Monday, April 17, 2006

he not busy living is busy

Yes, it's me, back again after another long and successful absense. It's tough when you try and strike up a conversation with an old friend after neglecting them for awhile, isn't it? You tense up, you start wondering if you'll be able to say the right thing, you act...a little different. In short, you stop acting like the natural friend you were in the first place, which, it stands to reason, makes you no longer the same friend. Let's not do that, all right?

Instead let's talk about something that's been sort of sticking in my head the last couple of days, an issue of sorts, and that issue is my still unresolved feelings about a band that was my best friend for an awful lot of years, the terminally unhip and unfortunately Creed-spawning Pearl Jam.

Yes, there's a vocal lot of you out there, most definitely, who are on my side. I just saw on stereogum yesterday a post that suddenly deviated into a Jam-fan flamewar between those who are with Mssrs. Vedder, McCready, Cameron, Gossard and Ament and those who are not--and man, those who are certainly can shout down those who aren't, can't we? It's like we're a bit overly sensitive or something.

Sure, ours (?) is a pretty easily defended position: Pearl Jam is one of the best rock bands of the past twenty years. Period. Fair point, that. And those against inevitably drege up feelings from the tired Nirvana v. PJ holy war from waybackwhen, where the cool kids liked punk rock, integrity and Cobain, and the dorky jocks who loved Three Dog Night and Pepsi sided with Ed Ved & Co. Or something like that.

But, and the part of me who has far too much shelf space devoted to Pearl Jam's bootlegs, albums and singles quivers as I say this, where are they now? We know where Nirvana is, they're in the pantheon--tragically elevated to such status, yes, but elected because they never had to awkwardly age, evolve, and yes (*shudder*) suck.

Pearl Jam does not suck. Everyone calm down. Their place is secure as well.

But they've got this new record coming out, and a few of the songs sampled in that handy promotional video that made the rounds had a nice level of aggression to them that showed promise but...sometime in the last couple albums or so...something happened.

It hit me at the Irvine Mea--Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, excuse me--a couple years ago, watching the band burn through the standards--Jeremy, Even Flow, Alive and the like--along with a couple newer nuggets like Love Boat Captain and Thumbing My Way that really got the crowd into an expected mid-level lather. Trouble was...I didn't, or I wasn't, whatever. I think Love Boat Captain is...a little trite, to be honest. That legacy bit of the show, the one with the above hits off "Ten"? I thought it seemed...a little tired. A lot tired. Like I was watching a tribute band going through the motions-tired. And I became very sad.

But, the show picked up, thankfully. The surprise "Blood" raised the energy level nicely. "Boom" Gasper on keys kept things going through the end of the show, particularly with Baba O'Riley and this 10 minute "Crazy Mary." But still...there it was, like a little cloud on an X-Ray of my brain, that dead spot in the show. I'd never felt that at a Pearl Jam show before. It was like a half an hour where I was, you know, satisfied, but it wasn't the same, you know?

So here we are, on the cusp of Avocado Day when the new album gets released on J Records (?????), and the boys were even kind enough to wrap up a live CD from 1991 in with the deal as part of the pre-release candy for fans like me, encouraging us to place our order Now NOW NOW! while supplies last.

I haven't yet. Sure, it's a cool promotion and a way to give back to the fans, but isn't this already a tacit acknowledgement of 'the glory years' on the part of the band? To package the new stuff with the old stuff, or essentially what the Rolling Stones have done and their fans have grudgingly accepted with albums like Voodoo Lounge and Steel Wheels? Is that who we are now? And, even worse, I didn't get to see the band's performance on SNL last weekend, but a few people I know were a little let down, saying they looked a little old, a little tired, and a little like their best days were behind him. Even as I listen again to those songs from the new record that pack all that renewed energy, some of it sounds...familiar. Doesn't World Wide Suicide sport the same hook as Satan's Bed? It does, right?

Maybe it's not too late. Maybe that album's going to knock my socks off and be like Michael Jordan out of retirement, Jack Nicklaus in the 88 Masters, or Al Pacino in "Angels in America," an old master somehow miracling its way into just one more inspired, brilliant performance to make all us "remember when" nostalgists smile. Let's listen to this song from the 2003 tour with Sleater-Kinney and hear all that passion spilling out of this veteran band...and try not to think about how much of it is coming from Carrie Brownstein.

Pearl Jam (with Sleater-Kinney), "Fortunate Son"

Let's still be friends.


At 12:19 PM, Blogger heather said...

I love your honesty. Let's still be friends. ;)

At 3:56 PM, Blogger chris said...

Ha. Thanks, Heather. Hey, I'm still going to buy the new one in the first week...I have to know!


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