Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Vedder’

2013: The Year in Pictures

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

As you know well enough by now, I’ve already summed up what I thought were the best albums of 2013. Because, you know, some people still like albums. But 2013 wasn’t just a great year for music listening, it was a great year for music watching. Thanks to a great hobby and an even greater ‘better half,’ I was able to take in more shows this year than in any year since college. In the process, I started to try my hand at live concert photography. An amateur in every since of the word, I couldn’t tell you what an f-stop is with a gun to my temple. That said, I think I stumbled into what would be considered an “okay job” at times. I have learned a lot, and continue to do so. I combed through the several thousand pictures I took and posted some of my favorite moments in a gallery below. Check it out – clicking on one picture will open up the gallery in full-screen mode.

Hopefully 2014 will feature many more cool opportunities. Stay tuned!

Read more…


2013: The Year In Music

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Frequent readers of this blog (he says as though there is such a thing) will remember that 2012’s musical review found a top-heavy list that had a couple great albums and a lot of filler. It was tough, frankly, to put together even a top ten that was worthy of being called a “top ten” of anything. In looking back at last year’s list, there are probably only a half-dozen that I’ve listened to more than a half-dozen times this year.

2013, however, has been a far, far different story. If you read my write-up over at Dying Scene, you’re no doubt aware that I took the easy way out, compiling a top-ten list that was 15 albums long. The top six were almost interchangeable, and have all spent time as my true “favorite” at different points during the year. The next nine or ten are almost interchangeable at times as well. Long story short, 2013 made up for 2012 in a big, big way.


As always, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches in my countdown. However, there were a few that are noteworthy and thus will get props here.

First up is the new 7-inch from Nashville’s Blacklist Royals. The two tracks, “Righteous Child” and “She’s The One,” are slated to appear on the band’s forthcoming full-length, Die Young With Me. They’re a heck of a taste of what’s to come…just hope DYWM finally sees the light of day in ’14. Here’s the title track from the 7-inch:

Also released this year were a couple EPs from Boston’s Street Dogs. The fellas started 2013 on hiatus, but that was short-lived. By spring, they had resurfaced with a new lineup and a couple releases on new label home Pirates Press Records. The new lineup doesn’t appear in its entirety on the albums, but they are at least the first new material we’ve had from Street Dogs since their self-titled 2010 album. Here’s the new track “Crooked Drunken Sons.”

In related news, 2013 also saw the debut 7-inch from FM359, a project that features the Street Dogs’ Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teaming up with Continental’s Rick Barton (also, not coincidentally, a founding member of Dropkick Murphys alongside McColgan). It’s very much a left turn compared to what you might expect coming from two founding Dropkicks (remember when they were a punk band!?). It’s a traditional Americana-style album; gospel without the Gospel. Here’s “A Little Sign”


21. Drag The River – s/t

Drag The River is the long-running on-again/off-again project featuring Jon Snodgrass and ALL’s Chad Price. The Fort Collins-based alt-country team put out their first album in five years this year. It’s good. Here’s “Song For My Roommates.”

20. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

I think I would have had this album up higher if I hadn’t seen a solo performance by frontman Toh Kay earlier this year. But I did see a solo performance by Toh Kay earlier this year, and it was freaking awesome, so that kinda spoiled the much-maligned final album from Streetlight Manifesto before it actually came out. Anyway, here’s the title track:

19. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves

For the uninitiated, Amanda Shires is the violin-playing better-half of alt-country artist extraordinaire Jason Isbell (whom you’ll read more about later). She put out her own solo album this year, and it’s not what you’d perhaps expect coming from the violin playing better-half of Jason Isbell. Dark, sweeping, bluesy and sorta punky at times. Here’s “Devastate,” but make sure you look up the track “Box Cutters” as well:

18. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I’m not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed. I feel like if I were, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Frightened Rabbit album in one piece. In a list that is chock full of world class songwriters this year, Scott Hutchison is, at times, the best of the bunch. Here’s “The Woodpile,” which may be my favorite song of the year. Seriously. If you listen to no other song on my list, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!

