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Festival Review and Photos: Pearl Jam 20, September 4, 2011, Alpine Valley Music Theatre – East Troy, WI



Photos by Jenny Wojcicki

They may never have been the most critically acclaimed of the great nineties Seattle alternative outfits, but Pearl Jam have managed to remain intact and relevant for an astounding twenty years. Part of their success is due to their veneration of their roots, with which they’ve always maintained some level of touch. Accordingly, Pearl Jam have treated their PJ20 Destination Weekend as more than a mere self-tribute. Amongst the acts they’ve chosen to share their stage with are the artists that helped breed their sound and create the forum from whence they sprung, as well as those they’ve shared a stage with in the subsequent years. More than anything, PJ20 is a celebration of an entire scene, of which they were a major contributor, and perhaps the last significant torchbearer. Pearl Jam brought everything to the fest, including a PJ Museum (for which the line stretched from the expo center to the mini-stage area), a giant anniversary card for fans to sign, and over 12 hours of music.

The Young Evils

Given the weight of PJ20’s headliners, it’s refreshing to see a boy/girl pop outfit opening up the day. Musically, the Seattle-based Young Evils follow a simple formula: minimalistic vocal harmonies over feathery, acoustic pop songs which frequently recall the Vaselines (whom with they’ve shared a stage). The setlist pulled nearly everything off their self-released debut album, Enchanted Chapel. From “Get Over It” and on, vocalists Troy Nelson and Mackenzie Mercer sing in perfect sync. Their band, composed of bassist Michael Lee, guitarist Cody Hurd, and Faustine Hudson on drums, provide the instrumental wallop that propels each song. The best part? A cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” as the set closer.

Star Anna And The Laughing Dogs

Star Anna is yet another Seattle based artist which Pearl Jam has decided to feature at their 20th anniversary festival. While one of the lesser known artists featured at PJ20, Anna quickly stood out. In what is mostly a 90s alt-rock festival, Anna and her band the Laughing Dogs played country music in the vein of Uncle Tupelo. What she does have in common with Pearl Jam and the other big hitters of the festival (other than the Seattle roots) is the honesty in her music. On “Shine,” Anna truly embodies the escapism of the song’s protagonist. She manages to bring the audience, sparse though it may be, into the world of her music. Having such a muscular, finessed voice certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Mike McCready joined in the festivities for a few songs, showcasing his considerable shredding talents on “Alone In This Together.”

Jason Lytle

Lytle has been a hard man to pin down since the disintegration of the greatly underappreciated Grandaddy. After living his entire life in Modesto, California, Lytle up and moved to rural Montana, where it took him three years to produce his first solo album, Yours Truly, The Commuter. Shortly thereafter, he formed Admiral Radley and released the intriguing but inconsistent I Heart California. Now touring solo again, Lytle still seems to be lacking the peace of mind he’s sought after since The Sophtware Slump. He’s the least assuming stage presence of all the performers at PJ20, even poking fun at his own quietness. Playing only acoustic guitar and piano, and accompanied by a drum box, Lytle performed soft songs like “Brand New Sun.” Unlike most of the other performers, it seems like the songs are describing Lytle more than Lytle describes the songs. Certainly, one can get into his headspace on “The Go In The Go For It,” on which he recounts losing career ambition. The move to Montana makes a little more sense after seeing Lytle perform live.

David Garza

For the past two decades, David Garza’s music has been a tour de force of traditional Latin music with Zeppelin like bombast and a voice that has justifiably been compared to Jeff Buckley. If you’ve never seen him live, he’s a bit of a wild man. Not only does Garza flail about over his guitar, but he warbles at breakneck pace. Of the festivals most chaotic frontman (the other being Liam Finn), Garza manages to keep things from falling off the rails. Two contributing factors to this are drummer Michael Hale and bassist Brad Hauser, who lay down a steady groove for Garza to lose himself over. On a particular blues tune, Garza struts violently around the stage wailing, “Revolution,” over and over, all the while pelting out the notes of his solo. While not the strongest contribution to PJ20, Garza is never less than entertaining.

