New Songs from Old Friends

Crikey; I thought 2017 would be a slower one for new releases than last year but here we are while the year is still fairly young and the pre-orders for new albums are starting to tempt…

Leaving aside Radiohead revisiting OK Computer (because we’ll come to that soon enough) there’s shiny new albums (or white or indies-only clear) confirmed from a few old favourites  with new tracks already buzzing in the ears.

The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

It’s been four years since Trouble Will Find Me. Four. ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ is, aside from a title like  Philip K Dick novel, more direct and immediate than anything on that album – no slowburn, just aggressive and urgent – and is the first release from Sleep Well Beast due in September.

Mogwai – Coolverine

Also dropping in September is Mogwai’s just-announced Every Country’s Sun. The untouchable Glaswegian post-rock legends are on a real flyer at the moment with a good five years of solid releases following 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will – soundtrack Les Revenants (2013), Rave Tapes (2014), compilation Central Belters (2015) and soundtrack, again, Atomic (2016) proving essential additions to my collection. Always good for track name’s Every Country’s Sun – along with the already shared ‘Coolverine’ features tracks called ‘Brain Sweeties’, ‘1000 Foot Face’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’. Cannot wait.

The War On Drugs – Thinking of a Place

While there’s no album confirmed or named, it can only be a matter of time before the follow up to 2014’s hypnotising Lost In The Dream is announced. If this teaser is anything to go by it’s going to be great.

Pearl Jam – Again Today

So I’m not even familiar with Brandi Carlile but her 2007 album The Story has been covered by a variety of artists fora sort of 10 year celebration called Cover Stories with all proceeds going to War Child UK. Pearl Jam have contribute their take on ‘Again Today’. The original is a much quieter thing whereas Seattle’s finest hit it at full speed.  While it’s a cover it’s good to hear something new from Pearl Jam as the ticking clock continues to put distance between now and their last album and they’re definitely one of those bands with a knack for a good cover (almost a post in itself).

25 Years of Alive

Blimey… 25 years?

Where does time go? Anyway, a quick share in between editing other posts: I’m loving this video that  Kevin Shuss (Pearl Jam’s videographer) put together to celebrate Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (thoughts here).

Pearl Jam are right up there at the top of my Unimpeachables list (I ought to write that list down really). I’ve been listening to the Vs/Vitalogy box (and the live album included) in the car for the last week or so and given that I believe this era  represents peak Pearl Jam I was most definitely heartened by the band’s published response to the ‘drummer debacle’ that had been stirred by their induction*:

This brings three things to mind:
1. Just how many years I’ve been loving this band.
2. They are a decent bunch of guys really
3. It’s been three and a half years since Lightning Bolt! What the fuck, guys? Get your arses in the studio already ffs.

*Though I, and many, are certainly not impressed by their cropping out of former drummers when it comes to photos on social media etc.

We got the means to make amends… Pearl Jam and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Warning: rant incoming.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a strange thing. From where I sit it seems like a lot of back-slapping and congratulating from industry-types with very little real merit. Does it mean something to be a “Hall of Famer”? Does it add all that much credence anymore? Perhaps it means more in the States than it does here where a UK Music Hall of Fame sputtered, stalled and stopped before anyone paid it any attention.

Let’s spin back a bit to 1983; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was set up by Ahmet Ertegun (he of Atlantic Records) to “recognize and archive the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures, who have each had some major influence on the development of rock and roll” (Wikipedia) and began inducting such artists in 1986 with the first group of artists including Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry.

Since then each year a group of artists are nominated, voted for and inducted in a ceremony – again; from where I sit – that seems overly long on speeches and pretty short on the ‘rock and roll’. With each year there’s criticisms about who is and isn’t nominated (chief amongst which being that those controlling nominations, as a small group, are not musicians and nominate based on personal taste) and then there’s plenty of column inches and website debate and pages handed over to the ‘drama’ of which members from a certain band will be inducted, will attend, will tell the HoF to shove it…

From those Bozos in Makeup to Axl Rose’s tantrums, the question about which ex-members should be in alongside the nominees seems to draw more debate than discussing that band’s lasting impact. The cynical side of me (which seems to only get more so after a decade in marketing) certainly thinks that this is a deliberate act by the HoF in order to stir the pot, get more attention and create more buzz than the ceremony would otherwise get, nominating bands for whom the real question will be “will they induct that member who played tambourine on their first album or…?”