17. The Bronx – IV

I belong to the minority that actually prefer’s The Bronx’s mariachi alter ego side project to the original incarnation. I’m not that hardcore. Still, IV is a really good album, certainly my favorite the four studio album’s they’ve out out to date. A little more mainstream sounding, but that’s why I like it. I know, I know… Anyway, here’s “The Unholy Hand”:

16. Off With Their Heads – Home

Here’s where we start to get into the territory of albums that have been my “favorite album” of the year at times. OWTH are the real deal. Frontman Ryan Young has a no-bullshit way of conveying, well, conveying what a suicide note sounds like. At times, you genuinely worry for him. See for yourself; here’s “Always Alone”:

15. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I can understand those that say that Nine Inch Nails’ music is an acquired taste. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Trent Reznor as an artist, but it wasn’t until later years that I actually started to connect with his music. His return to the NIN game in 2013 is equal parts “pick up where you left off” and “time to change the game again.” Here’s “Copy of A” (featuring Pino Palladino on bass):

14. Get Dead – Bad News

Fat Wreck’s site bills Get Dead as “elements of Swingin’ Utters, The Pogues and Hot Water Music.” If you’re familiar with all of those bands, you realize that none of them are really even close to each other sonically. And yet, Fat Wreck’s description is right. Here’s “Kerouac’s Teeth”:

13. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

I only got into Arliss Nancy very late in the year, which is a shame, because the Fort Collins-based country punks are really, really good. Folk-punk has been the obvious trend lately, but these guys don’t seem to be riding the genre’s coat tails. Here’s “Benjamin”:

12. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything. Anyway, here’s “I, Pessimist”:

11. Broadcaster – A Million Hours

This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics). Sadly, they’re a little too “indie” to have anything on YouTube. Look ’em up on Spotify, however.

10. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather

If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. Not bad for a photographer by trade. Here’s “I Tremble”:

9. Bad Religion – True North

It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever. Here’s their ode to Mitt Romney, “Robin Hood In Reverse,” followed by the self-explanatory “Fuck You.”

8. Swingin Utters – Poorly Formed

Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011′s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer. Here’s “Greener Grass.”

7. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Pound for pound, Jason Isbell might be the single best lyricist on the list this year, though that is certainly saying something. Isbell is somewhat recently sober and married to the aforementioned Shires (who also plays violin for his band, the 400 Unit). Tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect. Here they are, in that order:

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Another example of the strength of the 2013 music scene: Frank Turner’s last album, England Keep My Bones, was my favorite album the year it came out. The more honest, introspective Tape Deck Heart is better, and yet it’s #6. Anyway, here’s “Recovery,” followed by “Tattoos,” which appeared on the deluxe version.

5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator

I was sad when Darkbuster met its demise a half-dozen-or-so years ago, and more sad that frontman Lashley had, effectively, a mental breakdown while on tour in Europe toward the end. Illuminator is the sounds of Lashley hitting the lowest of low points in a few areas of his life and coming out the other side. Can’t say enough good things about the album. Here’s “US Mail.”

4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth

Here’s what I wrote for Dying Scene: “While 2011′s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.” Here’s the video for “Right As Rain,” directed by the above-mentioned Joshua Black Wilkins, followed by the leftest-of-left turns, “First Step, Misstep.”

3. Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

I could spend twelve-hundred words expounding on the touching, virtuous moments of this album. Oh wait…I did. Here’s Tim McIlrath covering “For Fiona,” with backing vocals from Jon Snodgrass.

2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly well aware of my long-time affinity for all things Pearl Jam. They are the first band that was really “my” band. I’ve emoted with and related to Eddie Vedder’s every word for better than twenty years. I understand and accept that The Clash are “the only band that really mattered.” Pearl Jam are my Clash, and always have been. So it pained me to no end that Eddie phoned in the last album, 2009’s Backspacer (with more than a little help from prodoucher Brendan O’Brien). For the first time, I was legitimately nervous about a PJ album, fearing that the “all tings Pearl Jam” chapter of my life’s book would close after almost a quarter-century. I was worried over nothing. Lightning Bolt (or at least the first eight tracks on Lightning Bolt) is a total triumph. A return to the piss-and-vinegar of the mid-1990s, coupled with some of the more heartfelt, relatable ballads the band has ever written. Here’s two examples of the former (“Father’s Son” and “Mind Your Manners”) and one of the latter (“Sirens”).

