... because those were the droids you were looking for.


... bringing the metal to grunge

I fully admit that while I grew up in a "metal" village, I didn't fully embrace it. A lot of it is due to the lateness at which I came to most pop/rock music. But I still remember loving my K-Tel compilations and listening to Quiet Riot on them. I probably also had some exposure from my brother's 8-Track collection. I had enough of a metal background that (1) I could get along with most of the headbangers in high school and (2) one of my friends, The New Trendy Area in Toronto, credits me with exposing him to its dulcet tones.

It was with all of this background that I watched Sam Dunn's Metal series of documentaries (Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Global Metal), and why I was excited about his series on Much More (and VH1 in the USA) called Metal Evolution. Rather than a sociological view of metal, it was a historical overview and examination of all the sub-genres of metal. While I love me a good historical overview of music, I was also excited to see if he was going to tackle one area on the his family tree of metal that caught my eye in the movies and the series. And so, between Christmas and New Year's Eve of 2011, my belated present was the Grunge episode.

I watched it with a great deal of excitement. "Grunge" (or as my mother once called it, "Skrunky") is the music of my maturation, when I started to form my own tastes. I'm a little protective of grunge (whatever it is), but I also know it's not mine to define. I could always sense the connections between metal and grunge, but I was interested to see how Dunn would link the two.

(Full disclosure: Although this means nothing to him, I once worked in an office across the hall from Banger Productions in Liberty Village, and saw Dunn a lot in the hallway when I would go to the washroom or duck out for personal phone calls. And yes, I was a little too star-struck and nervous to ever talk to him. So...Hi, Sam!)

I appreciated the fact that at the start, Dunn seemed to admit that he kind of painted himself into a corner by including grunge. He worked very well to find the connections between it and metal, and actually talked to a lot of the people who I think of as more metal than grunge (Kim Thayil, Jerry Cantrell, and extra props for talking to Hiro Yamamoto). Also thankfully included were Mark Arm, Melissa Auf De Mar, Brendan O'Brien, Buzz Osbourne and many more luminaries of the scene.

At the same time, it felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities. In a perfect world, I'd be as smart and talented as Dunn and make my own documentary (Grunge Overblow(s)n), but alas I have to resort to words.

Marginalization and Community
The Experience Music Project (i.e. The Poor Man's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) doesn't get a lot right, but one thing it does get right is explaining why grunge (whatever that is) sounds the way it does. In presenting a history of Seattle's music, it hits the nail on the head that it comes from the working-class embrace of metal combined with the DIY of punk (though metal is more DIY than people think, but that's another issue), tossed in with the Pacific Northwest's relative isolation.

One issue that the EMP and Dunn don't hit on as hard is the issue of marginalization. Dunn talks about this a lot in his documentaries, so it's always kind of there, but one thing that has held the metal community together for so long has been that they are a marginalized community. The same goes for the Indie/Alternative community of the late 80s and 90s. You might find something about the music in the trades, but most of the time it came from friends, and probably from outside. It makes sense, then that the punk and metal communities would meld the way they did - they were both on the outsdie looking in, so why not emphasize our common influences. It's the same way that folkie and occasionally electric Neil Young holds such a high place in Seattle lore.

Does this mean that one is a descendent of the other? Not necessarily. Kissing cousins, perhaps, or unwitting allies. And in some cases, frenemies.

Common Influences
Dunn scores this one also with the common influences, though he sticks mostly to Sabbath (or at least his subjects stick more to Sabbath) and the effect of drop D tuning on the scene. Also of interest, and not really dwelled on, is that there's a lot of Zeppelin in there also (it's all over Ten, especially parts of "Oceans"). The other common root that didn't get touched on was The Stooges, which you can hear a lot of in Mudhoney.

I think in some respects this gives Grunge the appearance of being descended from metal, like a half-brother. In reality, it feels to me like we're dealing more with a shared frame of reference than with a common lineage, much in the same way that The Bee Gees and Nine Inch Nails can trace elements in their sounds to Beatles and Beach Boys (oh....it's there. Listen to it. It's there. And it's not a diss).

