Massive! Magazine (Australia) Feb/March 1998 Edition.
by Murray Engleheart
Note from our transcriptionist:"Unfortunately, all the text referred to "Ten" being released in 1992, including the little strip of cd covers showing the 'time line'. Geez, was that a hard fact to get right!!! Particularly since the rest of the article and interview seemed very well researched. I've changed it for better or for worse, if only to make it slightly higher integrity :)"
[Transcribed for 5h by Oliver Sharwood and Randall Higgins]
The movement of tickets for Pearl Jam's second tour of Australia in March, which is the kick off point of their world tour, reads like some sort of statistical deja vu. The band's first Sydney show at the Entertainment Centre sold out in 25 minutes, the second by midday and the third which went on sale the following day did similar business. It was the same story around the country though Melbourne had the edge with tickets for the first show being snapped up in a record breaking 17 minutes. Early in 1995 the band sold out their entire March Australian tour - all 120,000 tickets - in just three hours.
But turning sales records into dust the size of microscopic spores is nothing new for these guys. The outfit's 1991 album "Ten" outsold Nirvana's "Nevermind" and their second effort, 1993's "Vs" set a Beatles style sales record by moving a staggering 1.3 million copies within 13 days of release in the US alone. Their 1994 effort, "Vitalogy" set the band in stone as one of the biggest acts on the planet - period - while album number four, "No Code" consolidated their position artistically. Album number five, which is due in February, will no doubt keep their legendary proportions in tact.
Rewind to February 1995. The band's record company has sent a motley bunch of "journos" to the Philippines to see the band in concert. The waitress in the restaurant and bar of Manilla's ultra-classy Peninsula Hotel was strangely delighted to see us in a manner that went way beyond the usual staff protocol. "I'm a big Pearl Jam fan!" she gurgled. Nice. It wasn't until she started quizzing us about the band that we realised she thought we were Pearl Jam. We fought for hours afterwards about who among us was Eddie Vedder.
In Manilla they don't play Slayer tapes in the gun ships. Outside the 9000 seat Folk Arts Theatre three hard nut Philippino marines sitting outside explained in broken English that Pearl Jam pumped them up for jungle fighting. The police officer outside the complex also had the vibe. His gun, he explained, was necessary in case any Pearl Jam fans "went crazy". Ice T would have been proud of one fan who was standing not far from security with "Kill The Police" scrawled across his T-shirt.
Pearl Jam's performance opened with the gloriously hypnotic "Release" while outside police were letting off stuff of their own, firing into the air and using fire hoses and tear gas in an attempt to ward off overly enthusiastic and ticketless fans. A sliding door was finally forced open and several dozen streamed into the venue before security closed it - with one fan half way through. Amazingly these disturbances did nothing to quell the euphoria. But I guess religious experiences have that effect. One fan had managed to smuggle an aerosol can into the venue and was blowing all the other kids off the block who were paying their respects just with raised cigarette lighters.
"Even Flow" was a signal of some sort to make another bid to get inside. But this time rather than going through a gateway the punters went over the wall of the venue, a climb and possible fall of about thirty feet. About one hundred made it in before security armed with enormous poles got to the area. The shot that rang out during an incendiary version of "Alive" was later explained as tear gas. It must have been a good five minutes before the band returned for an encore. A large group had now gathered at the side of the stage like a choir. We were later informed they were from the city's top professional classes. Vedder called for calm outside before leading into the night's final pieces the last of which was "Indifference". "Have good lives and be strong" he signed off. The world had shifted on its axis for just over two incredible hours. Pearl Jam's set was as powerful a testimonial for music both in a spiritual and physical sense as there's ever likely to be. Call it the new cosmic American music, call it soul punk, but don't call it anything one dimensional, as one camera and one angle flat and unambitious as grunge. Little wonder Neil Young saw fit to devote his time and energies to these guys with the "Mirror Ball" album.
A few weeks later the band's date at Sydney's Entertainment Centre happened to coincide with Jeff Ament's birthday. After some stunning, lengthy jamming there was some cake hurling with Chilli Pepper Flea who was said to be building a home on the NSW South Coast joining in the fun and later singing a version of Neil Young's "The Needle and The Damage Done".
The following night was a show at Eastern Creek Raceway in western Sydney before 32,000. It was Pearl Jam in pure high voltage mode with the aid of a crushingly loud sound system capable of thinning the blood of every living thing within a five kilometre radius. Seattle's finest never sounded so damn metallic. The notion that they are all white virgin hope and purity telescoped like a two train wreck into the realisation that there was full blooded testosterone in pump action mode going on. A beaming Vedder was hit by a plastic bottle after he made a call for water for those compressed against the barriers. He still smiled. For more than two hours the epicentre was again some dazzling almost telepathic fret play by and between guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready that touched the stratosphere somewhere between John Coltrane, The Yardbirds, The MC5 and a Free Birding Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Time and time again the outfit shifted enormous amounts of emotional energy within the space of just a few songs rendering "Black" and "Immortality" as sweeping symphonic masterpieces - which were doubly magic under the starry night sky free of the day's rain - and the likes of "Whipping", "Last Exit", "Animal" as well as Young's "Rockin' In The Free World". A particularly intense version of "Alive" climaxed with Vedder bashing his mic stand on the monitors until it bent. By the time the song finished he was lying exhausted on the stage. Next up during the scathing "Blood", Stone Gossard who had been toying with licks of AC/DC's "Problem Child" and "Highway To Hell" throughout the show continued Vedder's destructo process by flaying his guitar until it was little more than firework and for some a momento. Incredible stuff.