Thenewno2

Whether the profession is sports, business, or the arts, trying to move out of the shadow of a famous parent is perhaps the hardest task. Such a feat is made no easier when that famous parent is a goddamn Beatle. Where other Beatle offspring have spent sizable portions of their careers treading the same musical ground as their fathers (we’re looking at you, Zak Starkey), others have tried to branch out and at least attempt to claim anonymity. Dhani Harrison deserves a considerable amount of respect for not taking what must be an easy road to success by simply writing Beatle-like pop for Beatles fans. Thenewno2’s work has much more in common with Roxy Music and the Chemical Brothers, and Dhani makes no reference to his father at any point in the show. The unfortunate drawback of Harrison’s approach is that you really have to deliver the goods in order to earn the respect of an audience that either wants to hear “Something” from you, or has dismissed you for merely being a musician’s son. Thenewno2 has an interesting sound, but little more. The six players onstage often step on each other’s toes and little melody makes it through the ether, as was the case on several of the early songs. Granted, some tunes work well this way, such as “So Vain,” and the Wayne Coyne-like megaphone on “Give You Love” kind of works, too. You really want to pull for Dhani as he tries to blaze his own trail, but these results are middling.

Joseph Arthur

I haven’t heard much of Joseph Arthur before seeing him at PJ20, but the man clearly likes freedom. He sings about it in several of the songs he performed Sunday. That can be a bit much to swallow for some, and he has a tendency to get overly arty during his set. Over the course of his performance, Arthur painted on several canvases. This was probably meant to reflect the message of his songs, though it’s unclear exactly as to how. More difficult still was the performance of “I Miss The Zoo,” which attempts to be a modern rewrite of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and falls somewhere in Jim Morrison territory (which is not to be confused with a compliment). Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron and Mike McCready attempted to save the set by assisting on “When The Fire Comes” and “In The Sun,” but Arthur will go down as the least impressive performer of PJ20.

Liam Finn

Now, here is an example of successfully stepping out of the shadow of a famous father. Liam Finn, son of Crowded House/Split Enz frontman Neil Finn, approaches the elder Finn’s legacy by not shying away, but at the same time not becoming a mere extension of his father’s career. Liam, as evidenced by the drums and guitar “musical chairs” game he played onstage with Eddie Vedder, is his own man. To this writer, Liam Finn is the craziest man at PJ20. The bearded one’s band follows him as best they can, but only so much can be expected when backing a man of Finn’s peculiar personality. It seemed like many in the audience were experiencing Finn live for the first time, but it’s hard to imagine they weren’t impressed.

Glen Hansard

It’s been four years since Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova rose to international prominence with their performances in the Oscar-winning Once. In that time the music from the movie has been released over and over again between albums by Hansard’s band the Frames, the movie soundtrack, and the Hansard and Irglova collaboration the Swell Season. Hansard’s brand of melancholy and guarded romantic optimism have pretty much remained static throughout his entire career, and as such the Swell Season have done little to meaningfully expand his catalog. He’s since toured as a solo act with Eddie Vedder, and has since been made the subject of a documentary depicting the rise and fall of his real life romance with Irglova. Live, he’s still pretty much occupying the same space, only he’s far more conversational than he is in any other medium. For all the warts he may have as a studio musician – and to be fair they all have some – he’s meant to be heard live. Just like in his busking days in Ireland, Hansard is performing by himself acoustically (save a single song on Joseph Arthur’s electric guitar). His earnest voice cuts deep on “Low Rising” and “Pennies In The Fountain.” Better still is his cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” However, the climax of the set was his duet with Eddie Vedder on “Falling Slowly,” the definition of a show stopper.