One interesting note that wasn't discussed was Mother Love Bone. The Mother Love Bone/Green River nexus connects a goodly number of Seattle acts. What's interesting is that Mother Love Bone sound more like a hair band than anything else. And Andrew Wood on stage was more Brett Michaels than Cliff Poncier.

Claiming Sanctuary
There is the common belief that Grunge changed the landscape and threw hair metal out the window. I want to say this is true, because well, it kind of is.

The thing is that something was going to chase hair metal out at one time or another, be it rap, or industrial. You could just as easily argue that country music's 90's revival also threw hair metal out. Between the time I left Minto (1990) and the second summer I came back (1992) most of my underclassmen/women had gotten rid of their Firehouse cassingles and replaced them with Garth Brooks CDs. The high school dances that used to be power-ballad and dance-pop heavy became line-dance marathons.

But as opposed to tossing out metal, what happened was that metal found a safe haven in the grunge scene. Within this community, people wanted to find the roots of it, so you had a lot of people who also wound up getting used copies of Zep, Sabbath, Floyd, Zappa. Some went for deep dives and took on Maiden. Some wanted something harder and got Metallica. What happened is that metal crossed over into "alternative nation". Some embraced the sound and ethos, even tried to change themselves to fit (The Spaghetti Incident? Load). They weren't always successful, but they at least allowed these bands to weather the storm and stay together long enough to either return to their sound, or become a powerful touring entity without becoming a nostalgia show. Some metal bands actually became more popular (Anthrax, for example). But what was important is that the metal bands that survived were the ones that had the ability to evolve, while the shallower ones were cast away. The thing is that for the majority of cases, all the "shallower" bands were in that one sub-genre of hair metal.

The Misbegotten Legacy
Dunn hits a sour note in his inclusion of "Post-Grunge". I admit, a lot of this is because of my own distaste of these bands (best summed up by Mark Arm in his comment "Well, have you HEARD them?").

Talking to Scott Stapp of Creed or Chad Kroeger of Nickelback is like watching a documentary  on Hank Williams and then saying "It all lead to Billy Ray Cyrus!" No one wins in that argument. The saddest part in that reaching for relevancy, Kroeger mentions that Jerry Cantrell and Dimebag Darryl have played on their albums. (Playing the "we put on a good show and sell a lot of records" card is also immediate disqualification). This might (sadly) say more about how far these poor artists have fallen than about who they play with. Just remember, Donny Osmond's "Soldier of Love" had Peter Gabriel as a creative driver between it. Does that increase your respect of Osmond, or make you wonder about Gabriel? Does it make Osmond progressive, the heir to Genesis?

There's a strong link between metal and grunge. There's no denying that in the slightest. But it's not a straight line legacy: Beatles did not beget Sabbath which did not beget Floyd which did not beget Maiden which did not beget Queensryche which did not beget Nirvana. But Nirvana would be aware of most of those bands from their social milieu which informed their sound (Well, maybe not Queensryche so much, and Cobain always hated the metal sheen on Nevermind).

Rather, it's a mixture of sounds and environments that merged. One interesting even that Dunn brought up, that I admit I never really thought about, was a Black Flag show in Seattle in the early 80s, and how that show would have had a mix of metalheads, punks, and college rock listeners, mostly due to the fact that not many bands toured as far as Seattle. This show could be a turning point the same way the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall was for Manchester: A place where the marginalized and bored all bounced off each other for a night, and then went madly off in all directions.

Sam Dunn's Metal Evolution series is a much-watch, even if you don't like metal. I've learned more from it than any other source, and it's lead me to listen to a lot of bands which either I never had before, or hadn't in ages. I admire the fact that he stuck to is guns with the Grunge episode. I don't know if he made a convincing case that metal is an ancestor of grunge, but he definitely made the connection between the music, and in this time of musical hegemony, that's all we need.


Dawn on: Best Pearl Jam Performances EVAH!

According to the statistics, I have seen over 500 songs performed – over 120 unique Pearl Jam songs and over 40 unique cover songs. For my last post, here is a list of my favourite individual performances.

