photo by: Karen Mason Blair
Reflecting upon Pearl Jam’s first show
with commentary from Chris Cornell, Nancy Wilson and more.
October 22, 1990: The Off Ramp, Seattle, WA.
A Monday evening on Eastlake Avenue in Capitol Hill found two friends taking on what could be considered perhaps – round three. Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament had started to make their mark with their previous bands Green River and then Mother Love Bone before their world would turn. Mike McCready, another acclaimed Seattle guitarist, had linked with Gossard and Ament shortly before this fall evening, and Eddie Vedder had again made a trip from San Diego to bring to life the three songs he laid vocals to on the now infamous Mamasan Trilogy demo cassette. Drummer Dave Krusen was soon on board to round out the lineup, and the five-piece first took the stage exactly 30 years ago tonight.
With the likes of Chris Cornell, Randy Johnson and Nancy Wilson from Heart in the audience, a ton of history behind and in front of them, the band would hit the Off Ramp under the moniker of Mookie Blaylock before a curious expectation. To start? How about a finger picking D Chord variation led by Gossard with Vedder then softly laying a melody over the top. Two minutes later, there’s a clarity to the potent lyrics, “Oh Dear Dad, can you see me now? I am myself like you somehow.” With the following “I’ll ride the wave, where it takes me,” you can just feel everything change. Release me.
The few prior rehearsals/writing sessions/jams the band would hunker down and engage in at in a space below the Galleria Potatohead, (just days before the first Off Ramp show) served as the crafting ground for many of the songs that would appear on their debut record, Ten. Hearing “Release” wind down on October 22, 1990, with Vedder standing in the middle – arms crossed and headed tilted down, his bandmates next to him shoulder-to-shoulder, you get the same rush of emotion from watching that clip as you do when you hear “Release” nowadays, amongst 40,000 people at a stadium.
Pearl Jam is built on fortitude, gratitude and passion. Three very necessary qualities to march 30 years strong without a single split or reunion needed. They make you as the listener feel high amongst the waves as if you are right there with them and the most exciting part – perhaps the best is yet to come. Like Gigaton, their 11th studio record released on March 27th, 2020 – which has served as a companion to so many during this most confusing time.
From that opening night 30 years ago, Pearl Jam continues to pioneer the concept of voice. That each person has their own voice, their own way to sing their “Release” and their own right to exercise a simple right to vote #PJVotes. Their moto is simple. If you are going to shine this light on us and give us this stage, we will also use it to surface important issues in the world where if you’re likeminded, perhaps it will encourage you to use your voice, too. Their Vitalogy Foundation for example, is a public non-profit that supports the efforts of other nonprofit organizations working in the fields of community health, the environment, social change, arts and education. We’ve seen skate parks be built, dedicated research and funding efforts towards Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Team Gleason, EB Research Partnership and various efforts to make our planet more habitable.
With that all in mind, it’s proper to pause and recognize the importance of October 22, 1990 in relation to Seattle history and the deep meaning Pearl Jam music would go on to have in so many people’s lives around the world.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Ten, Pearl Jam released a book (also coinciding with the film) entitled PJ20. It was written by acclaimed authors Jonathan Cohen and Mark Wilkerson, and so beautifully walks the reader through the timeline of Pearl Jam.
Today we stop on page 40, and with Cohen and Wilkerson’s blessing, quote the impact of that first legendary show.
“It definitely to this day was absolutely the best inaugural show I’ve ever seen in my life. Hands down, no comparison. And it has nothing to do with my perception of how great they are as a live band now. I remember exactly what I was thinking then, and it was that they were absurdly great. The only other thing I remember about that show was standing next to Kelly Curtis, who had been through hell with what happened with Andy. He was beaming and he said, “Well, I’m a happy guy right about now.” He knew and I knew we’d just seen an incredible show and that Pearl Jam was a phenomenal band.”
“Eddie was sounding really good, but he was looking at his shoes most of the show. He was really thrown into the deep end, in front of a big Seattle crowd. They’d just lost Andy Wood, so people had their scorecards out. They were standing in judgement. I’m sure he felt the sharpest edge of that. He wanted to be worthy in some way. His spirit was coming from such an emotionally honest and powerful place, and he navigated it like a true surfer.”
photo by: Karen Mason Blair
“I remember being really nervous mostly because the songs had been worked up so fast that I was worried I was going to miss a part. I remember being really excited to play a show.”
“It was really intense. It was really introverted because everything was so new, and we wanted to make sure we were playing our parts right… It was rough, but it felt so good to get up and play.”
“Kim Thayil from Soundgarden came up to me after and said he particularly liked that song “Evening Flow.” You know how the evening flows (Laughs).”
“We opened up with “Release,” and I remember it being weird, because I thought we should open with something heavier. Ed’s inclination was to draw them in slowly… I also remember realizing that my dreams were starting to come true.”
photo by: Karen Mason Blair
All photos by and courtesy of Karen Mason Blair, who photographed Pearl Jam’s first show on 10/22/1990. For more info, prints and books visit KarenMasonBlair.com.