Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dance of the Clairvoyants: The TSIS Review

Dance of the Clairvoyants is an unexpected, delightful, and extremely satisfying lead single that slide effortlessly into a gap I had no idea was even there.   As with any new Pearl Jam music, my experience is contextualized, and often measured against, my history with the band and its music – in conversation with and framed by what’s come before.  And Dance of the Clairvoyants arrived at a complicated time when I had largely forgotten about the band.  Or maybe it’s not that I forgot them as much as I just didn’t need them.   It has been seven years since Lightning Bolt, and since 2008 we’ve had just two albums and a handful of one-off tracks.  I’m a big fan of those two records – I think Backspacer is a near masterpiece and Lightning Bolt, despite its stale presentation, contains some very strong songwriting and thoughtful, mature meditations about legacy befitting a group of monstrously successful musicians circling 50.  But that’s all we had, and compared to the 7 albums, b-sides, and soundtracks they produced in their first twelve years, the pace of new music I was accustomed to, Pearl Jam felt stuck.  And so I moved past them.  I still knew every moment of every song , even the handful I didn’t really like, and of course I could produce a top 5, or ten, or twenty five, within seconds of being asked.  But it was an intellectual appreciation, a loyalty to the fondest of memories, rather than anything viscerally felt.

That’s not unusual or surprising. Any relationship ebbs and flows without new experiences to remind you why the old ones matter and, if you’re lucky, add to the foundation.  But Pearl Jam stopped producing new memories.  The tours were short and intermittent, and the music dried up.  I did really like their cover of Again Today (it may well be the Pearl Jam song I’ve listened to the most the past several years), but a cover is not really new music.  And Can’t Deny Me was a failure against almost every  possible measure.  It was a disappointing song that, by positioning itself as a response to, and a stand against, the viral toxicity of the Trump era, demanded more of itself than almost any song could give – let alone this one.  That the band seemed willing to hang their hat on it just made it easier to slip away.

And so Pearl Jam stayed where it was, and I moved on.  There wasn’t anger or even regret – just an unintentional drift. Even the announcement of a new album didn’t really move me.  I was aware I should be excited, and my biggest disappointment with Pearl Jam’s near recent output was more about its quantity than its quality.  I assumed I’m way more likely than not to enjoy whatever comes next, despite Can’t Deny Me.  Hell, World Wide Suicide, The Fixer, and Mind Your Manners are three of my favorite lead singles.  Three of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, probably. But still I had to force myself to stay up to midnight to listen, and I did so more out of a recognition that there may not be more first singles in my future.  I suppose I thought I should honor a memory.

That  was my headspace when I first heard Dance of the Clairvoyants.  I had listened to the two clips, and thought little of either – they primed me for something different, but I’ve always been of the mindset that neither difference nor familiarity are going to make or break a song.  Performative difference is irritating, and something familiar can still have something to teach you.  But Dance of the Clairvoyants was utterly surprising – something I have never heard Pearl Jam do (or even really attempt) before, but still captured that old familiar yearning, the striving authenticity, that has always been at the heart of their best music. And for a dormant fan it was exactly what I needed.  I had a similar reaction the first time I heard I Am Mine during the creeping terror of the early Bush years, where the songs craggy warmth and uplifting climax reminded me that I wasn’t alone and didn’t have to be afraid.  I had a similar experience with Worldwide Suicide – where Pearl Jam – the band I most needed to find a way to articulate the contemptuous tragedy that was the Bush years – found its fire and found its voice after what felt (at the time) like a long period of mute passivity.  It was a reminder that they could still be the band I needed them to be.

Dance of the Clairvoyants accomplished something similar.  It was a reminder that Pearl Jam still matters– that they can find something worth saying and say it in a way that makes me want to engage.  That they can still surprise me.  Dance was challenging without being uncomfortable, and Pearl Jam should always feel like an embrace.