John Doe

It’s often been overlooked how Los Angeles punk band X has influenced Pearl Jam. X frontman John Nommensen Duchac – better known by his stage name John Doe – may now favor a folksier sound to the rollicking sound that brought him acclaim, but he’s as cheeky as ever. Following the show-stopping performance of “Falling Slowly” isn’t an easy task, but with Doe was singer Cindy Wasserman. Her contributions were especially impactful on “Mama Don’t,” where her voice acts as the calming balance to both Doe’s vocal and the song’s narrator. As was the case for many of the artists Sunday, Eddie Vedder joined Doe onstage for an attempted de-pantsing (seriously) and a beautiful rendition of “Golden State.” Doe dipped into X’s considerable catalog a few times, highlighted by “See How We Are.”

Mudhoney

Mudhoney share a different kind of relationship with Pearl Jam than any other artist. Born out of Green River, the same Seattle band that would produce Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, Mudhoney defined the grungy Black Sabbath riffing meets punk energy sound that typified the entire Seattle music scene. While sonically they have more in common with Nirvana than Pearl Jam, the shared history of Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard makes Mudhoney as integral a part of PJ20 as Pearl Jam itself. While time has mellowed many of Seattle’s 90s luminaries, Mudhoney have remained as unpolished and violent as they did on Superfuzz Bigmuff. No band at any point in the day sounded as downright devilish as did Mudhoney on “You Got It” and their signature song, “Touch Me I’m Sick.”

Queens Of The Stone Age

It’s quite fitting that the two heaviest groups at PJ20 play back to back. While Mudhoney take the title, Queens Of The Stone Age were certainly an impressive showing. Their opening three songs, “…Millionaire,” “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret,” and “3’s & 7’s” are just about as good as anything else played during the fest. What some people miss about Queens Of The Stone Age is how much humor and self-deprecation are a part of their identity as a band. How else can one interpret a song like, “The Fun Machine Took A Shit & Died,” which not coincidentally was one of the highlights of their set. Perpetual stage guest Eddie Vedder joined Homme and company on “Little Sister,” as did Julian Casablancas for a live take of their joint track “Sick, Sick, Sick” from 2007’s Era Vulgaris.

The Strokes

As the only headlining band whose average age is below 35, there’s understandably something quite different about the Strokes than their stage-mates. While not completely devoid of stage banter, Julian Casablancas isn’t much for talking. The band just goes for the gut. Kicking off with “Reptilia,” the setlist focuses heavily on Is This It and Room On Fire. While The Strokes welcomed Vedder onstage for “Juicebox” and Josh Homme for “New York City Cops,” the best moments were “Hard To Explain” and “Take It Or Leave It.” The newer material, such as “You Only Live Once,” didn’t fare as well. That’s not meant to be a commentary on their album trajectory, though it might as well be. Regardless, the band played tight throughout. Albert Hammond Jr., who’s rhythm guitar is the central instrumental piece to the Strokes sound, was killing it all set. Matching his intensity was drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who still does not receive enough recognition as one of the best drummers playing today.

Pearl Jam

It was announced earlier in the day that the entire day’s schedule would be moved up so as to accommodate Pearl Jam’s desire to lengthen their already long set. Apparently the previous day’s two and a half hour set was not enough to satisfy the band. While the band didn’t reach the stage until about 9:15, Pearl Jam played a set that must have satisfied not only themselves, but every Pearl Jam fan in attendance (including the Ten Club members). Featuring everything from their biggest hits to lost gems, the band played with many guests from throughout the day, and even some surprise ones.

