Almanac Music: Oh, Richo (and Pearl Jam)

 

 

If you were at Docklands on Friday 20th November 2009, you might have an inkling where this story is heading. 2009 was the year Richmond icon, Matthew Richardson, retired from footy after 282 games in the Yellow and Black.

 

On that Friday night the roof wasn’t closed for an end of season International Rules spectacle or a Big Bash game where the teams had all ready blended into one. It wasn’t even for a Bledisloe Cup match if, that is, the All Blacks decided to turn up. The roof was closed for the Melbourne leg of Pearl Jam’s national tour. The tour was on the back of their recently released ninth studio album, Backspacer. The Australian leg was part of a worldwide tour where Pearl Jam played 56 shows around the world. Melbourne was the twenty-seventh concert.

 

On that evening I had flown in from Canberra and only just made the start of the show. My first plane was cancelled and I suspect the pilot was an easy listening music type. This meant I didn’t have time to warm up for the concert in a style befitting Eddie Vedder. Eddie, or Mr Vedder as I like to call him, normally polishes off a few bottles of red over the duration of the concert. I walked onto the Docklands turf fuelled only by what Qantas call coffee. I was positioned next to one of the largest speaker stacks I have ever seen and even to this day when I lie in bed at night I can still hear the concert reverberating around my head.*

 

Close to 50000 people were there that night as Pearl Jam performed 32 songs and, if you were there, you would know what an incredible show it was. The roar of the crowd when Pearl Jam first took stage and opened with ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’ was as loud as any Richmond crowd after Richo had kicked a goal. Pearl Jam rolled into ‘Corduroy’ for the second song to further boost the vibe in the crowd. There were many highlights from the show. The first set of 18 songs included a litany of great songs such as ‘Brother’,’ Even Flow’, ‘Lukin’, ‘Present Tense’, ‘Daughter’ which morphed into Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and ‘Do the Evolution’.

 

However, it was song 14, ‘Given to Fly’, which provided the highlight, especially for Richmond fans. As a lead into the song, Eddie made special mention that even though he didn’t really understand AFL footy he had learnt one of his favourite players had recently retired and he was at the concert tonight. That player was Richo. The only problem was Eddie called Richo, Mark Richardson conflating the names of his good friend surfer Mark Richards and Richo. Eddie did apologise and correct himself at the first encore and said he had never made more of a fool of himself in front of so many people. A feature of ‘Given to Fly’ was at 1min 29sec into the song when Eddie added the line “Oh, Richo” to the song. A nice local touch.

 

Local knowledge and nuance have been a feature of Pearl Jam concerts for as long as they have been performing. In the second encore set Pearl Jam performed Melbourne’s Hunter & Collectors ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’. Liam Finn joined the band for the song.

 

The last two sets included a cover of Neil Young’s song ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, ‘Just Breathe’, ‘Jeremy’, ‘Porch’, ‘Black’, ‘Spin The Black Circle’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Yellow Ledbetter’. A fantastic show even apart from Richo being acknowledged.

 

The purpose of this piece is not to review the Melbourne concert or provide a summary of Richo’s footy career. The intention is to make note that Friday 27th August 2021 will be the 30th anniversary of the release of Pearl Jam’s seminal first album Ten.

 

Pearl Jam along with Nirnava, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains (to name five) were at the forefront of the Seattle sound or grunge as it became more widely known. There were other influential bands such as Green River (which begat Mudhoney), Mother Love Bone (which largely became Pearl Jam after their lead singer, Andy Wood, died of an overdose) and Tad. The music scene in Seattle at the time was influenced by the record label Sub Pop. Nirnava, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Tad all released albums through Sub Pop. As a sidebar, Sub Pop has a large ironical streak with mottos such as “Not the best, but pretty good”, “Spanning the globe for profit” and “Going out of business since 1988”.

 

As mentioned above, Pearl Jam arose from Mother Love Bone. Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were members of Mother Love Bone. In 1990, after spending time away from music following Andy Wood’s death, Gossard and Ament started playing with Mike McCreedy and Matt Cameron played drums. On the lookout for a singer, an instrumental demo tape they produced reached Eddie Vedder. Vedder was living in San Diego at the time and playing in a band called Bad Radio and surfed in his free time. Eddie, using his multi-tracker, laid down vocals for the songs and sent a cassette back to Seattle. In the package was a basketball player’s trading card of New Jersey Net’s Mookie Blaylock. From there Eddie was invited to Seattle to demo with Gossard, Ament and McCready and the band Mookie Blaylock was formed. Dave Krusen replaced Matt Cameron on drums as Cameron was fulltime with Soundgarden. Matt did rejoin Pearl Jam in 1998 and has been their drummer ever since.

 

In March 1991, when the band entered the studio to record their first album, their management and record label decided they shouldn’t use the name Mookie Blaylock as there might be legal conflicts. The band decided to call themselves Pearl Jam. The origin of the name has been a subject of conjecture. In a nod to Mookie Blaylock, they decided to call their album Ten as 10 was Blaylock’s playing number.

 

Ten was released on August 27th, 1991, and the rest, as they say, is history except it almost wasn’t. Ten wasn’t an immediate success. In its first week it only sold 25000 copies which wasn’t enough to make the influential Billboard’s Top 200. The album didn’t debut on the Billboard’s Top 200 until January 1992 when it entered at a lowly number 155. However, heavy rotation of the three singles from the album ‘Alive’, ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Jeremy’ pushed the album to number two on the Billboard chart by late 1992. The album has now sold over 13 million copies in the US alone.