The Talking Heads influence is front and center, to the point that Eddie is practically doing a David Byrne impression for the first minute or so. David Bowie influences are there as well, although slightly less pronounced.  Pearl Jam has always been a band that draws a clear line to its influences, and this isn’t something we’ve seen from them before. But its also not surprising.  They  feel like appropriate artists for pearl jam to lean into at this moment, or at least for this song – people who seemed smarter than the insanity and absurdity around them.  People who could laugh at the joke while the pushed back against the teller. People who could see past and through the madness.  And I don’t think Eddie or the band is trying to claim that mantle. They are using them as guides.  Dance of the Clairvoyants is a song about finding your way back to something long lost – and getting there by learning to let go of certainty and getting out of your own way. It embraces the confusion and imperfection in the world without surrendering to or resenting it. It is about learning to let go of the  anger and release the tension we carry with us. It takes on faith that the answer is there, just out of reach, but if we keep circling and reaching out we will inch ever closer to it.  We can’t grasp it yet, but if we open ourselves to the possibility, we will.   And these seem like appropriate musical touchstones for that kind of seeking.  This is easily one of their most spiritual songs.

Pearl Jam has always been at its best looking for the answers, rather than sharing them. Eddie’s strength as a writer and performer is in his empathy and humanity, not his received wisdom.  And I love that this song is searching.  It is all over the lyrics, which focus on embracing how much we don’t know and understand, realizes that there are patterns in the chaos that need to be felt, rather than understood. Given the madness of our historical moment surrendering our expectation and demand for control, but not for meaning, takes an act of faith and courage – of belief.  It is a song that forgives the world, and the people in it, their imperfections without abandoning the surety that it can be better.

This theme is explored on a number of levels, but in the absence of vetted lyrics, and the surrounding context of an album, I’m not going to do much more than hint at them.  There is a personal journey.   There is some political meta commentary about the gendered nature of our current moment and the complicated ways it informs our relationship with the world around us – fairly subtle and elegant despite the dick references.  It’s also not hard to read the song as reflection on the artistic process and Pearl Jam’s own internal struggle with it, if you’re looking for insight into band dynamics.

In some ways this is one of the things that Dance of the Clairvoyants has me most excited about.    One of the most insightful Pearl Jam reviews I ever read dealt with how, more than any other band the author could think of, Pearl Jam was chained to its own history – to the idea of what Pearl Jam HAS to be. And this was in 1998, writing about Yield.   That tendency had only metastasized in the intervening decades.   There are, I think, a number of interesting ideas and promising directions on their last three albums – but every one of them found a way to hold itself back – chained to the platonic idea of what a Pearl Jam song needed to be.  The edges were always sanded smooth, at the expense of its texture.  Songs that I don’t doubt for a second were authentic in their inspiration too often ended up feeling like reproductions – facsimiles of songs that were better because they had the chance to simply be. That was the source of their power musically, and it played to Eddie’s strengths as a singer.

The  creative process that formed Dance of the Clairvoyants gifted itself the confidence and freedom to follow an idea where it leads, rather than forcing it to where we think it should go.  The end result is defined by its journey.  It means the song is messy without being sloppy.  It creates complexity by layering simplicity.  There is order, and structure, and purpose, but it feels natural.  It is odd that a song that apes a drum machine, and features a synthesizer, and yet somehow feels organic.

I hope this process drove the entire record.  Because what is powerful here isn’t that the song is different.  It’s not a new set of musical influences.  It’s that it was free to be the song it wanted to be. And that freedom is what creates great music, whether you’re exploring new territory or drawing fresh water from old wells.  It’s what enabled Eddie to write a song that works for the aging voice of a former God, and remind us why we worshiped him then and should respect him now.  It shows that when you take four immensely talented musicians and just invite them to follow their instincts they can produce something special no matter how old they are or what album number this is.

What I really love about this song is that it promises that there are still mysteries out there.  That the surface, no matter how much we struggle with it, simply hides layers upon layers waiting for us to discover them.  That we haven’t yet exhausted our promise.  There is more waiting for us if we just believe.

Stand back when the spirit comes.  

VIDEO: Dance of the Clairvoyants: Mach I

New music wasn't the only great news today, Pearl Jam also release a video for Dance of the Clairvoyants.  Check it out while you wait for our review later today!