  1. “Corduroy” – Toronto, ON – August 21, 2009
    I already mentioned this song as part of one of our favourite shows but I will repeat it here: there was something special about this August night because the band was on fire. It was a great introduction to some of the songs on Pearl Jam (the album) and that night’s version of “Corduroy” remains my favourite to this day. I believe that the energy that emanated when that song was sung that night would have been the same strength as the year Vitalogy  was released.

  1. “Don’t Gimme No Lip” – Cleveland, OH – May 20, 2006
    It is not often that you hear this song, let alone sung by its composer and songwriter, Stone Gossard.

  1. “Harvest Moon” – Hamilton, ON – September 19, 2005
    We heard a lot of Neil Young on the 2005 Canadian tour, but this performance was unique because the band came onstage in tuxedo jackets and explained that they were missing a friend’s wedding that evening. The performance was simply magical.

  1. “People Have the Power” – Buffalo, NY – May 2, 2003
    I love Patti Smith. I love this song. This is the only time that I have ever seen this song performed live.

  1. “Given to Fly” – East Troy, WI – September 4, 2011
    The euphoria of 40,000 Pearl Jam fans on the second night of a weekend celebrating the band’s twentieth anniversary. The best performance of this song out of the 14 times that I have seen it. This performance stands out even with all of the other memorable moments that weekend.


Dawn on: The Celebration Weekend

Upon reflection the trip to Wisconsin seems surreal. I can’t believe that we were surrounded by 40,000 Pearl Jam fans. It was a gathering of the faithful. Here are a few pictures courtesy of Spin magazine.

We were staying at the Alpine Valley Resort, which is just at the bottom of the hill where the Alpine Valley Ampitheater is located. After we checked in and recieved our Ten Club packages, we headed to the parking lot to get our luggage, but ended up sitting in the trunk of the car for half an hour while we listened to sound check waft down from the hill. 

I can’t say that the entire weekend was great. As we lines up for our posters, we could see the lightning first on the horizon, then on the nieghboring hills, and then right above us. It rained on the first day. It rained all day and all night. Some of the support acts did not even perform on the side stages because there was so much water accumulation on the stage. When we got back to the hotel room, the hot water ran out because everyone was trying to warm up.

The rain did not put a damper on the music, and the weekend was full of great performances. We were introduced to a few new bands and there were many unexpected collaborations.

1. New introductions

 Star Anna is a Washington-based artist who was fortunate to have Mike McCready play on her new record. I love the songs. I love her voice. We even had a chance to meet her after her performance. Check the video for “Alone In This Together.”

Joseph Arthur is a musician and artist who actually creates art onstage (with the chance to purchase said art at the show). He is Lennon- and Dylan-esque as the songs are very poetic and introspective. Here is a chance to view a performance from the PJ weekend.

2. Chris Cornell

There were rumours throughout the first day that Chris Cornell was onsite so many fans were anticipating a Temple of the Dog performance of “Hunger Strike,” which happened. I did not expect that he would perform three songs solo each night. Definitely some of the most memorable moments of the weekend, including “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Call Me A Dog.”

3. Mudhoney, why did it take so long?

I was excited to find out that one of the opening acts on the mainstage would be Mudhoney. We completed our Green River and Mudhoney record collection on our trip to Seattle last year, but I admit that I did not do my homework. That all changed when Mark Arm took the stage. Punk is not dead and my music does not have to get softer as I grow older.

4. Guest appearances

As you might expect, with 12 bands supporting Pearl Jam over the course of the weekend, there were a number of unexpected guest performances. So many, that I am only going to mention my favourites.

  • Eddie joining The Strokes onstage for “Juicebox”
  • Mark Arm joining Pearl Jam for “Sonic Reducer” and “Kick out the Jams”
  • Josh Homme joining The Strokes during “New York City Cops”
  • Eddie joining Glen Hansard for “Falling Slowly”
5. People from all over the world

Sometimes I feel like my fandom is either a little excessive or peculiar, but for two days I got to meet people who shared my love, and in some cases traveled from the other side of the world. We all came from different places, and spoke different languages, but we were united by our love of Pearl Jam. It wasn’t just at the show either: on the Saturday I met a gentleman from Germany who was traveling to Toronto the next week to see Pearl Jam Twenty. I gave him advice on how to navigate the TIFF, and he shared a link with me that let me purchase my movie tickets online.