1. Dave Hause – Devour

In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year. Here’s the stripped-down version of “Autism Vaccine Blues,” followed by a quintessential downer (“Before”) and a quintessential upper (“The Shine”).

2011: The Year in Music

January 1, 2012 2 comments

2011 rocked.

That’s really the best that I could do in coming up with an intro because, in all seriousness, 2011 rocked. Pearl Jam’s Ten turned twenty years old (as did Nirvana’s Nevermind). The Ramones turned 35. The Foo Fighters brought rock back to whatever exists of rock radio nowadays. Oh, and Dying Scene. As you’re probably aware by now, I started writing for Dying Scene, a punk music website, about a year ago, and that has reignited my passion for uptempo beats and power chords like it was 1994 all over again.

But it wasn’t just all about punk music. As you’ll see in a minute, some of my favorite releases of the year were from across the rock and hip-hop genres, including one from a two-piece that plays Mexican-inspired folk music and features a donkey jaw bone as a percussion instrument. That, of course, is the David Wax Museum. I was lucky enough to catch them open for the Josh Ritter Trio (with the Mrs.) at a hole-in-the-wall in Milford, CT, back in May.

In fact, I consider myself lucky to have seen all of the live shows that I did this year. Being a suburban professional (and a dad) and a homebody by nature, it’s always nice to venture out to catch live music. And when you only catch four or five live shows a year, it’s nice when each one of them is a great, truly inspiring performance; the reason live music far exceeds its studio-recorded counterpart. My live music year started in February with Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) opening for Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at a special “Valentine’s Day Brawl” in Boston. It was followed by Face to Face and Strung Out in Boston, and again in Philly, in May. June brought the aforementioned Josh Ritter Trio/David Wax Museum show. Finally, December closed out the year with Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids/The New Amsterdams) and Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes) playing a special acoustic show at Northeastern University.

But you aren’t here to read me go on-and-on about how luck I was this year; you’re here for the music (right?).  Without further pomp-and-circumstance, here’s my favorites of 2011 (in painstaking order). As usual, no live albums, reissues, compilations, etc. Here we go…the top 23 releases of 2011, as chosen by me. Truthfully, any of the top seven albums on the list could have been #1, or at least #1B. Suffice it to say, 2011 rocked (especially if you’re a Shiflett).

22. David Wax Museum – Everything Is Saved. The Boston-based duo features David Wax on the jarana and Suz Slezak on the donkey jawbone playing infectious, Mexican-inspired folk tunes.

21. Tom Waits – Bad As Me. This album has gotten a lot of love in a lot of places. To me, it’s too similar to Real Gone and most of Orphans. But still…rehashed Tom Waits is better than original most-everything-else.

20. City and Colour – Little Hell. Former Alexisonfire frontman steps out for his most sparse, haunting solo album yet.

19. The Roots – Undun. The only hip-hop band that matters released their third album in eighteen months, this one  a concept album about growing up in bleak, rough-and-tumble Philadelphia. The title character was named after a Sufjan Stevens song. This is why The Roots are The Clash of the hip hop world.

18. Thrice – Major/Minor. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thrice, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving (though there is one song that sounds too much like a Creed track).


17. Thursday – No Devolucion. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thursday, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving. (Yes…this was a good year for post-hardcore “legends”, but a bad year for their longevity).


16. Blink 182 – Neighborhoods. I didn’t want to include this album. I really didn’t. But go ahead, pull my street cred card. It’s actually a (mostly) solid album. But I still want to punch Tom DeLonge.

15. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs. At first I thought this was just a way to cash in on those of us who buy anything Pearl Jam related (hey, Ed’s got a family to feed now). But the more you listen to this album that was in the works for almost a decade, the better it gets.

14. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Magic Of Youth. Most of them don’t even live in Boston anymore (Dicky lives in LA, for God’s sake). And, frankly, I couldn’t even tell you who is in the band anymore. But they still know how to make a killer album, easily their best since I was in college.

13. Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Here’s my review from earlier in the year.




12. Vacation Bible School – Ruined The Scene. Self-depricating, middle-finger-raising skate punk that reminds me of my youth. Opening track is called “Douchebag.” ‘Nuff said.



11. Radiohead – King Of Limbs. Loop-heavy stroke of shoegazey genius. Watch the video.


10. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones. There’s been a trend lately in which punk rock/hardcore frontmen branch out with more acoustic, folk-driven side projects. The Englishman Turner is the best of the bunch with his beer-soaked pub sing-along anthems.


9. Banquets – Top Button, Bottom Shelf. Great riffs, great melodies and great harmonies make for a great post-punk album. Banquets hit on all of them.

8. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man. The razor sharp wit and self-deferential sense of humor is always enjoyable, but it’s the occasional glimpses of  heart-attack seriousness and “it’s funny because it’s true” moments (take “Sad Songs (Intermission)” or the closing line in “Fucc The Devil” for example) that give Knife Man its depth and importance.


7. No Motiv – Winterlong. Though it’s only an EP, the band’s first release since 2004’s semi-breakthrough, appropriately named Daylight Breaking album serves as (hopefully) a forceful return to the game, and proof that there is still room in the game for the old guard of the emo game.


6. Mastodon – The Hunter. The best metal band on the planet make their broadest, most accessible sounding album yet, and it’s an absolute monster. It’s on Spotify, so you have no excuse to not listen to it.

5. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie. The smoky blues-bar Waits-ian vocal stylings and solo Springsteen inspired sound give The Horrible Crowes the feel of more than just a throwaway, between-Gaslight filler album for Brian Fallon and longtime pal Ian Perkins.


4. The Black Keys – El Camino. The Akron duo teamed up with Danger Mouse for the whole album this time. The result is their most rocking, best sounding, most focused album today, filled with dirty, sludgy blues riffs.

3. Samiam – Trips. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that it touches on a broad spectrum of sounds, Samiam’s first album in five years (and only their second in over a decade) is the most polished, best sounding , most accessible album of their long career. Let’s just hope they don’t go away for so goddamn long this time…


2. The Reveling – Tributaries. The Reveling provided me the biggest “holy crap these guys are good” moment from the beginning seconds of the album’s opening track, “Revival.” That feeling hasn’t let up one bit (and has, in fact, only gotten stronger) upon what is probably a couple hundred successive listens over the year. The Reveling are THAT GOOD, and it really is a shame that more people don’t know of them.

And now for the moment where I feel like Mr. and/or Mrs. Shiflett making a musical “Sophie’s Choice” between releases from two of my three sons…Chris with the Foo Fighters and Scott with Face To Face. As could be expected, I took the easy way out.

1A. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light. I could spend probably two thousand words explaining how amazing this album is and still not do it proper justice. Dave Grohl has written a career’s worth of hook-driven, thoughtfully-worded anthems. Wasting Light is the best album, start-to-finish, that he has ever played on, and solidifies the band’s status as one of the best American rock bands of the last several decades.

1. Face To Face – Laugh Now, Laugh Later. A lot has changed in the nine years since f2f’s last album was released. They’ve got a new drummer, they reunited with guitarist Chad Yaro, they’ve got a new label and new production partners. But the sound of Laugh Now, Laugh Later is every bit as strong and vital as it has been at any point in their twenty-plus year career.

“Ten” Turns Twenty – Volume Two

August 27, 2011 3 comments

If you’re just joining us, click here to read Volume One of my look back at Pearl Jam’s seminal debut album, Ten.

Anyway, we’re at the point in our journey where it’s time to look back at the album itself. The impact of Ten can still be felt on rock radio (that is, if you actually live in an area where there is a rock radio station). It should be noted that the impact isn’t necessarily a good one. Numerous bands citing Pearl Jam as a vital influence have spawned over the years, and most of them, well…suck. Sadly, Pearl Jam spawned Creed, which spawned Nickleback, which spawned Shinedown, which spawned me not listening to rock radio anymore. The imitators have tried to borrow pieces from Pearl Jam’s original sound: the heavy groove-inspired riffs, the swirling guitar solos, the baritone frontman’s ability to combine themes of love, loss, desperation, grief, homelessness, rape, and a descent into madness into lyrics that don’t sound like they came from the journal of a fourteen-year-old high school boy. Instead, their canned angst dude-rock may appeal to the masses but rings incredibly hollow to the discerning ear.

