took the album Yield, with its cover art fully telegraphing the group’s intentions, for Pearl Jam to move on. Yielding to the realities of their lost battle against Ticketmaster, and itching to get out on the road again, the band have never really looked back. Their main focus has become playing live, as the dozens of concert CDs and DVDs that have been released confirm.
The video clips in the first part of the DVD will likely be the most appealing aspect for many fans. There is some great footage of the bands that spawned members of PJ, such as Green River and Mother Love Bone. The interview with the late Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone is particularly fascinating. As for extras on the DVD, the most notable is an interview with Eddie Vedder and Matt Cameron, recorded in Berlin, 2009.
In the overheated frenzy of 1991, Pearl Jam were unfairly dismissed as interlopers on the Seattle scene, as well as being nothing more than a “classic rock” group. How ironic is it that in 2010, the music of of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam is the de facto classic rock of Gen X? What goes around comes around, yet of all these great bands, only Pearl Jam remain intact.
While Pearl Jam: Under Review offers nothing really new, or earth-shattering, it is a solid overview of their history. As such, I think it is definitely worth watching.