Pearl Jam turns 20

On October 22, 1990 at Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle, Washington, five men played for the first time together live. Two of them were already established musicians in the Seattle music scene, having most recently played with Mother Love Bone. The other was a long-haired surfer kid named Eddie Vedder whose demo tape, with help from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Jack Irons, landed in the hands of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.

Today, marks the 20th anniversary of that first performance from Pearl Jam. Within two years of that show, Pearl Jam went from being an unknown local band to international fame. Though their debut album, “Ten,” didn’t burn up the charts immediately, over time it picked up momentum and ended up selling close to 10 million copies.

Today, even though the hype that surrounded them in the early ’90s has died down, they continue to release quality albums and have a hardcore fan base that follows them on tour all over the world. Pearl Jam’s last two releases, “Backspacer” and the self-titled “Pearl Jam” were both as good as anything they’d previously released.

I’ve been a huge Pearl Jam fan since the beginning. Pearl Jam’s history in Utah traces back to the old DV8 club. I was at the infamous rain storm concert at the old Wolf Mountain in 1995, spending several hours in the men’s restroom with about 100 other people seeking shelter, only to have the show canceled and being forced to walk through the mud back to my car.

Ten years ago, I was at Pearl Jam’s 10th anniversary concert in Las Vegas. There are two things I remember most about that show. One is the hours I sat in a casino conference room waiting for my fan club tickets.

Pearl Jam’s fight against Ticketmaster during their early years is infamous. The band tried to solve the problem by selling tickets themselves to fan club members. Their system in the early days wasn’t the best, however, especially for the bigger shows. You were grouped by seniority according to when you joined the Ten Club. But there was still some jockeying for position, as it were, when it came to your group. Tickets were handed out at the venue, and it was first come, first serve for your group numbers. The band has since improved its system so your seats are already pre-determined (again, based on seniority) before you even get to the venue. My row 5 seats at the E Center in 2009 were both awesome and easy to pickup.

My second memory from the Vegas 10th anniversary show was Pearl Jam playing the Mother Love Bone song “Crown of Thorns” for the first time. Incredible.

To mark the band’s 20th anniversary, Sirius/XM Radio are launching a 24 hour Pearl Jam station, and will play that Las Vegas show in its entirety.

This weekend, Pearl Jam will be one of the performers both nights of Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA.

Although the rage of the early years has calmed, both for the band and the public’s attention, Pearl Jam remain one of the most consistent and seminal bands in music today. Eddie Vedder and his trademark baritone vocals should go down as one of the all time great lead singers for his song writing, his charisma and his on-stage intensity.

It’s been a great ride. Here’s to another 20 years.

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