Parting Ways: Has Pearl Jam forgotten about Seattle?

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Pearl Jam is a band that has always done things its own way on its own terms, which is one of the many reasons why being a fan of the band can be so rewarding. It feels great supporting artists who are not only able to make a living off their art, but who also who do so by bucking conventional norms and in the end they manage to come out of the experience better off for doing so. It feels even better when those artists are a bunch of likable hometown boys who develop into massive rock stars.

But are those hometown boys still likable if they ignore their hometown fans? That seemingly is the case with Pearl Jam, who have been MIA in Seattle for the past several years.

The band’s last concert in Seattle happened on Sept. 22, 2009, which makes it nearly three years since Seattle’s biggest active band has played a show in its hometown. The band has no plans to play any shows in North America this year other than three cash-grab festival appearances and one benefit show for Sen. Jon Tester in Montana. If the group doesn’t play a show in Seattle this year, it will mark the band’s longest gap between hometown appearances in its 22-year history.

So why no Pearl Jam shows in Seattle?

The answer to that question is likely long and complicated and it’s an answer I cannot provide. The band managed to tour Canada in 2011, the year it celebrated the 20th anniversary of Ten and held its own festival in Wisconsin, but didn’t play a single note Seattle. The last stop in that Canadian tour found the band in Vancouver, B.C., a mere 140 miles north of Seattle.

Of course, Pearl Jam are tireless road warriors and they have earned the ability to do whatever they want, however they want to do it, especially when it comes to touring. They owe local fans nothing — in fact, they’ve always given fans more than they should be expected to with benefit shows for local charitable organizations and multiple appearances by Pearl Jam offshoots during the past three years — but it’s their track record of giving back to local fans that makes their absence notable, making it almost feel as if they are neglecting their hometown fans who have been with them since the beginning.

Pearl Jam played here in 2011, but not in Seattle. Photo by Karen Loria/Courtesy Pearl Jam

Almost is the key word in that last statement. As noted earlier, the band has been great to its Seattle fans in the past and as a passionate hometown fan myself I have faith Pearl Jam will be back strong in 2013 and that with the band’s return will come some possible partnerships (think Target & Backspacer), interesting distribution methods and hopefully some live shows too.

And while Pearl Jam as a unit has been a missing presence in Seattle, its individual members have been relatively active in Seattle. Brad, Stone Gossard’s other band which he swears isn’t a side project, managed to release two records since PJ’s last local show. Those two album have spawned eight local shows by Brad, which was a relatively dormant band prior to 2010. Jeff Ament launched a new side project called Tres Mountains, which plated the Showbox, and released his second solo album. Eddie Vedder delivered two solo shows at Benaroya Hall. Mike McCready has been a part of several benefit concerts, played his annual Flight to Mars gigs and even got back together with his pre-Pearl Jam band Shadow. And while Matt Cameron has busy with Soundgarden drumming duties, even Soundgarden has played more shows in Seattle than Pearl Jam during the past three years.

Of course, over the years the band has been very good to its hometown fans, offering up intimate shows (Showbox 2002), an acoustic gig (Benaroya Hall 2003) and even a free show (Drop in the Park 1992). Pearl Jam has a special bond with its hometown fans and as a die-hard local fan myself I couldn’t imagine being a Pearl Jam fan living in any other city.

But the purpose of this piece isn’t to slam Pearl Jam for not being good to its local fanbase. Despite the lack of local shows, I would argue quite the opposite. My purpose here is to pose the question of Pearl Jam’s whereabouts the past few years as well as provide some possible ways the band can continue to give back to its local fans. Here are a few ideas, most of which are pipe dreams, for how Pearl Jam can rekindle its relationship with its Emerald City supporters.

Bring The Big Three to The Clink: Fans have been clamoring for a Pearl Jam/Soundgarden double-bill ever since Chris Cornell announced the return of the Knights of the Soundtable, but the big concern has been whether Matt Cameron could pull off back-to-back sets. Well, why not bring in Alice in Chains for a triple-bill and give Matt a bit of a break? Or, even better, bring in a few extra local heavies both old and new (Mudhoney, My Goodness, Walking Papers, etc.) and make it a daylong event? Where would this all go down? Century Link Field of course.  If Metallica and U2 can pack that place, then a day with Pearl Jam and pals should have no problem selling tickets.

Get residential: One of the trends du jour for touring bands has been to play classic albums in their entirety. Another trend has been to take up residencies in certain cities. When Pearl Jam releases an album next year it will be the band’s tenth studio album. To celebrate their entire career as well as the release of the new record, why not combine those two trends by playing two records and their related b-sides per night for a five-night stint at KeyArena. It would be a guaranteed sell out every night and hey, who wouldn’t want to hear No Code performed in its entirety?

Go ‘Shooting: Doesn’t it seem strange that Pearl Jam, Seattle’s biggest band, has never performed at Bumbershoot, Seattle’s annual music and arts festival? This is definitely something that needs to change. And since One Reel, the company that organizes Bumbershoot, is all about partnerships this year, why not partner up with Pearl Jam to curate the festival’s music and arts offerings? Each band member could help book a stage. Eddie could bring in the likes of Jack Johnson and Ben Harper and play a ukulele set. Matt could work to provide some jazz bookings and possibly a Harrybu McCage set. Mike could be all about the classic shredding rock and recruit locals in Star Anna, Kristen Ward and others for a Hootenanny-type stage. Stone would bring the classic country background along with Brad and Jeff would deliver the funk and hip-hop elements. What could be more Seattle than a Bumbershoot-Pearl Jam partnership? As an added bonus, One Reel is a non-profit organization and Pearl Jam loves working with non-profits.

Drop a deuce in the park: Of all the ideas this one is probably the most far-fetched shot in the dark considering the last time Pearl Jam played a free show in Seattle it was a pretty difficult task to pull off. However, the Drop in the Park show from 1992 was a legendary show and it would be absolutely amazing for Pearl Jam to revisit the site and deliver another free concert for local fans. Imagine all the fun marketing opportunities, let alone the humorous slogans, for Drop in the Park Deuce.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.