*** (out of four)
Kids, there was a time not so long ago, before Auto-Tune and Britney Spears and iTunes, when flannel was a fashionable material and Seattle was the center of the music universe. Alllllll the way back in 1990, a group of long-haired rockers got together and called themselves Pearl Jam, and they’re one of the few acts still doing it more than 20 years later.
The buzz: Of all the filmmakers who could have made this documentary, former rock journalist Cameron Crowe is surely one of the most appropriate. Crowe narrates a little at the film’s opening and toward the end, but mostly “Pearl Jam Twenty” comprises an astonishing array of footage from performances, interviews, campfire chats and, as should be expected for anyone who remembers Pearl Jam’s fight against Ticketmaster, Congressional hearings.
The verdict: Crowe appreciates Pearl Jam, but he doesn’t fawn over the band. This is a group that wouldn’t have existed had Mother Love Bone (which included Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard) not lost its lead singer Andy Wood to a drug overdose, and it’s a group whose frontman Eddie Vedder may be one of rock’s calmest, most hippie-like figures to deliver such wild concerts and powerfully stark lyricism about rough relationships (at least in the early days). If Crowe seems uninterested in contextualizing Pearl Jam in today’s market or detailing the group’s second decade or even really charting their rise and controversial alleged commercialism, it’s because he merely wants to capture the personalities, the songs and the shows. “Twenty” asserts that the band matters because, in addition to simply having a lot of strong work in its catalog, the members never lost sight of the fans or themselves.
Did you know? Wood noted that he wanted to exclusively play arena shows because you can say anything to an arena crowd, including “Your mother smells bad!,” and they will hoot and holler. He’s right—which is both kind of awesome and a bit disturbing if you think about it.
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