The deep cuts came early, as the set opened with Ten bonus track, “Wash.” Moving quickly to the present, the band then busted out “The Fixer” and “Severed Hand” from their last two LPs. The first of many guest appearances came when a choir of the day’s singers joined in on “Given To Fly” in a manner that was not too dissimilar from the Who’s late-80s “on ice” era. After a few more lesser known tunes, the band broke out a series of career spanning hits with “Love Boat Captain,” “Evenflow,” and “Daughter,” the last of which was performed with a coda of “It’s OK” for the first time in years. Liam Finn and Julian Casablancas made their appearances on “Habit” and “Red Mosquito” respectively, with Dhani Harrison joining in on “Eldery Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” and later John Doe on “New World.” More Ten hits followed before the band left the stage for the first time. Upon return, Vedder gave the crowd a brand new song he had written the previous night, followed by thank you’s and more deep cuts. Glen Hansard made his way to the stage for “Smile,” and the band closed their first encore with their always rousing tribute to the record store, “Spin The Black Circle.” When they returned, Pearl Jam brought to the stage the night’s biggest surprise, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Several members of Pearl Jam, along with Cornell, were part of the Temple Of The Dog tribute to the late Andrew Wood. Cornell and the band ripped through several TotD classics, like “Hunger Strike” and “Call Me A Dog.” Mudhoney then made their obligatory guest spot for a cover of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” thus concluding the second encore. Then, so as to remind the audience who the festival was for, Pearl Jam returned for their strongest three song set of “Alive,” “Rockin’ In The Free World,” and “Yellow Ledbetter” before closing PJ20 with “The Star Spangled Banner.” As impressive as the Pearl Jam set was, and there isn’t much negative you can say about it, what’s most remarkable is how every song, regardless of whether it’s a little known PJ track or a Public Image Limited tune, the audience knew every word to every song. Few bands are afforded an audience as faithful and fanatic as that of Pearl Jam. What’s clearer than ever after PJ20 is that Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Matt Cameron certainly know that, and appreciate it considerably.

PEARL JAM
PJ20 ALPINE VALLEY, WI
SHOW 2
SEPTEMBER 04, 2011
SET LIST

01. Wash
02. The Fixer
03. Severed Hand
04. All Night w/guests singing bg voices
05. Given To Fly-(for Dennis)
06. Pilate
07. Love Boat Captain
08. Habit w/ Liam Finn
09. Evenflow
10. Daughter/It’s OK-(Cole)
11. Leatherman
12. Red Mosquito w/ Julian Casablancas
13. Satan’s Bed
14. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter A Small Town w/ Dhani Harrison
15. Unthought Known (before playing the song Ed thanks Brendan O’brien the “seventh member” of the band for all his help)
{Ed introduces John Doe. John discusses not losing hope and Ed mentions the West Memphis Three and thanks those that helped and supported them.}
16. New World w/John Doe-(Doe)
17. Black
18. Jeremy
ENCORE BREAK 1
19. Eddie improv/new song (performed solo by Ed on acoustic guitar)
20. Just Breathe
21. Nothingman
{Ed talks about Stone and Jeff’s 25 years together and different leaders of the band and wanting to play a Stone song that Stone was willing to skip.}
22. No Way
23. Public Image-(Public Image Limited)
24. Smile w/ Glen Hansard
25. Spin The Black Circle-(dedicated to independent record store owners and customers)
ENCORE BREAK 2
Chris Cornell wishes Pearl Jam a happy 20th birthday
26. Hunger Strike {Eddie Vedder duet vocal}-(Cornell)
27. Call Me A Dog-(Cornell)
28. All Night Thing-(Cornell)
29. Reach Down w/ guests singing bg vocs-(Cornell)
30. Sonic Reducer w/ Mudhoney-(Bators, Blitz, Chrome, Magnum, Thomas, Zero)
ENCORE BREAK 3
Ed and Jeff thank all the opening acts for playing with them and a special thanks to Boom Gasper for playing with band for 10 years. Ed also thanks Matt Cameron calling him one of the greatest drummers alive and thanking him for keeping the band alive
31. Alive
Ed thanks family, friends, and crew
32. Rockin’ In The Free World w/ lots of guests, friends and family-(Young)
33. Yellow Ledbetter/Star Spangled Banner


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