They're about to play their first New Zealand shows in 11 years and are getting some of the best reviews of their career. Grunge survivors Pearl Jam talk to Chris Schulz.
Eddie Vedder has a cold. But if that thought is sending a shudder through the tens of thousands of Kiwi fans about to attend Pearl Jam's two highly anticipated New Zealand shows this weekend, don't worry - he's nearly over it.
And anyway, Vedder - the gravelly-voiced front man for legendary grunge rockers Pearl Jam, set to play in Auckland on Friday night and Christchurch on Sunday - still sounds good with a sore throat, reckons drummer Matt Cameron.
"(Eddie) got a bit of a cold in Sydney," Cameron told Stuff.co.nz on the phone in the middle of Pearl Jam's hot and humid Australian tour. "But he's been taking a bunch of medicine ... Even when he's got the flu he still sounds pretty good."
More than 45,000 Kiwi fans will be expecting Pearl Jam - Vedder, Cameron, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard - to be better than "pretty good" when they hit the stage at Mt Smart Stadium.
It's the band's first show in New Zealand since 1998 and Cameron, the Soundgarden drummer who replaced Pearl Jam's Jack Irons just weeks after that tour, said the band was "excited" because "we haven't been there for a while".
Pearl Jam seems to save their best for New Zealand. In 1995 in Auckland, they bought Tim and Neil Finn on stage to sing Split Enz songs History Never Repeats and I Got You, and in Wellington in 1998, Vedder reportedly skateboarded onto the stage and dedicated Daughter to a Kiwi girl who couldn't attend the show.
This week's Australian shows have been running to two-and-a-half hours and cover everything from Jeremy and Once from the band's 1991 debut Ten to songs from this year's Backspacer, B-sides like Yellow Ledbetter, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and Hunters and Collectors covers, and duets with touring buddies Ben Harper and Liam Finn.
Cameron is coy about any special plans for New Zealand this time around, but admits their might be a few "curve balls".
"Who knows, man? You'll have to wait and see. We throw a few curve balls into the set each night. Liam has been playing with Eddie on Throw Your Arms Around Me, so that's been pretty fun. We’re just soaking it up down here. It’s nice to be in the sunshine."
Reviews for recent shows have been overwhelmingly positive.
Bernard Zuel from the Sydney Morning Herald said even with Vedder's cold cutting the set short, the band displayed "a not entirely subtle but often compelling brooding power which radiated outwards rather than raged internally".
"In the best moments ... Pearl Jam were a rock band without bombast made up of adult men in touch with their inner-teen punk," Zuel said.
And critic Tim Cashmere from music website Undercover.com.au said the set "dripped with iconic tunes from their two decades of music".
ON A HIGH THANKS TO BACKSPACER
Cameron agreed the band was enjoying some of the best reviews of their career, thanks this year's return-to-form album Backspacer.
"We felt like it was a really strong record," he said. "We felt like we could definitely compete on the radio and with new rock bands coming out. We still feel very proud of it."
After a dour couple of albums - 2002's tune-free Riot Act, and 2006's fiery but awkward self-titled album - Cameron said Backspacer, had been a fun record to make.
"It was pretty easy. We were focused on the job at hand and we had a lot of input from our wonderful producer Brendan O'Brien. I think we all knew the end product would sound good - we didn't know how good the songs would be but they turned out really good."
Much of Backspacer's success can be attributed to hit single The Fixer, which is among the poppiest tracks Pearl Jam have recorded. Cameron, who wrote most of the song's music while Vedder provided the lyrics, said it was recorded in just 24 hours.
"It seemed like all the parts were working on that song. It's all in sync, it's not too long, (it's got a) good melody, it's a pretty interesting rock number. It's fun when you can write little pop ditties like that and have them come out good."
THE STATE OF GRUNGE
While some bands from the era think "grunge" is a dirty word and have distanced themselves from the term, there's no denying Pearl Jam - along with Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Alice in Chains and Cameron's first band Soundgarden - helped define a generation of angsty teens in the early '90s with their music.
Cameron said he liked the term and was happy for its current revival in popularity.
"I think it represents a pretty cool part of rock 'n' roll history. It seems to be on a bit of a nostalgia trip but there's been enough time between the scene and where the music industry is at right now.
"I think it's viewed on fondly by a lot of people. A lot of the music represented a certain realness that might be missing these days."
When he joined Pearl Jam in 1998, Cameron had only just recovered from the break-up of Soundgarden. When he accepted the offer, he was given two weeks to learn Pearl Jam's entire catalogue.
"I got the phone call two or three weeks before they were going to head out for a six week tour. I had to learn 60 songs, get out there and start rocking."
Despite his side-projects being forced to take a back seat - he belongs to Seattle jazz band Harrybu McCage, and is a member of rock acts Hater and Wellwater Conspiracy - Cameron said he knew Pearl Jam would be a long-term commitment.
"I always felt like this band had the potential to have the longest career just because the communication between band members was really good, management was really good. They've always tackled the music business in a really healthy way."
And for those of you wanting to know about those Soundgarden reunion rumours, Cameron has some bad news.
"(Singer) Chris (Cornell) is pretty active with his solo career, and I'm super busy right now. The last thing on my mind is getting a band back together."
*Pearl Jam play at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland tonight. Gates open at 4.30pm, Liam Finn performs at 5.30pm, Ben Harper at 6.30pm, and Pearl Jam at 8pm. Christchurch's performing times all run an hour later. Limited numbers of tickets are available for both shows.
November 27: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
November 29: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
More information: Eventfinder
* Will you be going to the shows? Post your comments below.
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