Okay, off the soapbox. Sorry for that. Now we’re on to the actual music (note: all videos are the album versions of the respective track unless otherwise noted)…

1. Once – Ten opens with the precursor to “Master/Slave,” the album-closing instrumental piece. The intro is haunting and sounds almost tribal (and would be almost directly ripped off by 90’s Seattle-sound cover band Godsmack on their hit “Voodoo“) before ripping into the opening D chord of the first track, “Once.” It is not an overstatement to say that the initial over-driven guitar riff set its hooks deep, and really hasn’t let go of me since. The verse and chorus sections are equally as haunting as the “Master/Slave” opener, albeit in a more aggressive, ‘climactic suspense movie chase scene’ sort of way. Though it is the opener to the album, the track actually stands as the second song in the three-song mini-opera known as “Mamasan,” (“Alive” and “Footsteps” make up Mamasan’s bookend tracks), and tells the story of a man who has become a victim of his upbringing and has, as a result, become a serial killer. Vedder’s gravelly voice is committed on every note, and he sounds every bit the crazy man incarnate. They lyrics to “Once” paint a very vivid, realistic picture of a man’s descent into madness:

“backseat lover on the side of the road/I’ve got a bomb in my temple that is gonna explode/I’ve got a sixteen-gauge buried under my clothes/I play…”

“Once” – album version

2. Even Flow – The album’s second track, Even Flow, centers around a funky, tritone-interval riff written by rhythm guitarist (and principal music writer on Ten) Stone Gossard. It’s a steady, uptempo rock groove that has filled arenas and ampitheaters 672 times over the years, inspiring mosh pits for two decades. Lyrically, it depicts the life of a seemingly insane, chronically homeless male individual. Freezin’, rests his head on a pillow made of concrete again / Feelin’ maybe he’ll see a little better set of days. Our protagonist’s optimism is short-lived, however, as whispering hands gently lead him away. Though it features one of the heaviest grooves on the album, and one of McCready’s most Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired lightening-fast guitar solos (in an unintended, ironic coincidence, the album was released on the first anniversary of SRV’s death in a plane crash), the album version is somewhat lacking, primarily due to Krusen’s drumming. Thankfully, Krusen was replaced by Dave Abbruzzese (okay…first by Matt Chamberlain, then by Abbruzzese) and a more aggressive, raw sounding version would be recorded for the video version and is far superior to the original. Check it out…

3. Alive – If there were any doubts that Ten was not just another album, but something more…transcendental, “Alive” squashed them. Ten‘s third track was the band’s first single, and is the first act in the three-song Mamasan trilogy. “Alive” is a partly-fictional, partly-autobiographical tale of a man who learns that the man that he thought was his biological father was, in fact, nothing but a… More than that, his true biological father, a man that he knew only as a family friend, was now deceased. The song’s central figure takes the news, well, like you’d expect.

The now-iconic "Stickman" cover art to PJ's first single

Though he shouts the now-anthemic chorus “I’m still alive…” he does so not out of a sense of empowerment (in that he is glad that he’s alive and able to work through the life-changing event) but out of a sense of burden; cursed by the fact that he is still alive, forced to come to some sort of terms with the news. Vedder has talked about how the song’s meaning has changed because of the way that it was interpreted by the fans, and that it has since become a source of power for him. In many ways, the song almost has two lead vocalists: Vedder’s trademark, heart-on-his-sleeve baritone and McCready’s best guitar work on the album; two guitar solos that contain at least as much emotion as Vedders vocals. Enjoy.

