Reviews

'Pearl Jam Twenty' World Premiere: 10 September 2011 - Toronto

Though not a comprehensive documentary of Pearl Jam's 20 years, Pearl Jam Twenty will be sure to please their fans.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam Twenty

City: Toronto
Venue: Princess of Wales Theatre
Date: 2011-09-10

Countless people are woefully unaware that '90’s grunge luminaries Pearl Jam are still generating music today. Yet that would have been hard to tell while waiting outside the Princess of Wales Theater on September 10th as the sidewalks on both sides of the street clogged up with fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the band as they arrived for the premiere of Cameron Crowe’s music documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty. PJ20, as it is more a casually referred to, is a retrospective about the band’s first two decades (since their debut release, Ten) and is a large part of this year’s Pearl Jam anniversary celebration (also including a two-day festival for fans, a 300-plus-page book and the film’s soundtrack). The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the lucky host of this premiere, also screened movies about U2 and Neil Young.

Grunge history is one area where this film excels -- it delves deep into the formative years of Pearl Jam. Crowe looks into the entire scenario beginning with the Seattle music scene, described as like no other at least in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, where various musicians and bands held a shared camaraderie with each other. The film covers the precursor bands, notably Mother Love Bone, which lost its lead singer Andy Wood to an overdose. Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden) plays a supportive part to Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard as he gets their new band together to back him up for the Temple of the Dog release. Eddie Vedder is recruited after he records vocals to a demo tape he received.

Crowe even plumbs the changes in Eddie Vedder’s personality, shifting from inexperienced lead singer to the prominent frontman he is today on screen, and the development of band’s “no” attitude. Seeing Vedder grow more ferocious during a show where the security is being a bit heavy handed is impressive. Another clip Crowe dug up shows Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain dancing with Vedder under the stage of an MTV awards show. The media had over exaggerated a feud between Cobain and Vedder but they come off a bit closer. Pearl Jam’s anti-music video stance and their accusations against the Ticketmaster monopoly are aired. The outrageous drunken performance for a folks in the music business is an early testament to the band's lack of concern for other people's opinions.

As a service for the fans, the movie succeeds. Musically, the film is not a greatest hits package, but it exemplifies the connection the band makes with its fans when they play a unique setlist every night on tour. There is no doubt about it. Pearl Jam have made some great rock songs. Interspersed with the interviews, Crowe mined the archives to find great live versions, unique instrumentals and the odd demo or two that fans will be clamoring for.

Yet the film is lacking in several areas, which detracts from its value as a documentary. A great deal of the band’s history following 1999 and especially after the Roskilde festival incident in 2000, where tragically nine fans were killed in a stampede, has been abbreviated. There is no mention of newer albums Riot Act, Pearl Jam or Backspacer or their switch to a new record label.

Little mention is given to the band's more recent politics, including the Vote for Change tour or Ament’s support for US Senator Jon Tester. Of Pearl Jam’s political inclinations that are shown, their efforts to get release for the West Memphis Three (who have only recently been freed from prison) receives mention as does a moment from the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1998 -- events predating this millennium. The most explicit recent moment is a performance clip of the presidential critique “Bu$hleaguer”, for which the band incurred a harsh response from a crowd in Uniondale, New York post 9/11.

Even more egregiously, Crowe does little service to some other important figures in the band. Organist Boom Gaspar, the unofficial sixth member of the band, gets shafted other than a small comparison to some of the ultra loyal fans where his PJ show attendance tally is tacked up (I believe it said 292 at the time). The complicated drummer situation is handled briefly as well, with a informal recap of the drummers, from David Krusen to Matt Chamberlin to Dave Abbruzzese to Jack Irons and then to, finally, Matt Cameron. The film did little to untangle the mess and never included interviews or voices of previous drummers.

Before the screening, when Crowe introduced the band to the stage, he somehow forgot about Mike McCready (!). The rest of the band gently nudged Crowe as a reminder and the audience laughed at the slight oversight (Cornell, in the audience, probably chuckled as well). Unfortunately, there was no Q&A session however for the fans, the band took off for a press junket. But the die-hard fans, who saw the premiere of the movie about their favorite band with their favorite band, were probably okay with this. They can proudly boast they fortunate enough to be present at the start of a new decade in Pearl Jam's history.

* * *

If you were unaware Pearl Jam was still around before this week, shame on you. You’ll be able to catch up on their history when the Pearl Jam Twenty documentary screens around the world this weekend and you can pick up the Pearl Jam Twenty book now at Amazon.

Chris Cornell on his way to the movie.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.