Published Sep 15, 2011Fifteen years ago, the thought of Pearl Jam taking part in a documentary to celebrate their 20th anniversary seemed ridiculous. The Seattle, WA rockers' notoriety for their aversion to the media and self-destructive career decisions (suing Ticketmaster, not making music videos) seemed to ensure that even if the group managed to stick around to see their 20th anniversary, they'd have no interest in celebrating it in such a public way.
But here we are, with Pearl Jam Twenty, directed by one-time rock journalist turned star director Cameron Crowe, no less. Of course, picking Crowe to helm the project was a logical decision; he cast band members Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament in his film Singles back when they were still operating under the name Mookie Blaylock.
Given full access to all five current members of the band, Crowe documents their rapid rise to fame and the ensuing difficulties that created for the group. He digs back to Gossard and Ament's days in Green River and Mother Love Bone, before recruiting guitarist Mike McCready and a California singer named Eddie Vedder.
Pearl Jam's story is well known, even to casual fans, and Crowe does little to alter that narrative. It's the band's willingness to confront their past with honest hindsight that makes it such an enjoyable film. The death of Andrew Wood (lead singer of Mother Love Bone) still hits a nerve for everyone who knew him, especially Chris Cornell, who visibly wells up while talking about him. Equally moving is the group's reflection on Kurt Cobain's suicide and the effect his criticisms of the group early on had on all the members.
There are holes in the story of course: the band's post-Vitalogy years get skimmed over (Riot Act and Pearl Jam don't even warrant a mention) and none of their former drummers are interviewed. Ament's affection for weird hats is similarly ignored.
But Pearl Jam Twenty reveals its subjects to be flawed, yet principled stars who remain remarkably relatable after two decades of making music. (Sony)