Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 242
Wed. Oct. 23, 2013
“Black (Live at Benaroya Hall)”
Although, by 2004, Pearl Jam had played Ten’s classic heartbreak anthem so many times since its inception, because of troubles with stalking fanatics, Eddie’s song, so personal to him, was one of his early public offerings, who’s meaning he desperately tried to keep its meaning private from those same overzealous shadow eyes. Eddie Vedder talked about these issues on Pearl Jam Twenty when he told Cameron Crowe, “How were you going to survive and not do something wrong? Not piss someone off? Now you sold too many records; but these people are so happy to hear your music but these people hate you and these people love you so much they want to kill you. So how do you relate to any of these people?” But something happened on the night of October 22nd, 2003, during an amazing performance of “Black,” Vedder had a moment of clarity. As the crowd sang his words back to Eddie, the veil that had covered “Black” was symbolically gifted back to these adoring hometown fans as Vedder returned the favor by cherishing his renewed compassionate connection, between audience and artist, brought to life at Benaroya Hall by performing his once very infamously private song.
Akin to Nirvana’s historic M-TV Unplugged show in New York City, Pearl Jam’s concert at Benaroya Hall was equally monumental to this other Washington based band. But unlike the funeral vibe Nirvana had on stage in NYC, this largely acoustic show in the bands hometown of Seattle wasn’t just a benefit gig for Youth Care; Benaroya Hall was a celebration of over ten years of being alive as the collective unit better known as Pearl Jam. Coming seven years before Pearl Jam Twenty, Benaroya was a triumph for a band that was largely known for their hard rock anthems like “Alive” to strip down their stadium rock sound in such an intimate setting, just like Nirvana did ten years earlier; Even though Pearl Jam recorded their own Unplugged performance right after the band’s formation in 1992; this Benaroya gig was larger and was at a critical juncture for the band who had survived their grunge area counterparts, was still reeling from the Roskilde tragedy on June 30th of 2000 when nine fans were crushed while Pearl Jam performed. The event almost broke up the band.
Pearl Jam was in the middle of their tumultuous Riot Act tour of 2003 and this largely acoustic show was a way for the band to say thank you for their hometown fans who had stood by PJ during these most trying years. One of the most moving moments of the Benaroya concert was when Eddie started singing “Black.” “Black” was one of Ten’s more popular songs and the track was so personal to Vedder that he refused to allow their record label Epic Records to release this Ten cut as a single.
Ten years earlier, Cameron Crowe captured the rise of the band in his 1993 Rolling Stone Magazine piece “Five Against The World” when the future director of Pearl Jam Twenty wrote: “Pearl Jam is the band’s turf statement, a personal declaration of the importance of music over idolatry. But the burden of Pearl Jam’s popularity has fallen most solidly on Vedder, who spent much of his off-season wondering about the effects of being in such a high-profile band. Vedder had — uncharacteristically — even gotten into a barroom fight defending the band. (And one night, while sitting out on a deserted coastal sand bluff, contemplating life after the death of a friend, guitarist Stefanie Sargent of 7 Year Bitch, he heard strange voices coming from the hill behind him. They were singing “Black,” the fragile song that to Vedder had come to symbolize the over-commercialization of the band. He’d fought to keep it from getting overplayed, didn’t want a video made of the song. Vedder hiked out of the bushes to ask the surprised hikers not to sing the song. Months later, he still remembers their odd and concerned looks as they faced the angst-filled author of the song. “I had a hard time getting away,” Vedder says now with a laugh. But as Ament says, the struggle is everything. “The push and pull,” he says, “is what makes our band.”
“Let’s do ‘Black,‘” is what guitarist Stone Gossard suggested to his bandmates in that Rolling Stone article of 1993; cut to ten years later, that October 22, 2003 night at Benaroya Hall, not only did Pearl Jam ‘do’ “Black;” on stage in Seattle, it was literally one of the best performances of “Black,” ever— even besting the original Ten version and their own M-TV Unplugged show’s rendition from 1992. As the crowd sang along taking over the lyrics from Eddie, at that moment, towards the climax of “Black” symbolically Vedder let go of the song he held on so tightly after all of these years.
Pearl Jam has survived Eddie’s stalker troubles as Vedder told Billboard Magazine, “There are photos of a truck crash with the woman inside it bloody [in the film, of a stalker who literally crashed Vedder’s home]. That was an incredibly serious deal. What we had at the time was too much for me as a human and even as a writer. We had to take responsibility for that.” That being the worst thing the band went through was dealing with the feeling of responsibility for the loss of fans lives at the Roskilde tragedy. The band had gone through the darkness, and unlike their Seattle counterparts Nirvana, Pearl Jam was older, wiser and more united band. Asked by Cameron Crowe for Pearl Jam Twenty why they played the 2003 show at Benaroya Hall, bassist Jeff Ament said, “I figure it’s only a matter of time before we go out and at least do a few shows that way. It’s really fun to play loud, but it’s really great to play quiet, too.”
Through the quiet and very intimate rendition of “Black,” Pearl Jam found a reconnection with their audience on the stage at Benaroya Hall. Despite crooning Eddie’s heart aching lyrics, these supporters had singlehandedly wiped away the pain the band had experienced three years earlier and at least for one night, as these die hard fans sung along for their embattled favorite band, Pearl Jam’s devoted fans embraced their favorite band with such gracious emotional energy, making the band feel so beloved. Eddie talked about the full circle moment he experienced as lead singer of Pearl Jam when he told the L.A. Times, “Good days, bad days, Sometimes I think of how far I’ve come from the teenager sitting on the bed in San Diego writing ‘Better Man’ and wondering if anyone would ever even hear it. But then there are times when it just all seems too much.”
But that one night, those fans at Benaroya Hall took away all the pain and fear that Vedder had experienced in his private life on this Seattle stage. Eddie talked about the reasons he had to build a wall outside of his house to Cameron Crowe when he explained in Pearl Jam Twenty, “Because of stalker problems, I built a wall in front of the house because, I had been open and honest and intimate in lyrics. So I seemed really strange. I remember I had to build a wall in front of the house. I mean that wall saved my life. You wonder how did it mutate into this kind of situation.” Despite his stalker problems and feeling responsible for the Roskilde tragedy Vedder’s personal connection to his fans that kept him at a distance, thanks to his performance at Benaroya Hall was starting to thaw. You could understand why Vedder would want to keep at least one of his songs, secretive, away from the prying eyes of crazed followers who misunderstood every single lyric Eddie had ever written.
Referring to “Black,” the classic Pearl Jam song the band’s audience had embraced since it’s inception in 1992, Ament told Cameron Crowe in 1993 “I don’t know where all those songs came from.” Ten years later at Benaroya Hall, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam knew where “Black” belonged, and although the band had played this classic Ten cut a myriad of times during the band’s existence, at this Oct. 22nd 2003 performance, for this night, it felt like Vedder had finally let down that once guarded wall. As if to foreshadow the reasons he symbolically gave his most personal song back to his fans at the Benaroya show, Vedder famously said, “I’m making music for music sake, and I have an audience I’m proud of.” Pearl Jam finally let “Black” go, inside the metaphorical arms of this devoted Seattle crowd and most of all, Eddie’s very personal song “Black,” had finally found a home.