 

The success of Ten almost led to the implosion of Pearl Jam which came to a head when the band was producing its second album Vs. The conflict of success while wanting to be true to their roots produced tension within the band and the band with management. Fortunately, these issues were resolved. When it was released Vs sold the most copies of an album in a week ever and remained at the top of the Billboard Top 200 for five weeks. Pearl Jam released their 11th and most recent studio album, Gigaton, in March 2020.

 

Since that first album, Pearl Jam have been a massive presence, with corresponding influence, in the music world. And to think it was 30 years ago all this kicked off in Seattle with the album Ten. It’s time to spin the black circle and crank the volume up to 11.

 

Pearl Jam also had a major influence on the hair styles of Richo and other Richmond players in the early to mid 90s. Oh, Richo!

 

 

 

 

 

The Chairman
(John Baker)

 

*This may not be true

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

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Comments

  1. Great album from start to finish, it still gets a run in my house 30 years on.
    Soundgarden’s ‘Superunknown’ is also a favourite.

    Recently read the Pearl Jam book ‘Not for you’ and am part way through the Chris Cornell biography ‘Total F*cking Godhead’. It is amazing how so many great (emerging) bands were so entwined in this one city in a short period of time.

    Great piece!

  2. Middle Australia says

    Thanks Greg, It is a great album and stood the test of time. I should have also added it is 25th anniversary of the release of ‘No Code’, Pearl Jam’s fourth studio album.

    I haven’t read ‘Not for You’ as yet, but looking forward to it. It is incredible so much music came from one town. Back then Seattle was a relatively small city. If you then add to that the emergence of the Riot Grrrl from 100km to the south-west away in Olympia around the same time, Washington State was a powerhouse in the music scene.

    Seattle has grown immensely since the early 90s. I have been going there for 25 years and seen it grow into a big city. As a good mate of mine who lives there said, Pertland now is what Seattle used to be like. There are parrallels with the growth of the music scene in Portland.

    In the piece I should have added a paragraph of how now Sub Pop Megan Jasper literally invented grunge speak or lexicon on the spot. In ’92 Megan had been working on the front desk at Sub Pop, but was laid off due to financial problems at Sub Pop. The New York Times had rung Sup Pop founder, Jonathan Poneman for an interview but he palmed it off to Megan. Megan was asked if there was a grunge language or lexicon as Megan called it. There wasn’t but Megan made one up on the spot. Megan provided words or phrases such as ‘Cob Nobbler’ for loser, ‘Harsh Realm’ for bummer, ‘Swingin’ on the Flippity Flop’ and ‘Wack Slacks’ for old ripped jeans.

    Rock On

  3. craig dodson says

    What an evening that was. I still vividly remember it to this day. 32 songs all performed at full tilt – you got the feeling they would have been happy to keep playing for 3 more hours.

    Did you make it out to see Eddie when he toured solo a few years back? His acoustic version of Cat Stevens ‘Trouble’ was worth the price of admission alone. Hopefully they make it back to Aus one day..

    Thanks for taking me back down memory lane.

  4. It’s a fair effort to start from scratch and put out ‘Ten’, ‘Vs’, ‘Vitalogy’ and ‘No Code’ in a five year period. (While also touring and dealing with an ‘explosion’ in fame.) There are also quite a few really good tracks that didn’t make the albums.

  5. Middle Australia says

    Craig, It was a great evening and you’re right I reckon they would have been happy to play much longer.

    I did see Eddie in his solo tours. In 2011 I saw him play in Canberra at the Royal Theatre and in Sydney at the State theatre. Both fantastic shows even though in Canberra there was an annoying crowd member constantly yelling out for Pearl Jam songs. Eddie maintained his cool and composure. In 2014 Eddie played at the Opera House and once again it was a memorable night.

  6. A good read, thanks John.
    Pearl Jam is the one band (who are still together) that I desperately want to see. I won’t be missing them next time they come out here.
    Ten has stood the test of time – and I bought the vinyl for my middle son last Christmas. Cannot believe it has been thirty years. Fark.
    I must admit that I have always had a soft spot for No Code.

  7. Middle Australia says

    Smokie, They are well worth seeing. Even if it’s not your music their concerts are fantastic. With their shows, it seems like they would be happy to keep on playing and enjoying performing. This transfers to the crowd and everybody gets right into it.
    Great choice of a present for your son. A landmark album and an important part of your son’s music education. If you haven’t seen the PJ20 doc it is well worth tracking down for a look and listen.

  8. Great appraisal MA, of a band I like a lot. Saw them in 95 I think at Rod Laver. They were red hot. Those first three albums are a lived experience for all wanna be bands of turning an apprenticeship into craft. From a reliance on power chords (not a bad thing) to dynamic riffs by Vitalogy. By Yield they are as good as they get.

    I got burned by my experience at Docklands seeing Springsteen in 2003 – I hated the place as a concert venue. And have missed shows such as Pearl Jam (damn) and Taylor Swift (double damn) but I was fortunate to see Eddie sing Highway to Hell with Bruce to start a Springsteen show at AAMI Park. That was all kinds of cool.

    Cheers

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