Dreamed up by their manager, Kelly Curtis, on a drunken night in Las Vegas 10 years ago, Pearl Jam’s plan for the 20th anniversary of their first album, 1991’s Ten, is ambitious. Starting with a deluxe reissue of their second and third albums (1993’s Vs., 1994’s Vitalogy), the yearlong celebration will also include the unveiling of a Cameron Crowe-directed documentary about the band and a massive self-curated festival this summer.
“In our wildest imagination, we never even thought we’d last this long,” says bassist Jeff Ament. Adds Curtis, “Our goal is to document the fact that we’ve been around for 20 years – people who haven’t seen this band for a long time are gonna say, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember!’”
At first, the band members were reluctant to devote much of the year to nostalgia, but Curtis slowly persuaded them. “It’s not something they normally think about,” says Curtis. “They’re always thinking about the next record – not old stuff.”
First up is the Vs. and Vitalogy box, which comes with previously unheard bonus tracks (including an alternate version of “Corduroy” and a guitar-and-organ version of “Betterman”), an entire 1994 Boston show and a cassette from their Monkeywrench radio series. “On the Vitalogy tour, Eddie [Vedder] drove around in a van with a little pirate radio station in it,” says Ament. “It was a way to play music with our friends, and an anti-big-label thing. It was like a house party.”
The band has also been working with Crowe on a documentary that chronicles its entire career. “I just saw a rough cut,” says Ament. “It was so fucking weird seeing footage of stuff I didn’t know anybody was taping at the time. The whole movie is Cameron’s love letter to us – but it’s equal parts complimentary and really painful. It shows our growing pains and some real bad times, including Roskilde [the 2000 Danish festival where nine fans were trampled to death during the band’s set]. It was just really hard to watch.”
Around the time that Crowe’s movie opens in late summer, Pearl Jam are planning a massive “weekend bash,” as Curtis calls it, somewhere in the middle of the country. Details are still being worked out, but it will probably be a two-day event involving multiple bands and Pearl Jam headlining both nights. “We’ve played enough festivals that we know what makes them exciting,” says Ament. “We want to give people places to go that aren’t necessarily musical – second stages and all that kind of stuff. We’re asking our friends if they want to play a couple of shows with us.”
The group plans special sets at the festival, but don’t expect to hear any of their classic albums performed straight through. “We talk about that stuff,” says Ament. “For me, personally, it starts to become a little bit of a nostalgia thing. I remember we once did Ten start to finish and it didn’t work very well because it was kind of a little bit too down…I think we did a good enough job of mixing up the sets every night that we give people a taste of every record.”
When the festival is over, however, it’s back to business as usual. “Ed and I were just going through old photos, journals and clippings for the box set,” says Ament. “By the end, we were both like, ‘Ugh, we’re done with the past for a while.’ We’re ready to work on new songs and get excited about what’s ahead.”