Dawn on: Our favorite Pearl Jam shows

It is not easy to choose five shows out of twenty one but the list below does not represent shows where the band played all of our favourite songs, but rather shows where there were moments that made the concert unique or where we left the venue with a euphoria unseen after other concerts.

If you are interested in keep track of all of your Pearl Jam shows for statistical purposes, I was recently introduced to an iPhone app called PJStatTracker. This app provides a list of all Pearl Jam shows and songs played including counts of how many times a song has been played, as well as providing set lists for each show. Not only does it provide these general statistics, you can also check off which shows you have attended and the app will show your personal statistics of how many times you have seen a particular song, the percentages of each album that you have seen performed, as well as cover songs. The app also allows you to listen to Pearl Jam radio.

In no particular order, our favourite Pearl Jam concerts.

  1. Buffalo, NY – May 2, 2003 (concert #3)
    I had recently become a Ten Club member after a number of years of thinking that US$20 was too much for me to afford, but I eventually came to my senses that I could miss a pizza delivery for one week to pay this small amount. It became one of the best decisions of my life.
    Buffalo was the first concert where I truly felt the benefit of my membership because we had floor seats. It was also the first PJ concert that we left home to attend. It was a great set list. The band decided to play past the curfew of the venue (Mike graciously decided to pay the fine) and said that the although most people think the last show of the tour is the best, for the band, it is the second-last show, which this was for this leg of the tour. Song highlights included covers of “People  Have the Power” and “Baba O’Riley.” The lights came on during “Yellow Ledbetter” and I truly felt like I was part of something larger than myself.

  2. Toronto, ON – August 21, 2009 (concert #12)
    Up until this concert, I did not look forward to seeing the band in my hometown because of pervious ho-hum shows and some actual incidents involving people in the surrounding seats. There was something special about this August night because the band was on fire. It was a great introduction to some of the songs on Pearl Jam (the album) and that night’s version of “Corduroy” remains my favourite to this day. The euphoria of that night stayed with me through the next day as Giuliano and I boarded a plane to Chicago for concerts #13 and #14.

  3. Toronto, ON – September 12, 2011 (concert #20)
    We won the lottery. Giuliano and I were still on a euphoric high after returning from Wisconsin the previous week, plus a weekend that included a showing of Pearl Jam Twenty (the movie) and a concert the night before. Ten Club allocates concert tickets to members based on seniority, but reserves rows 1, 2, 9, and 10 for the lottery, which means any member has a chance. When I picked up our tickets, I thought we were in the second row of the third section at the back of the arena. But I was wrong. We were second row, center – Eddie’s microphone intersected our seats.
    I have to tell you that it is hard work to be in these seats. You have to keep your enthusiasm going for two and a half hours and continuously participate. But it is worth the view. We caught guitar picks from Mike, got to see all of Stone’s facial expressions and got to sip some of Eddie’s wine thanks to the two guys in front of us. The other ancillary benefit is that you are surrounded by other PJ fans that feel just as lucky and appreciative as you to be in those seats.

  4. Kitchener, ON – September 11, 2005 (concert #5)
    In 2005, Pearl Jam embarked on a Canadian tour. It was a great time to experience the band in smaller venues, which created intimate performances. That what makes that night in Kitchener special.

  5. East Troy, WI – September 4, 2011 (concert #19)
    The second night of the PJ20 destination weekend. It was a beautiful night and we were surrounded by other members of the faithful. Tomorrow I will expand on our weekend in Wisconsin, but let it be known that it was a magical night that included the best performances of “Given to Fly” and “Love Boat Captain,” as well as Mark Arm of Mudhoney joining the band on stage for “Sonic Reducer.”

Have you booked your ticket for South America yet?


Dawn on: What never happends a Pearl Jam Show.

Yesterday I shared with you the content of what makes a great Pearl Jam show. Today’s post follows the same theme but from a different angle.