4. Why Go – Another tale of a descent into madness, this time told about a girl committed to an asylum by, of all people, her mother (she’s been diagnosed/by some stupid fuck/and mommy agrees). We don’t know why she’s there (depression? bipolar? rebellion? genuine insanity?), but we know that she has the opportunity to leave (she could play pretend/she could join the game, boy/she could be another clone). She rejects the chance at freedom because if your own mother is the reason you’re there (what you taught me/put me here/don’t come visit/mother), well, why go home? The track sounds dark, driven by a sludgy, lead bass riff. Also, more screaming, wah-infused guitar work from McCready. Vedder’s vocals sound not just like he is reading from a lyric sheet but really leading you through the highs and lows of the story. See for yourself:

5. Black – The album’s first ‘ballad,’ “Black” begins with a simple E-to-A power chord riff that is repeated for the bulk of the song. The instrumentation for the verse and chorus sections is understated, leaving plenty of room for Vedder to soar on this emotional tale of a man processing a love lost. Our central character proceeds through an escalating series of emotions, from an initial sense of dull lifelessness (now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn…), to passive-aggressive anger (and all I taught her was…everything), to scorned bitterness (I take a walk outside/I’m surrounded by some kids at play/I can feel their laughter/so why do I sear?), to delusional outrage (twisted thoughts that spin around my head). When the song reaches its emotional climax, our story-teller’s thoughts have unraveled to confusion and general loss (I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life/I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky/but why can’t it be mine?). The interplay between the guitars of McCready and Gossard escalates throughout the song, matching Vedder’s intensity note-for-note.

6. Jeremy – The song that would catapult Pearl Jam into the stratosphere of international superstardom (much to their chagrin, as it turns out), “Jeremy” is a song that is really like no other. It doesn’t sound like a classic rock song, it doesn’t sound like any other ‘grunge’ song. “Jeremy” sounds like…”Jeremy.” Centering on a riff performed on Jeff Ament’s Hamer 12-string bass, “Jeremy” is inspired by two different true stories (most notably that of Jeremy Wade Delle, the Richardson TX 16-year-old who stuck a .357 Magnum in his mouth in front of a class of thirty of his peers and pulled the trigger) and tells the tale of a high school kid who witnessed a classmate take his own life during class after years of torment from his mother, his father, his peers. The song really speaks for itself; a tidal wave of intensely haunting, emotional, vivid story telling. Because you haven’t seen the video in a while, be prepared…it’s a little unnerving.

7. Oceans – “Oceans” is a bit of a weird song. It is driven primarily by percussion and a slow bass groove, and is the first of many songs that Vedder would write that pertain to the ocean, spawned by his love of surfing. “Oceans” is a love song, written about the devotion that Vedder had for his then-girlfriend (and later wife, and even later ex-wife) Beth Liebling. As it appears on the album, “Oceans” is a perfect example of the over-production that plagues the album. It takes the band’s live performance (which, sadly, doesn’t feature the pepper shaker and the fire extinguisher that the album track does) to really pull out the song’s subtleties and emotional nuances. Here’s how it sounded when PJ took over MTV Unplugged:

8. Porch – Pearl Jam gets political for the first time, a sure sign of things to come (all the bills go by and/initiatives are taken up by the middle/there aint’ gonna be any middle any more). “Porch” is the only song on the album written entirely by Vedder, and draws equally from his punk rock and classic rock influences. It’s a high-intensity, all-out rocker, and my personal favorite on the album. Pardon the cheesy video…maybe just minimize it while you listen to the song…

9. Garden – A beautiful, powerful, intense, underrated song about being alone. Whether you interpret ‘garden of stone’ to be a cemetery or a euphemism for modern, post-industrial society, “Garden” is about being reclusive going it alone, not needing another’s hand to guide you (maybe a critique on religion?). All summed up in the song’s final line “I don’t know/I don’t care/I don’t need/You, for me to live.” We’ve all been there…

10. Deep – Another punk-inspired rock song that features Jeff Ament’s Hamer 12-string holding down the rhythm so that McCready and Gossard can trade aggressive, almost psychadelic lead riffs. The lyrics are profoundly disturbing. The three main verses to the song are individual stories of people plunging deep into individual types of despair. The first, a heroin addict: (on the edge, a windowsill/ponders his maker, ponders his will/to the street below, he just ain’t nothing/but he’s got a nice view, and he sinks the needle deep). The second, a suicidal/homicidal man (…to the sky above, he just ain’t nothing/but he’s got a great view, and he sinks the burning knife deep). The last, a girl being raped (young virgin down from heaven, visitng hell/to the man above her, she just ain’t nothing/and she doesn’t like the view, but he sinks himself deep). I know I’ve used the “powerful” and “intense” adjectives a lot in this blog post, but Vedder’s vocals are nothing if not both of those things.

