Melody Maker 4/30/94
Pearl Jam's Last Stand?
Tonight's The Night
by Allan Jones
"This could be our last show in fuckin' forever as far as I'm concerned. Kurt's death has changed everything. I don't know if I can do it anymore," Eddie has told me earlier, backstage at the Paramount, deep in the cavernous concrete pits of the Madison Square Garden complex, where Pearl Jam would shortly be playing what for them would be a comparatively low-key, supposedly "secret" gig originally intended for fan club members.
"I don't know where we go from here," Eddie went on. "Maybe nowhere. I think this is going to be the last thing for a long time. I'm just gonna live in a fuckin' cave with my girlfriend. I don't think I'll be showing my face for a while. I don't think I'll be making any fuckin' videos Maybe we'll eventually do some shows or something, I just don't know.
"I'm having a real tough time right now. This is the last night of the tour, and I don't know how we've got through the last week. It's been so fuckin' hard, man. So hard.
"And tonight, you know, it's just going to be so... so weird."
The night before, as you might have read, Pearl Jam had appeared on "Saturday Night Live," the massively popular and almost as massively unfunny American comedy show. They played three songs, the new and unrecorded "Not For You," "Rearviewmirror" and "Daughter," which ended with Eddie fading out with a quote from Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)," the song that inspired the "it's better to burn out than fade away" reference in Kurt's suicide note.
"Rock'n'roll will never die," he sang in a voice trembling with exhaustion and beleaguered emotion. "There's more to the picture than meets the eye..."
Before the show's final credits rolled, the program's regular cast and special guests, including Pearl Jam, lined up with that week's celebrity host, Emilio Estevez. Emilio, in an attempt at some kind of peculiar bonding, tried to embrace Eddie who was standing next to him, looking over his shoulder into the camera. Eddie seemed to wince at Emilio's luvvie clutch and shrugged him off. Turning full onto the camera, he peeled open his jean jacket. There was a large "K" scrawled on his T-shirt, just above his heart. Eddie, you knew, had not taken Kurt's death lightly. He had, literally, taken it to heart, to an extent that you worried immediately about the effect it might have had on his own troubled soul.
And the memory of Kurt and what his music genuinely meant to Eddie, despite the sad pathetic rivalry between Pearl Jam and Nirvana the press was often too eager to fuel, hangs heavily over tonight's show, which is frantic, fraught and frequently overwhelming. Kurt is a presence here tonight, especially for Eddie whose performance and spontaneous emotional outbursts take on the passionate intensity of a personal exorcism.
So it comes as no surprise tonight when at the end of a fiercely wrought version of "Daughter," he breaks off into an improvised version of another Neil Young song, "Tonight's The Night," the title track of the album Young recorded as a raw rock verity tribute to two of his own close friends -- Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry -- both of whom died of heroin ODs at the height of Neil's popularity in the Seventies.
The sight of Eddie caught in the glare of a single spotlight singing fragments of Neil's own tortured response to untimely death left your eyes stinging with tears of bewilderment and grief.
Looking back, the whole tone of Pearl Jam's performance at the Paramount was set by the tape of Soundarden's heart-stopping "Black Hole Sun" which played immediately before the band came on. There was a sense, right there, that tonight was going to be full of such moments and connections. Your suspicions were confirmed when Pearl Jam finally appeared to a vast, bulimic roar and launched -- no other word for it -- into a version of "Rearviewmirror" that fairly burned the lips off your face.
There was at once a wildness in the air. From here on in, you thought, anything could happen, and most of it does. A new song, "Whipping," goes by in a blur. "Go" and "Animal" are furious, hysterical, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard catching Eddie in a splenetic guitar crossfire. The shocking thing at this point is that we're only three songs into the show. You ask yourself if it can get any more intense.
The answer is yes, and then some.
"Dissident" is a thing of raging bloody majesty. "Escape is never the safest path," Eddie recites, not sings, slowing the momentum, which up to this point has been one of terrifying abandon. "Escape is never the safest path," he repeats, a piece of weary intelligence, his words hanging in the air, a somber epitaph. And then we're into "Even Flow," scrappy somehow, but scalding, McCready looking like a Haringey spiv in weedy 'tache and battered trilby, turning in white-knuckle solo. Eddie meanwhile, is staggering around the stage like someone's chasing him with a chainsaw.
"You won't know what this next song is about," he announces sarcastically, "because you live in New York and there's no guns here..."
"Glorified G," Eddie's vicious tirade against America's rotten gun culture, follows. "ALWAYS KEPT IT LOADED," he howls, harrowingly changing the tense of the song's original line. "Daughter" is next, hotly pursued by "Why Go," which is like being hit by a falling building. The climax of the following "Jeremy" sounds like all the whooping bats in hell have suddenly been unleashed. It's monstrous, astonishing, and the band seem almost incapable of letting it go, building from one tremendous crescendo to another.
"I should just warn you -- I'm gonna say 'fuck' like about eight times in the next 30 seconds."
There's a huge cheer, which doesn't vastly amuse Vedder.
"Wow it's almost like we didn't even have to play songs -- we can just stand up here and say 'fuck'... lot easier on the throat. This is the last night of the tour -- I don't give a fuck about my throat, I don't give a fuck..." "But about that last song, you know... If you just feel like saying, 'Fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything, fuck you -- I'm the fuck outta here... living is the best revenge..." [Original text was inaccurate; these quotes are exact. -- ed.]
Having made his point, Eddie leads the troops into the show's second new [not new, just rarely played -- ed.] song, "Alone," whose surging melodic chorus keeps reminding me of the stately martial grandeur of Neil Young's "Ohio."
This is one of the evening's many and frequent highlights, but it's immediately eclipsed by a version of the much older [same age -- ed.] song, "Garden," from Ten.