I first started listening to Pearl Jam in the middle of high school. My first encounter was the video for “Jeremy.” Prior to Pearl Jam, I listened to a lot of pop music, simply because I did not know any better – I was not familiar with alternative sources of music and I did not hang around people who were going to provide me with strong musical influences. Therefore, the concerts that I was used to involved choreographed dance routines, costume changes or they fell under the genre of glam rock.

I know that there are people who enjoy well-put together concerts where each song is an individual 5-minute show in and of itself with choreography and fireworks. But as I get older, I am more interested in seeing acts that rely solely on musical talent to put on a good show.

So here is my list of things that you will not find at a Pearl Jam concert.

  1. Costume changes / set changes
    Unless you happen to attend a show on Halloween or another special occasion (i.e., the closing of the Spectrum in Philadelphia), it is likely that the band members will arrive on stage in street clothes. During the Bush II years, you might have seen Eddie dress up with a W. mask to sing “Bu$hleaguer.”

  2. Laser light show
    There will be lights. There might be a mirrorball. But there will not be a light show. Pearl Jam's light show harkens back to the club days - mostly coloured display in tune with the music.

  3. Video screens
    See point number 2. There are six musicians on stage with a cloth backdrop. The only change that you will see is a change of instruments between songs. Until around 2009, in fact, they never even had a logo or artwork on their backdrop. You know who you came to see, and you know why you came to see them

  4. Skits or literal interpretations of songs
    There will be no dancers, no elaborate sets and each song will not be choreographed to a story or interpretation of its meaning - Bu$hleager being the only exception...and even that has its own history. You may get a story from Eddie, but you're not going to get a production. The music stands on its own.
  5. The same set list every night
    See point number 1 from yesterday’s post.


Dawn on: Why a Pearl Jam show is AWESOME!

The following is the first in a series of posts by Dawn Nita (of Dawnabelles fame), on Pearl Jam and the communal experience between the band and its fans.

I still remember my first time. 

It was 1993 at CNE Stadium in Toronto. Pearl Jam opened for Neil Young. My strongest memory is when members of Pearl Jam joined Neil on stage for “Rockin in the Free World”.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam, which was celebrated with the release of a movie from Cameron Crowe, a two-day destination weekend in Wisconsin, and Canadian and South American tours.

With the Canadian tour this year, Dawn and G also celebrated their own personal PJ twenty when we saw the band on Monday, September 12 at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. (We saw our twenty-first show two days later in Hamilton.)

So as a way to conclude this year’s celebrations, I am going to write a post each day this week in honour of my favourite band.

If you enter our home, our admiration for the band is apparent by the number of framed posters that adorn our walls (18 individual shows, two general). We have been traveling to see the band since 2003. When people learn about the number of shows we have attended, their comments usually involve a variation on “how different can each show be?” We normally answer with one, sometimes all, of the following 5 things that make a Pearl Jam show great.

  1. Each night there is a different set list
    This is probably the most unique aspect of the group. The set list is written about half an hour before the start of each show based on the energy that the band is feeling that night. This makes each show unique from the one before and all future shows. For example, over the two nights in Alpine Valley, the only songs that were the same between two were the Temple of the Dog numbers.

    Of course there are songs that I have seen multiple times (“Alive” and “Even Flow” fifteen times each) and others that I have only seen once (“Green Disease”), and even some that I have never heard live (“Oceans”). Let’s put this in perspective with the help of Dr. Greger Larson.

  2. Audience participation
    If you hear the opening chords of “Betterman,” be prepared to sing the first verse. You will be a member of the choir if the band plays “Do the Evolution”. During a performance of “Alive,” be prepared to raise your fist and shout “hey.”

  3. Guitar Gods
    In 2007, Rolling Stone magazine listed Stone Gossard and Mike McCready in its list of “The Top 20 New Guitar Gods.” Live performances of “Alive,” “Yellow Ledbetter,” “Even Flow, and” Porch” will make you a believer in the power of Mike McCready. While the talents of Stone Gossard are shown off in “Not For You” and “Do the Evolution.” Pearl Jam may not be a jam band in the tradition of Phish or the Dead, but they do have the chops to stretch it out night after night.