11. Release – Though not a part of the Mamasan trilogy, to me this song is its logical, real-life end. Where “Alive” was inspired by Vedder’s mother telling him that his biological father was both A)deceased and B)not the person that he was raised believing was his dad, “Release” is Vedder’s letter to his father, asking him to release him from the aforementioned curse. “Oh dear dad, can you see me now/I am, myself, like you somehow/I wait up in the dark, for you to speak to me…” The lyrics to this song were not included in the album’s liner notes, leaving the listener to form their own opinion as to why (my guess at the time: too personal).

There you have it; a nineteen-hundred-word track-by-track rundown of Ten. This album changed me. It didn’t save my life (my life was pretty good). I couldn’t identify first-hand with a lot of the themes (I knew, and loved, both of my parents; I wasn’t a murderer – also, I’m still not a murderer; I’m not crazy), but I could identify with the way that Vedder told the stories. You could tell that he was committed to every word of every line on the album. His voice was unique; at times delicate, but generally a gravelly, intense (there’s that word again) baritone that prompted some members of older generations (like my Uncle Dave) to remark at the time that it sounded like he was singing while having open-heart surgery without the requisite anesthesia (and he meant that in a bad way). Pearl Jam became the first band that was really mine; my generation’s Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, minus the synthesizer that plagued the middle, Born In the USA phase of the latter band’s career.

I don’t count Ten as being Pearl Jam’s best work; it was only my favorite PJ album until their sophomore release, Vs., debuted. I love the individual songs, though some of the b-sides from the Ten sessions and the pre-Vs. era are equally as good as anything on the album, if not better. But the fact remains that Ten stands the test of time, in all its over-produced glory. For that, I wish the album a very, very happy twentieth birthday.

“Ten” Turns Twenty – Volume One

August 27, 2011 1 comment

Assuming I finish this post in time, today (August 27th) marks the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Ten. In fairly short order, the album would become, arguably, the most influential non-parental piece of my adolescence. The album, and the band in a larger sense, would help shape what I’d become as a person; how to think, how to listen to music, how to question authority. It would become the first real album in the soundtrack to my life, the cornerstone on which twenty years of musical experience would build, introducing me to the worlds of punk rock, folk rock, acoustic rock and indie rock, in addition to providing me a better perspective on the classic rock that I grew up on but abandoned for a time as a youngster.

If you’ve known me for a while and you know my penchant for A)all things Pearl Jam and B)writing stream-of-consciousness, music-related posts on this little blog o’ mine (whose very name is a rather obscure PJ reference), you probably figured an ode to Ten was coming. It’ll be tough to encapsulate exactly what this album has meant to me over the years but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Join me on an all-encompassing trip, won’t you?

You probably know the story by now, but in brief: Pearl Jam had formed roughly ten months earlier from the ashes of a few seminal Seattle bands (Green River and Mother Love Bone, primarily), when when Jack Irons (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers) obtained a five-song demo tape that longtime bandmates Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass) had been working on with Mike McCready (lead guitar) and gave a copy to a surfer dude that he knew in Southern California. (Interesting aside: the drummer that the newly formed trio recruited to play drums on their demo was none other than Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron, who, in 1998, would become Pearl Jam’s fifth drummer in eight years after Soundgarden dissolved and the very same Jack Irons would resign his post as Pearl Jam’s drummer. Cameron is still drummer for Pearl Jam, as well as the newly-reformed Soundgarden.)