But spectacular as Eastern Creek was by far the most dramatic Australian concerts took place in Melbourne with two nights at the 12,000 seat National Tennis Centre - Foo Fighter Dave Grohl got up with the band both nights - and an outdoor show at The Sidney Myer Music Bowl. The first show was marred by heavy handed security tactics. For the second which was broadcast nationally in its entirety by Triple J and ended with Grohl pounding along to a version of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World", the band had hired new venue security.
But it was the Myer Music Bowl that things really hit meltdown levels. Like Manila, there were a lot of fans outside without tickets. A reported 4,000 broke through a security fence and later police took the unprecedented step of opening the gates to those outside - all 30,000 of them. The end result? According to reports an estimated crowd of 45,000 of whom only 13,000 reportedly actually had tickets.
If the activities over the past few months in Camp Pearl are any indication, there's plenty more hysteria where that came from. In the months leading up to the release of the new album, Vedder got the band's next chapter off to the highest possible start when during one of the band's four opening dates for the Stones he got up and sang "Waiting For A Friend" with the rock'n'roll granddaddys.
Then there was the band's not exactly secret show as a warm up for the Stone's dates which really moved the mercury. They were billed as the Honking Seals and the venue was the 800 seat Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz. The energised band ripped through a selection that included "Corduroy", "Even Flow" and the obligatory "Alive" plus a couple of new songs that at that point had the titles of "Brain of JFK", the album's first single, "Given To Fly", "Wish List" and "Do The Evolution". Before the encore, Vedder called Neil Young's home from the stage to wish him a happy 51st birthday but all he got was his answering machine. Nonetheless the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" down the line. Wonder who'll be home if the Big V makes a call from an Australian stage come March?
Pearl Jam haven't really done a proper interview schedule since the release of their debut album, "Ten" in 1991 and it seems it hasn't just been the world media that have been aching to throw a few questions around. "I was going to ask you" says guitarist Mike McCready at one point in our conversation, "What are The Angles doing now? They used to be one of my favourite bands ever. That "No Secrets" song and everything on that record. They came to Seattle once but I think I was out of town. That was like ten years ago. I'd love to see them when I'm down there if they're playing." Neeson's warriors strike once again...[Doc Nesson, lead singer of The Angels]
Pearl Jam records are pretty unique animals. They're almost like stone tablets that are handed down from the mountain-top which take in everything from flat out but somehow simultaneously skilfully crafted thinking person's rock action, a deep soul blues, though nothing B.B.King would recognise readily, and a sense of the musical cosmos, of a sonic cyberspace that knows no boundaries or razor wired fencing. Simply put, if there's a late era Beatles for the nineties, then these guys are simply it. The latest and most exacting testament to that process is the band's fifth album, the 13-track "Yield", from the ripping opener, "Brain Of J" to the almost late sixties feel of "All Those Yesterdays". Ironically the world will hear Eddie Vedder sing "Don't you think you ought to rest?" in the opening lines of that final cut, just prior to the band playing in Hawaii then kicking off their world tour proper here in Australia in March. At that point the concept of rest will be a distant one.
"We started working on it about four or five months ago," McCready says of the album's time frame. "Prior to that we had done a bunch of demos. Each guy had about ten songs and we narrowed it down when we got in the studio. It took us about two months to do it altogether. We worked on it pretty hard."
Did you approach it differently to "No Code"?
"'No Code' I think was more of a jamming record. This time we would sit down and actually take the songs apart and rehears them over and over and over until we got a really good take. We haven't really done that before. We usually do it in the first couple of takes. This time we were more conscious of putting it together."
What were you listening to at the time?"
"Me specifically, I was listening to a lot of Zeppelin and stuff, a lot of Stones but mostly I was going through this crazy Led Zeppelin phase so maybe some of that hopefully came out."
Actually the first single, "Given To Fly" sounds like Zeppelin's "Going To California"...
"Oh cool!" he laughs, "It's probably some sort of rip off of it I'm sure," he chuckles. "Whether it's conscious or unconscious but that was definitely one of the songs I was listening to for sure. Zeppelin was definitely an influence on that."
Did you record any covers during the sessions?
"Not this time. We talked about doing some but we never really got around to it."
What were you bouncing around?
"We were talking about doing the Stones' 'Sway'. I love that song. But we never really seemed to get it going. We were kind of working more on our own stuff."
How do you view "No Code" now?
"I like the record. I think I like playing the songs live better than I actually like the record itself. I think we did those songs better live than we did on that record. I think we kind of rushed it a little bit. I'm still proud of it but I think I'm more excited for this new one."
Minutes after speaking to McCready, fellow guitarist and band lynch pin, Stone Gossard was on the line.
"It feels like a real band record," says Gossard, "and it feels like a record that has a variety of kinds of songs on it and it feels like us. It feels new and we experiment some on it but it also feels like kind of classic too and that's good. I like it. We demoed like 30 ideas and we probably finished 16 and 12 made the record."
What is that trippy instrument thing?
"Actually the song is called 'The Color Red'. It's a Jack Irons' song and the line is "war, I'm crazy, war, I'm crazy, I'm war".
The next single perhaps?
"It's actually the first single if I had my way," he jokes. "I'm going to re-release it too as the second single."
I can hear all sorts of things on this record from Captain Beefheart to The Jefferson Airplane...
"I think it's mostly memory based. I think that's the kind of fun thing about human sampling as opposed to electronic sampling. I love electronic sampling too by the way. But you can store in your brain all these different songs from your childhood and all these things and when you kind of pull them back out they're never quite the same as they really were on the record. Then you get in with someone else's sampler going and he puts his little idea down and somebody else puts their idea down and suddenly it becomes something new. That's a fun part about being in a band playing music together."
It also gets around legal problems...
"Yeah, plus you don't need to worry about ripping anybody off for real. It's so grey and hazy they can't really charge you with it in a court of law."