  4. The last song of the night
    Although the set list every night will be different, it is likely that the night will end with one of these songs: “Yellow Ledbetter,” “Baba O’Riley,” or “Rockin in the Free World.”

  5. A damn fine rock show If you are lucky enough to see Pearl Jam Twenty (check your local PBS station), you will get to see a few outstanding live performances. But you will also hear the band admit that they have never “called in” a show.


... speaking as a child of the 90s.

This year, at a show I had been looking forward to for ages, a band celebrated its twentieth anniversary. They had a tray of shots brought on stage and then after the crowd sang "Happy Birthday", the lead singer and his deep voice led the band through an acoustic version of a song about flying.

That band was Elbow, a Manchester indie group that treads the middle depth between early Coldplay and middle-period Radiohead. They hadn't played Toronto on their own in years, so it was a great event in its own right. So great that I didn't even know it was their twentieth until I took the time to do the math, even though they haven't been recording solidly those twenty years (It's a long story....).

This is a great year for twentieths and the ones that jump right to mind are the release of Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind, two albums where you can draw a line between what came before and after them. What is even more striking about it is that it was a revolution in real-time. I remember watching the "in-and-out" list on CNN that year, and they said Nirvana was "in" while Guns 'n' Roses was "out". I'm sure they didn't fully realize that that "out" wasn't just "not as popular", but now signified "over". And it wasn't just Guns 'n' Roses, but a whole slew of hard-rock bands that suddenly found themselves outside of the mainstream, and there wouldn't be a power ballad to save them.

I thought about this more during Toronto's Nuit Blanche. One of the independent installations (A Brief History of Rebellion) featured an all-night performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". It was promoted as featuring Fucked Up's Damian Abraham, Tokyo Police Club, and maybe some other "stars". We stayed for about an hour or so, since it was getting late in the night and it was a place you could sit down, and saw about 10 performances. Some were very good straight ahead covers. Some made up for enthusiasm what they lacked in technical proficiency. Most seemed to forget the words and sometimes even the structure of the song. Some brought their own instruments, including an accordion and, as we were leaving, a double bass.

What was phenomenal wasn't so much the performance but the crowd interaction. It could have been horrible if the crowd was not into it, if the crowd were expecting a parade of stars and flawless covers. But what happened was that people got into it. They started dancing in their seats, slam dancing in front of the stage, some even walking along the backs of the seats from one side of the theater to the other. It wasn't just the recreation of the song, but a recreation of that entire era. It wasn't old fogies like myself looking to relive their youth, but younger people as well, some no older than the song itself. It was that moment when it all broke, when it truly ended for big, remote bands like G'n'R and went back down into the pit.

I sat there and remembered what it felt like at that time. I remembered when I first saw the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I can't say that at that time I knew exactly what had happened, but I knew that everything had changed, that this wasn't just a one-off. Eventually I'd find out they weren't the first, and it wasn't their best, but it was the right time for them. I remember when it went from laser light shows, fancy costumes, bluesy riffs with choir back-ups to show you were "real" to walking on stage in the clothes you were wearing earlier, a t-shirt of a band even more obscure than you were, and playing. The line between fan and band became blurred because the fans looked like the band, and band were a band because they were fans first.

That year, Sonic Youth and Nirvana were featured in the documentary "1991: The Year Punk Broke". At the time, the title was a bit of a snark. "Yes, you think punk broke in the 70s, but it didn't here, and we've been here ever since". But in a lot of ways, it DID break in 1991. It was the year that it stopped being a sideshow. It was the year that fan/band dynamic changed, that the barriers were taken down and rock and roll became communal again. And it keeps being felt today. Imagine a band like Elbow being able to exist for as long as they have if they came out of the 80s, a band that's not all that photogenic and who stuck to their own non-commercial music? It may have been possible, but it just seems much more likely since Nirvana became "in".

This year, we went to the Pearl Jam Twenty festival in Alpine Valley. For the next few day, my wife will be providing some posts about Pearl Jam and that experience. These are ours, but we also know that you have your own bands, you own music that inspired you, that changed it all. The important thing is: We all have our '91.