Rare early PJ picture, featuring the short-lived original lineup. From left: Ament, McCready, Krusen, Vedder, Gossard

That “dude,” Eddie Vedder, would write and record vocals to a few of the tracks (which would later become known as the ‘Mamasan Trilogy’: “Once,” “Alive” and “Footsteps”), and send it back to the other three in Seattle. Long-distance flights would take place, fruitful jam sessions would happen, Dave Krusen would round out the early lineup and the rest, as they say, is history.

The unlikely inspiration behind Pearl Jam's original name and the title of their debut album

As stated above, Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten,was released via Epic Records on August 27th, 1991, a full month before Nirvana’s Nevermind.By this point, the band had shed their previous moniker, Mookie Blaylock, though due to love of basketball (primarily shared by Ament and Vedder), they would proceed to name the album after the aforementioned point guard.

I’ve spent a long time pondering exactly what form I wanted my “Ten Turns Twenty” post to take. Ten was an important album in my formative years; perhaps the single most important one. I was raised on a steady diet of what we now call ‘classic rock’ – The Beatles, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, John Mellencamp, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Montrose…oh, and of course Bruce Springsteen (with and without the E Street Band). At some point, I started the “my parents’ music is lame” phase, so my tastes shifted to R&B-infused early hip hop: Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Boyz II Men, Another Bad Creation, Marky Mark & The Funkee Bunch, etc. Forgive me…I was like nine years old.

Anyway, in late 1992 came my introduction to Ten. I’m not going to pretend that I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it, though I have a pretty good idea. Gym class. That’s right, gym class. I had just turned twelve and was thus in seventh grade at Pennichuck Junior High. The boys’ gym teacher, “Coach” Connolly, was a rather demonstrative individual, very much a presence in the way that boys’ gym teachers can be. He was also a big music fan, and frequently had the tape player out in the gymnasium while we were playing basketball or handball or the like.

Somewhere along the line, somebody had given Coach a sort of Pearl Jam mix tape. It contained most of the tracks from the band’s performance on MTV Unplugged and some live rarities, including an improv cover of The Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket” which came from the band’s June 1992 performance in Zurich.

That mixtape, which Coach was kind enough to copy onto an old 60-minute Memorex tape, would serve as the spark that lit the fire that would become my Pearl Jam obsession for, well, the next twenty years. Christmas 1992 brought with it my first CD player and my first two CDs: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, finally, Pearl Jam’s Ten. (Related side note: I still have one of those CDs, jettisoned the other long ago.) I’m not too proud to admit that I actually obtained my own copy more than a year after the album debuted: remember, I was 11 years old when the album came out. But I finally had my very own copy, and would proceed to spend endless hours unfolding and examining the nine-panel poster that contained the now-iconic, magenta-hued artwork on the front and hand-scribbled lyric sheets to most of the song on the back.

Obligatory picture of the original, unfolded, magically magenta album cover artwork.

Ten is, by no means, a perfect album; far from it in fact. It is by no means Pearl Jam’s best work, nor is it the best example of Pearl Jam’s influence on the so-called ‘Seattle sound’ (that title belongs to the band’s sophomore album, Vs.). In fact, I find it almost unlistenably over-produced in hindsight; I went several years without listening to the original album until about a year ago, when I started revisiting it from time to time, knowing that the twentieth anniversary was approaching. (Related side note: the original album was rendered much-more listenable after hearing Brendan O’Brien’s remixed/remastered, comically bad Ten Redux edition that came out a couple years ago; my hatred of Brendan O’Brien knows no bounds).

Don’t get me wrong: the songs on Ten are great. The album has sold roughly ten million copies to date, and stands as the band’s most commercially successful for good reason. Eddie Vedder’s voice would become a mouthpiece for alienated, disconnected, troubled kids the world over in a more real sense than his ‘grunge’ counterpart Kurt Cobain (be honest: you didn’t really identify with Cobain’s nonsensical lyrics most of the time, just like you didn’t really identify with Jim Morrison’s a generation before him), much like his idol Pete Townshend was before him.

I guess that brings us to the logical point where we re-examine the original album and all of its mystique. If you’re still with me, thanks…we’re up around 1200 words at this point, and my consciousness stream shows no signs of drying up. So I’m going to stop now and call this “Volume One.” When I’m done the next part, I’ll link to it here.