Vedder's voice is awesomely powerful here -- lung-busting, maybe, but not blustery or bombastic, just filled with the most extraordinary feeling. McCready takes the spotlight for a gut-wrenching solo. It's a slow-burning thing, McCready's feature here, notes struck and held, each one igniting the next until you begin to think he's going to go up in a ball of fire. When Stone weighs in with a rare solo of his own, things definitely seem on the point of maximum incineration. And when Eddie finally rejoins the action, things have gone beyond the merely epic.
By now we are in the kind of uncharted territories for which the most appropriate superlatives have yet to be invented.
Best to move on then, which the band at least attempt to do before Eddie's distracted by someone in the crowd at the front of the stage who's just loudly declared that they love him.
"You don't love me," Eddie snaps, railing against this kind of idolatry. "If you really knew me, you wouldn't love me. You love who you THINK I am," he goes on, looking fit to burst, anger and confusion shaking him to the bone.
"And DON'T," he says next, "pretend that you know me. Because I don't even know myself."
Everyone looks relieved when the band start up again, although as soon as you recognize what it is they're starting to play, you know it's going to be another rough emotional ride. What we're listening to now is "Footsteps," originally recorded for a radio broadcast as a stark acoustic blues and as far as I know only available on the B-side of the "Jeremy" picture disc single [it's on any "Jeremy" single -- ed.]. This was also the final song in a trilogy that sequentially begins with "Alive" and "Once" -- the story of someone who's so emotionally fucked up they become a serial killer -- and is completed by "Footsteps," in which the character who links the three songs is finally executed.
Tonight, the dark mumblings and sinister insinuations of the original are transformed into something approaching a lament. "I did what I had to do and if there was a reason, it was you, " Eddie sings with despair, and it's a precious, evocative moment.
It's still a relief of sorts, however, when out of the blue comes the fantastic howling blast of "State of Love and Trust," which goes off like a Fourth of July rocket, an explosion of color and sparks and a chorus that could have lit up Manhattan.
Things don't slow down now until the end, which is not yet quite in sight. "Already in Love," another new number, is dedicated to Beth Liebling, Eddie's girlfriend. Tonight is an anniversary for them: they've been together for nine years and 11 months. "It's the longest relationship of anyone in the band," Eddie beams. "Except for Jeff and Stone, who go back, man, to a band called Green River, a long time ago..." The song turns out to be another punky blast, fast, buoyant with a terrific melodic kick that ends with guitars on overdrive and Dave Abbruzzese beating the living fuck out of his drums. It's staggering.
Although we didn't know it then, the stage was now set for one of the most ferocious and brutal climaxes to a set by a rock band I've ever seen.
Pearl Jam go out with "Blood," and it's an excruciating, harrowing five or six minutes of utter derangement, a retching, spewing up of all manner of fright, paranoia, yearning, anger and distress. It's the musical equivalent of something gangrenous poisoning your entire system, and in its final moments what so far has been a largely unobtrusive light show goes into apocalyptic overload.
There's an amazing strobe freak-out and everything you see looks like it's happening in stomach-churning slow motion. Eddie is standing, hunched and screaming in the middle of the stage, stomping the shit out of the boards with the base of his microphone stand and screaming blue fucking murder. McCready, meanwhile, is swinging his guitar over his head, holding it by the neck, pounding it into his Marshall stack. Feedback is coming from everywhere and the noise is horrifying, malignant, an exploding tumor.
And then it's over, leaving the audience stunned into a state of shock for a moment before the rabid howls for an encore start to shake the building.
Pearl Jam come back for two more numbers, starting with the cutting thrust of "Not For You," which leads into a slow, beautiful version of "Elderly Woman Behind A Counter In A Small Town." A hush falls over the audience as Eddie loses himself completely in the song's desolate atmosphere, his voice barefly a whisper. "Hearts and thoughts, they fade away," he sings.
"Hearts and thoughts... they... fade... away... fade... away... fade... away..."
People are searching their pockets for bits of Kleenex when the band comes back out with Mudhoney's Mark Arm, all animosity with former Green River bandmates Jeff and Stone apparently resolved, lending his raw punk bark to a steaming, hilarious take on The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," trading verses with Eddie when he's not swigging from a bottle of Heineken.
It ends with Eddie carrying Arm offstage on his back, grinning like something under a full moon.
It's been a monumental performance, astonishing and unforgettable.
We meet again, Eddie and I, at the aftershow party. Matt Dillon, Jim Jarmusch, Thurston Moore had been seen swanning around the bash, as well as someone incredibly aged from Kiss who I had originally mistaken for a dime store Indian some wag had placed in the middle of the dancefloor as an obscure joke [that would probably be Ace Frehley, who really looks like that -- 5h]. While New York's groovy party-going elite had been schmoozing here, Eddie had been backstage, locked in conversation with his friend, Henry Rollins.
By now, we're among the last of the revellers. It's 4:00 am, or close to it.
Eddie gives Steve Gullick [MM photographer -- 5h] a big hug, me too.
I ask him if he'd meant it earlier when he said this might be the last time we'll see Pearl Jam for a long, long time.
"Right now, that's pretty much how I feel," he says. "But who knows? Right now, I've just got to get back to Seattle, sort out a lotta shit. I've got to sit down and figure out where to go from here. Everything's just so fuckin' weird, I've got to work it out."
A lot of what he'd said in the two hours we'd spent together before the show had left me feeling spooked and not a little worried for him.
"I think we'll be okay," he says, giving me a slap on the back that makes me cough in his ear. "We'll be okay."
God or whoever the fuck is in charge these days willing, you thought, as we walked out into what was left of the New York night.