Nirvana had it in 2014 when those members inducted included Dave Grohl and not the four drummers that had sat on the stool pre-Nevermind. Would they induct Chad Channing or the first drummer, Aaron Burckhard? For, you see, there’s a criteria for getting in: “artists will first become eligible for the Rock Hall 25 years after the release of their first record (LP, EP or single)”. Bleach was released in 1989 (with Chad Channing on drums and Jason Everman on guitar*) but Nevermind, the first record Grohl drummed on, came out in 1991. It really adds weight to the idea that the HoF is after the popular vote more than anything – everyone loves a bit of Dave Grohl, nobody knows who Chad Channing is. There was, of course, a lot of online hubbub about the ‘snub’ of Chad.

Being the perennially nice guy of rock that he is, of course, Dave praised those drummers that had hit the skins before him in his speech and the band invited Channing to attend.

This year that question and the online buzz falls upon the collective shoulders of Pearl Jam. A band with a huge and dedicated following who forged a path for many to follow. Few can touch them live or match their unique set lists and they’re certainly the last men standing when it comes to the ‘Seattle Scene’. Their place in the Hall, even in the first year of eligibility, isn’t likely to be questioned. They’re also a band who, for the first half of their career, had a Spinal Tap scenario with their drummers**.

Released in August 1991, Ten featured Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and, on drums, Dave Krusen. Krusen, though, had left the band in May due to alcoholism. His replacement, Matt Chamberlain only hung around for a handful of shows before heading off to join the SNL band. He suggested a guy to take his place; Dave Abbruzzese. Abbruzzese played drums through the rest of the tour supporting Ten, on Vs. and Vitalogy before he was fired in 1994.  During which time the band would tour extensively, Abbruzzese would write the music for ‘Go’, ‘Last Exit’ and ‘Angel’ and defined the band’s sound at the time with his ferocious drumming. The harder sound he bought helped them move away from being pigeon-holed as another clone.

If you ask a Pearl Jam fan what the band’s ‘peak’ period was I’m willing to lay money on a large percentage saying 1991-1994. Abbruzzesse was a key part of that sound. The problem is, he enjoyed it too much. I’m not talking piles of cocaine and claims of being a Golden God, no; he just loved it all and smiled too much. Rumours swirl as to why Abbruzzesse was actually let go but it boils down to the fact that he was obviously having fun. Vedder was, at this time, at his most serious and ‘punk’, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be enjoying your success and, as the front man, he took most of the attention and it was a lot to handle. While the band withdrew from the spotlight, Dave would give interviews (albeit to drum magazines, not Spin or Rolling Stone). While the other members would go the Volvo or battered old truck route, Dave bought a Lexus. He didn’t really care about the famous Ticket Master Boycott either. Apparently the final straw for Dave’s tenure came when he accidentally broke the neck of one of Vedder’s guitars during Vitalogy sessions and didn’t hang around to tell Eddie or apologise. He wouldn’t be in the band when it came time to tour the album he’d helped create, he was let go – Vedder wouldn’t do it, the task fell to Stone Gossard.

Pearl Jam

Jack Irons, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers*** was then in the saddle for four years and two albums before he ducked out (not happy with touring) in 1998 and then-former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron took the seat he still occupies. Now, Cameron is certainly the stick man with the longest tenure and its clear that he’s considered a full member of the band – Vedder continues to praise him and has credited his joining with keeping them together – but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing him as an outsider even some 19 years and five albums later.

Now of all their six drummers, only one, technically, qualifies: Dave Krusen. He played on Ten, twenty-five years ago. By all accounts he’s quite surprised at the nod. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however, is also inducting Matt Cameron. And nobody from the period between the two.

Now, out-dated and bloated an institution as it may be, if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are recognising Matt Cameron then they sure as shit should recognise Dave Abbruzzese.  As much of a deliberate poking of a hornet’s nest as the snub is, it’s also pretty unfair to then place the onus of dealing with the question onto Pearl Jam (ever-shy of such publicity and awards) to be the ones to deal with it. Dave, obviously riled himself, has said plenty, chiefly:

“I have always thought that every award given to a band that celebrates the bands lifetime achievements should be awarded to every person that was ever a debt incurring, life sacrificing, blood spilling, member of that band. Maybe the Hall should reevaluate the need to put all the monkeys in the same cage in order to boost revenue, and instead let the history of the band be fully and completely represented as they were and as they are. …leave it up to the group to show their true colors as they celebrate their own history in a manner of their choosing…

I will admit to wanting to look out over my drum kit at the faces of Jeff, Stone, Mike and Eddie. Looking to my left at my drum tech, the mainest of mellow, Mr. Jimmy Shoaf and seeing him give me that look that dares me to destroy my cymbals and kick the songs ass, the bands ass and the crowds ass… The idea of counting it off and giving the band, the music & the people all that I have to give, as I always have without compromise or hesitation… The sound of the people singing along… Making eye contact with the person air drumming their ass off right before the big drum fill, so we can do it together…
I loved it.
I loved it every single time.”

Pearl Jam have always marked themselves out as a band of integrity and honest values. They’re continually raising money and awareness for important causes and fighting the good fight. Again, it’s unfair of the HoF to put this on them but it is gonna be down to them to decide how to deal with the Dave question. History gives no real clue – their 2004 compilation Rearviewmirror featured photos cropped not to include him yet in 2016 the band performed his composition ‘Angel’ for the first time since 1994 with Vedder stating it ” was written by the guy who was our drummer. Dave Abbruzzese, We wish him well.”

How it’s dealt with come the night, though, we’ll have to see. And that’s how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keeps getting people to pay attention. And, damn it, they’ve suckered me in to giving a damn too. The rat bastards.

 

* albeit in name only and his image was ‘tastefully’ removed from the album cover come the 20th Anniversary re-release. Everman would go through a musical life of ups and downs which would include a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stint on bass for Soundgarden before cutting his hair and joining the army where he would serve with the Rangers and Special Forces – it makes for a fascinating read.

** You can’t dust for vomit.

***and was inducted into the HoF in 2012.

Currently Listening

In any shooting gallery where promises are made….

I’ve been finding comfort in familiar sound recently so those newer releases by the Pixies etc haven’t really been given a listen. But, here’s an idea of the current playlist:

Jack Rose and his mastery and innovation of the acoustic is actually a new discovery for me. I think the lack of vocals made it easier for me to get into over the last couple of weeks. A huge body of work still to hear for the first time as Mr Rose made a lot of music before his untimely passing but this, from the brilliant album I Do Play Rock and Roll is hypnotisingly awesome.

Because I’m still gobbling up House of Cards

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Mr Petty on here… odd. Anthology; Through The Years is one of those rare compilations that’s absolutely perfect and, after starting to watch Runnin’ Down A Dream on Netflix, is now back in rotation in my car. Eddie Vedder says, at the start of the documentary, “The first time you hear a new Tom Petty song is sounds like, you know, a classic song.” – he’s not wrong. If you only have the aforementioned compilation you’ll know just how many sheer belters the man has written.

Going back to an earlier discussion on Dire Straits… I’ve been listening to Making Movies the last couple of days, in particular this opening track (and Skateaway). It’s made me wonder something though; in 1980 Mark Knopfler borrowed both a producer (Jimmy Iovine – having loved the production sound of Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’) and band member (Roy Bittan) from Bruce Springsteen to make what was the band’s breakthrough third album (Iovine had a thing for making third albums). A few (seven to be precise) years later Bruce dropped his own (and arguable one of his finest) album and song called Tunnel of Love. Where Knopfler’s track featured lines like “Come on and take a low ride with me girl, on the tunnel of love”, Bruce used “Cuddle up angel cuddle up my little dove, we’ll ride down baby into this tunnel of love”… Now, while both album’s dealt fairly prominently with love’s broken promises, Bruce’s album and lyrics were significantly different, more nuanced and the sound very much of his own but… I have to wonder; surely Bruce must’ve heard what his piano player and produce had been moonlighting on and did that plant a seed that, over a few years, grew into one of his most brooding and significant albums?

A little visit, reminding me of his presence…

Somewhere back in time when  I started this blog I mentioned that I was toying with a post on the ultimate Pearl Jam set-list.

Pearl Jam live are a wonderful thing. Gallingly, though, I’ve only seen them live once. They seem to have now joined the list of great bands that consider playing at Milton Keynes and Leeds as a UK tour – what happened to the rest of the country? – and have given up playing at Wembley Arena (where I saw them on the Binaural tour).

A year or so back I read a great piece that stated: “Pearl Jam is known as one of the best live acts in its arena-filling weight class. After only fitfully listening to new Pearl Jam albums for more than a decade, seeing the band live reignited my interest in listening to them again. Pearl Jam will remain interesting to people for as long as it is able to tour.”

I genuinely believe that there’s not many acts that can touch them live in terms of quality, consistency and pure excitement. And, while I’m unlikely to be in the audience any time soon (their 25th Anniversary trek this year is limited to US/Canadian shows) there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy them live thanks to the unusual decision they took back in 2000 – the same tour I caught them on – to release an “official bootleg” of every (with a couple of exceptions) show to offer fans the opportunity to get a good-quality audio of each concert for a reasonable price.

Now…. given how many shows they play a year and that it’s been going for close to 16 years… that’s a lot of shows to choose from. I’m gob-smacked at the idea that some people own the lot.

I’ve got…. a few. Physically; just the show that I attended. I can always claim I’m on a Pearl Jam album that way.

On the iPod, however… well that’s a different story.

There’s probably a dozen or so. Some purchased legitimately and others… in the truer nature of Bootlegs. And each one of them is different and worth having in their own right. See, the thing is I got given the amazing PJ20 book one year – along with the DVD and soundtrack – and there’s mention of so many great shows that it’s impossible not to at least check some of the more significant ones out. Like the 2003 show in Uniondale when the band were heckled for their performance of Bushleaguer:

Which pisses Vedder off so much it’s apparent in the cover of The Clash’s Know Your Rights that follows.

I also have the trio of shows they played at the Tweeter Center in Boston that same year where they used the opportunity to play every song they’d played on the tour to at that point over the course of the three shows; 82 originals and 12 covers with only one repeat….

But to get to the original point; I’ve been hunting for that recording that, to me, represents the ultimate set list.

Back in 2012 (pre-Lightning Bolt), Eddie Vedder let a fan club contest winner choose the setlist for a show.  Now the set that Brian Farias – for it was he – chose was pretty good. He even managed to get Vedder to play Bugs for only the second time. But it’s a big challenge, really… how to find the right balance.

I, for example, would want to hear a lot of deeper cuts. But then, looking back at the quote up top of this ramble, how would that play at a show when not all in attendance know every Pearl Jam song. So you do have to mix in the ‘hits’ as it were and – while I don’t always listen to it – Better Man always gets the crowd going and becomes something else live than on record.

Then there’s the case that Pearl Jam don’t do Greatest Hits tours and are usually touring in support of a new album. So what of the newer songs make the grade and still manage to keep the crowd going. In all honesty I wouldn’t really pluck a show from the Backspacer tour because I don’t really feel a lot of tracks from that album worked in that context.

Lightning Bolt, however, was a much stronger effort and there was a lot of stuff I was itching to hear live. Factor in the fact that the band were in great shape and playing better than ever, there’s a lot of gems to be found in the Lightning Bolt tour bootlegs.

So I think I’ve now been able to find the ‘perfect’ set list / bootleg. Well, sort of. Because there’s two.

Worchester, MA, October 15th 2013 is a 32 song strong set that packs in Leash (not as ferocious as I’d love to hear it played but I’ve yet to find a recording that does play it quite as strong as it could be and this one has a great story that precedes it), Red Mosquito and Man of the Hour along with newer cuts like Swallowed Hole and Infallible along with the tour-set-list regulars Mind Your Manners and Sirens. The energy picks up after a quieter start and there’s a great performance of Nothing As It Seems, Fatal gets a play in the first Encore and Crazy Mary makes an appearance. Oh, and Last Kiss.

(I love the moment at about 1:35 where someone realises it’s Leash and gives a joyous yelp)

Set: Release, Long Road, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Hail, Hail, Sirens, Even Flow, Nothing As it Seems, Swallowed Whole, Red Mosquito, Whipping, Corduroy, Infallible, Got Some, Save You, Leash, Let The Records Play,
Do The Evolution, Better Man.

Encore 1: Man Of The Hour, Yellow Moon, Fatal, Just Breathe, Spin The Black Circle, Unthought Known, Porch.

Encore 2: Last Kiss, Crazy Mary, Alive, Sonic Reducer, Indifference.

Meanwhile the tour closer at the Key Arena in Seattle on December 3rd finds the band in an even stronger form, the energy is high and they’re playing to a home-crowd. So tracks like Let Me Sleep, In My Tree and Pilate get pulled out, there’s better banter, Breath, State of Love and Trust, a story from Ed of how he was nearly lost at sea, Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns, Pendulum opens and Mike McCready playing Van Halen’s Eruption into Yellow Ledbetter brings the show to a close after 37 songs.

Turns out there’s a video of the whole show ‘out there’ which I’ll leave here as long as it lasts:

Set: Pendulum, Nothingman, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, Interstellar Overdrive, Corduroy, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Given To Fly, Pilate, Garden, Getaway, Even Flow, Sirens, In My Tree, Do The Evolution, Unthought Known, Black, Let The Records Play
Spin The Black Circle, Lukin, Better Man.

Encore 1: After Hours, Let Me Sleep,Future Days, Daughter, Chloe Dancer, Crown Of Thorns, Breath, State Of Love And Trust, Porch.

Encore 2: Supersonic, Got Some, Rearviewmirror, Alive, Kick Out The Jams, Eruption, Yellow Ledbetter.

So yeah; I think, between those two it’s as close to a perfect set-list / show recording as you’ll get. A good mix of the deeper cuts, the crowd pleasures, strong new material and plenty of Vedder’s stories and not a heckle in ear-shot.

Although I’ve not yet heard the show with No Code played in full or…..

Hear the circus so profound

“Everyone’s a critic looking back up the river”

And so begins Lightning Bolt – the first studio album from Pearl Jam in four years (the longest wait between albums for a band once regularly chucking em out every 18 months) and one of the albums that got the most plays on my stereo, in my car and on my iPod last year despite it only coming out in October.

I don’t think I’d awaited a release last year with as much excitement as “the new Pearl Jam” record. PJ fans had been updating numerous websites with snippets of information on “album 10” almost immediately after the release of Backspacer thanks to then hints that more music was imminent. Except it wasn’t. So for three and a half years there were snippets from interviews with different band members during promo tours for solo offerings, random gossip based on studio bookings and occasional live appearances of ‘new’ songs and debate as to what would make the album: would it include the throwaway “Ole” or even the occasionally-performed “Of The Earth” (one that was even touted as an album title)?  All amounting to nothing.

And then, a countdown clock appeared on the PJ website and the waiting was over. Or at least we knew when it would be.

Still I went back and forth in my head – a new album from Pearl Jam could go either way, would it be a limp duck like Riot Act (a good album by anyone’s standards but, and this is hard for me to say as a fan, a bit of a whimper rather than the intended roar) or a return to form?

Then this appeared:

And then the journalists invited to hear the new album started getting excited. Talk of “Sirens” was louder than anything else. Surely no song could live up to the hype that was being thrown at this ‘modern Black’… but it did:

At first listen, it’s a generic power ballad, right? No. Listen to the lyrics. This isn’t some triumphant, fist pump ballad. Here Eddie Vedder sounds more emotionally fragile than ever and is admitting just how terrifying the finite notion of life can be, especially when you’ve so much you cherish. (Though I can’t listen to Sirens since the birth of my son without blubbing until tears hit my car seat)

When I finally got my hands on the slab of vinyl that is Lightning Bolt my excitement was at a peak. Thankfully it was worth the wait – this, to my mind, is their strongest effort since Yield. 

Where Backspacer was a more ‘fun’ record and blasted past quickly and Pearl Jam sounded like the band rediscovering their stride – albeit victoriously – Lightning Bolt finds PJ angry again (“They’re taking young innocents/And then they throw ’em on a burning pile!”) and there’s nothing better thrown into the recipe for a Pearl Jam album than a bit of grief.

Musically this album is perhaps the most diverse they’ve released. While Vitalogy contains some pretty oddball leanings and No Code remains underrated in its deliberate sound change there’s something refreshing about the variety found on Lightning Bolt in terms of both the style and the journeys of the songs. “Pendulum” is a dark, brooding beast that never emerges into a monster ‘FM’ song but remains a menacing growl, “Infallible” is a track I still find hard to believe is a Pearl Jam original:

As part of the interviews that the band conducted ahead of the album’s release, Jeff Ament suggested that this album has much more of Stone Gossard’s imprint on it than any other PJ to date. If that’s true then hats off to Stone. The tunes hear are as tight as you’d expect of a band that’s into its third decade yet – perhaps for the first time – rather than being pulled back in to a structure or formula, are given room to breathe and wander down corridors the bands style had not previously allowed for. Whether that route is the near-Beatles like figures of Infallible or the swampy, blues of Let The Records Play, I’ve been playing them over and over since October.BYVYZ0FIgAADFsE

This far into their career, Pearl Jam are an oddity among their contemporaries – they’ve never split up or lost members to drug addictions and suicides (though they did, for a while, have a bit of a Spinal Tap drummer issue) or experimented with a ‘dance’ album. They’ve done what they abruptly applied the handbrake on their success to do back in the mid-90’s – have a long, successful career. While a new Pearl Jam album won’t make the front pages as it would’ve done back in the 90s or hit the sales figures they were once associated with, it’s a given that it will contain more than a handful of tracks that will remain in their live sets for a few years to come (and the band are now more vital as a live act than a studio one). It’s unlikely now that they’ll release anything bad enough to embarrass their legacy. With that in mind it is, then, a real charge to hear them still pushing hard and refusing to rest on their laurels – while it took four years, Lighting Bolt does find them still punching hard, going for the over-reach and over-emote and turning out belters.

I hesitated in writing this post for a while as there was still one track that hadn’t ‘clicked’ for me and then, last week, while barreling down a country track “My Father’s Son” did just that (I still can’t enjoy “Johnny Guitar” or “Big Wave”on each listen). As such I can’t help but feel that this was my favourite release of 2013.