"Porch" is a song that has a very special place in the hearts of the die-hard PJ fan. The tourists know "Jeremy" and "Alive," the casual fan wants to hear "Black," but "Porch" is the one the fanatics hold near and dear to their heart, no matter how many times they hear it live.
What is it about this song that we as fans, and PJ as a band, keep coming back to? Perhaps the history of this song's live performance can show us some clues....
What the fuck is this worldthe early days
Running to, you didn't
Leave a message, at least I
Could've learned your voice one last time
Almost from its inception, the guitar break in "Porch" has sent Eddie looking for something, anything, to climb on. Speaker columns, balconies, amps, stage scaffolding -- nothing was safe. At an all-acoustic in-store performance at a Tower Records in 1991, despite the song's mellower pace and tone, Eddie still found himself at odds and headed for Dave A's drumkit and perched upon it, for lack of a better target.
So whenever the band launched into "Porch," the audience was always on edge to see what Eddie was going to do this time. Would he stagedive into the pit? Would he balance on Mike's speaker stack? At the legendary Pink Pop festival performance in Holland in 1992, which was being filmed for tv broadcast, Eddie motioned for the camera crane to come closer to the stage, climbed onto it, and then had the stagehands turn it around and position him over the crowd -- and then he dived STRAIGHT INTO IT, causing everyone in the area to hit the ground. Later on during the song, Eddie managed to get every single one of the 50,000 people in the audience to raise their arms in the air and clap. At first it seems like he's just doing it to see what happens, but when the crowd actually responds to his cue, he looks almost terrified by the power he's wielding, single-handedly.
The 92 Lollapalooza tour is filled with legendary tales of "Porch" and climbing exploits. A grueling tour schedule, and PJ being on the bill in the middle of the afternoon, playing to people who would probably rather be sitting on the grass, drinking a beer or having a picnic, created the ideal environment for this song's magic. What better way to grab the attention of an audience who wasn't listening to the music than with a very physical and visual effort?
And here's where we come to talking about why this song, in particular, motivated such a physical response from Mr. Vedder. PJ are not a band given to lengthy guitar or drum noodling, but "Porch" has a fairly long instrumental break. We'd guess that in the early days, Eddie felt silly standing around the stage while Mike and Stone went at it, using the forum of the stage as an opportunity to stretch and musically explore the song, making it even longer. Roger Daltrey would twirl a microphone (which also became a legend in itself); Robert Plant would pout and pose. Neither of these options fit Eddie, so he went about inventing what would become its own legend. Perhaps it was all born out of a combination of frustration and hesitancy; frustration in playing to a crowd who wasn't paying attention, hesitancy in remaining the center of attention while he wasn't singing or doing anything else that merited the spotlight.
It was 11:00 on a Thursday night the first time I got to see Pearl Jam on "Unplugged" - MTV Europe were running it for the first time, and I'd unplugged my phone, programmed the vcr, and sat there on pins and needles waiting to see what would happen.
By the time the band reached "Porch," no less than FOUR friends had turned up at my doorstep, because they were trying to get ahold of me on the phone and I wasn't answering. They knew what a fan I was and they didn't want me to miss this. We stood there, transfixed, as Eddie spun around on his stomach, then climbed on his stool and pulled out the magic marker. Wow, if it was like this ACOUSTIC, what on earth did they do when it was a full-on electric version?
Many, many fans speak of the Unplugged performance, and "Porch" in particular, as the magic spark that converted them into true believers, and deservedly so. The intensity in Eddie's eyes, the razor-sharp musicianship from the rest of the band, looking as though they weren't even breathing, putting every ounce of their being into the song.
By 95, however, it seemed to all have become rote. Just like audiences would flock to see the Who just to watch Pete Townshend smash his guitar, fans had come to expect some kind of outrageous antic during "Porch". The band had been banned for life from Riverport Ampitheatre in St. Louis due to Eddie's climbing stunts during their Lollapalooza performance, and it seemed time to move on. The song was still played with as much conviction as ever, but Eddie stayed put. Many of us thought that perhaps it was time to retire this particular number.
9/29/96, Randall's Island, NYC. The second night of a two-night stand at this venue; it had poured solidly the night before, and the band treated us to an almost THREE HOUR performance, their longest one to date thus far. "Porch" was the last number of the set before the encore, and we watched in utter shock as Eddie duct-taped his clothes to himself (an old trick he learned from Chris Cornell, no doubt) and JUMPED INTO a horrible, dangerous, raging pit, that he'd been trying to quell all through the performance. This was prefaced by a typical ed-rap where he (as we figured out later) shared his feelings about the upcoming Rolling Stone cover story: "No one can tell me who I am..." It was a stunning moment in an already incredible show.
Two weeks later, the band appeared at the Bridge School Benefit shows, where they debuted a funky, bluesy version of "Porch". Yes, there were fans down front with a banner requesting the song, but they weren't looking for what the band had turned it into. Rhythmic, almost hypnotic, the band had finally, it seemed, transformed the song into a groove that fit who they were in 1996.
south pacific tour, 1998
The last night of a three-night stand in this Australian city, broadcast nationwide on JJJ. The station has a 24/7 RealAudio feed, so fans all over the world were sitting at their computers in the middle of the night, listening to this show. "Porch" is the final song of the evening (and the first appearance of this song in 1998), at the end of the second encore, and once again, the band has completely transformed the number: similar in feel to the 1996 Bridge version, slower, deliberate, but just as intense as any early version you've seen or heard. This version is notable for absolutely stellar, transcendent guitar work from Mr. Mike McCready, who plays one of his best solos in the history of his career during this number: fluid, wailing, a cross between Keith Richards circa 75 and Jimi Hendrix at his best, while the rhythm section anchors things firmly in place.
As they go into the final verse and Mike comes out of the solo, Eddie asks for the house lights to be brought up as the crowd cheers wildly:
Hear my name, take a good lookI always despise using the world "mature" when talking about a rock band's performance, but I don't know how else to describe what Porch, circa 1998 (at least this version) has become. Just like PJ have done with the new version of "Jeremy," they have managed to take a song they have performed hundreds of times, strip it down to its essence, and then utterly transform it into something new and relevant, something they want to sing about, can perform with new conviction.
This could be the day
Hold my hand, lie beside me
I just need to say
I could not take
Just one day
I know, when I would not ever touch you
Hold you...feel you... in my arms... ever again...
When I wrote about "Yield," I pointed out that the band's music has gotten much more personal and less abstract than the first few albums -- especially the love songs. To me, "Porch" is a love song, yeah it's sad and bitter, angry, regretful. And maybe, just maybe, by reworking the standard PJ workhorses in this fashion, not being afraid to challenge what's become expected or standard, the band can still play this material with the same power and intensity they did the day they recorded it.
If the JJJ version of "Porch" is an example of this, we're in for the tour of a lifetime.
- Porch, live from 3/5/98 [mp3 - 6,095K]
Special thanks to Jeff Pany for the source and the mp3 encoding
Props to Carl Sylvester for his assistance
Video captures by the great Dan Grenough
The photograph on which the header graphic is based is by Charles Peterson
Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons