|Director Cameron Crowe, bottom center, with Pearl Jam.|
Crowe's movie combines an almost Ken Burns-like approach to his documentary. Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron, appear throughout the movie, but Crowe combines these with considerable archival footage, both in concert and interviews to create his narrative. Surprisingly, or maybe not to others, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden also plays a major role in telling the Pearl Jam story. Maybe a natural given his closeness to Mother Love Bone front man Andrew Wood, and his collaboration with Pearl Jam members on Temple of the Dog.
|Mother Love Bone. Stone Gossard left, Andrew Wood center, Jeff Ament right.|
Crowe begins by sketching a portrait of music in Seattle in the late 80's and early 90's of bands with guys who stayed inside and played a lot of music, making their way into the city's burgeoning club scene. It seems to me that Pearl Jam had two important events that shaped their careers. The first was Ament and Gossard's band Mother Love Bone and the death of lead singer Wood to drug overdose. It profoundly shaped their musical experience and led eventually to the reconstitution of the band that would become Pearl Jam, gathering in McCready and eventually corralling a surfer guy from San Diego named Eddie Vedder.
|Ament and Gossard back in the early days.|
|Crowe with with Gossard in Stone's home.|
|Bassist Jeff Amen plying his trade|
|Guitarist Stone Gossard doing what he does best.|
|Mike McCready: "I'd like to think it comes from heaven, but I think it comes from inside . . . the good stuff" said Eddie Vedder.|
|Eddie Vedder doing his thing|
Crowe does a superb job of insuring that no one person is alone the limelight. Vedder, outspoken, reticent yet charismatic, easily the most recognizable member of the band unsurprisingly gets a great deal of attention in live and archival interviews. But each band member emerges from the movie fully formed. Gossard is engaging, interesting and funny. His remarks before Congress during the Ticketmaster anti-trust hearings are smart, focused and rightfully scornful. Ament is reflective and earnest. Crowe's exploration of his Big Sandy, Montana roots may be the most insightful look inside the influences on any of the band members. McCready seemed to have been interviewed while he was at home babysitting. His memories and his observation are every bit as sensible and real as any other dad doing dad stuff. Crowe's conversations with Cornell and Vedder about McCready paint a picture of a guitarist capable of touching another plane of talent.
If Crowe's film has a failing, it is is that that it avoids a serious critique of the band. Yes, those Eddie Vedder moments of don't-think-before-you-speak are there to see, and references to Roskilde, to internal stresses in the band, to moments of personal excess are made. Yet, there is no serious attempt to take a deeper look at them, to provide some analysis. Perhaps it's an effort by Crowe to keep himself out of the film as much as possible, or trying to avoid a gotcha moment, but there are times when it seems he's missed the mark.
Crowe does avoid the bombast, the party footage of other concert films. He does create broad connections between Pearl Jam and the musical tidal wave that roared out of Seattle in the early nineties. Soundgarden and Nirvana are both included, mostly to broaden our understanding of what was happening here during that time. But Crowe avoids promoting the Pearl Jam/Nirvana "feud." He dodges the silly stuff. Though we see a few light moments with the band on stage, there isn't any staged goofiness, such as the Who's Keith Moon showing how to trash a hotel room in The Kids are Alright.
What emerges instead is a picture of a band that has come through the fire. Crowe shows these men as talented artists that flew too close to the sun, only to find their way to self-preservation together and as individuals before their fame consumed them. It is a great story.