Produced by: Evolve Studios 
Directed by: Joel Edwards
Edited by: Seth Evans
Produced by: Joseph Bastien
Footage by: Filmsupply (

Dance of the Clairvoyants

Well, it's here, the first new Pearl Jam song in 22 months.  Enjoy Dance of the Clairvoyants.

"I can’t tell you how proud I am about this group of songs. As you know, we took our time and that benefited us taking more chances. 'Dance' was a perfect storm of experimentation and real collaboration, mixing up the instrumentation and building a great song, and Ed writing some of my favorite words yet, around Matt’s killer drum pattern. Did I mention Mike’s insane guitar part and that Stone is playing bass on this one? We’ve opened some new doors creatively and that’s exciting."
-Jeff Ament
Here's a little more from Stone on SiriusXM about how this song came together.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gigaton Track Listing

Apologies for being off this weekend and being late to tell you that Pearl Jam released the track listing for Gigaton.

1. Who Ever Said
2. Superblood Wolfmoon
3. Dance of the Clairvoyants
4. Quick Escape
5. Alright
6. Seven O’Clock
7. Never Destination
8. Take The Long Way
9. Buckle Up
10. Come Then Goes
11. Retrograde
12. River Cross

That last song struck a cord with Guerrilla Candy, who posted a video of Eddie singing the song at the 2017 Ohana Festival.

Don't forget to tune in to SiriusXM tonight at midnight to hear Dance of the Clairvoyants, or ... y'know, check back here when you wake up.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Pearl Jam's New Album, Gigaton, Available on March 27th

Pearl Jam has announced that their 11th studio album, titled Gigaton, will be available starting March 27th.  This time around, they worked with a new producer, Josh Evans, who has done some engineering work for Soundgarden, a few Pearl Jam side projects, and even played guitar on Pearl Jam's last album, Lightning Bolt.  His production skills are largely untested, so we expect an interesting new direction with this album.

The first single, Dance of the Clairvoyants, is upcoming.  

You can pre-order the album on vinyl ($35 + $12 domestic S&H) or CD ($16 + $6 domestic S&H) and a 7" of Dance of the Clairvoyants ($10 + $6 domestic S&H) on Pearl Jam's website.

Pearl Jam Announces North American Tour

Pearl Jam has announced "the first leg" of their North American tour.  There have not been rumors of a second leg, but it's hard to say since everyone was so amped up for today's announcement.  It may have been drowning out other news.  We'll see.

For now, Pearl Jam has announced 16 North American dates in support of their new album, Gigaton.  Dates are below.  See the Pearl Jam website for details on ticket pre-sales.

March 18Toronto, ONScotiabank Arena
March 20Ottawa, ONCanadian Tire Centre
March 22Quebec City, QCVideotron Centre
March 24Hamilton, ONFirstOntario Centre
March 28Baltimore, MDRoyal Farms Arena
March 30New York, NYMadison Square Garden
April 2Nashville, TNBridgestone Arena
April 4St. Louis, MOEnterprise Center
April 6Oklahoma City, OKChesapeake Energy Arena
April 9Denver, COPepsi Center
April 11Phoenix, AZGila River Arena
April 13San Diego, CAViejas Arena
April 15 & 16Los Angeles, CAThe Forum
April 18 & 19Oakland, CAOakland Arena

Friday, January 10, 2020

Gigaton Artist Discovered

Some industrious Pearl Jam fans have hunted down the artwork that Pearl Jam appears to be using for their upcoming album, possibly named Gigaton.  It is a picture from Paul Nicklen's book, Born to Ice.
SeaLegacy co-founder, National Geographic photographer, acclaimed ocean conservationist, and TED Talks favorite, Paul Nicklen traces his extraordinary love affair with the polar regions in his most recent book, Born to Ice. His powerful images of iconic arctic and antarctic wildlife and scenery, coupled with his inspiring photographic storytelling, blends ethereal beauty of the icy landscape with a compelling call to action. The Arctic is in Paul Nicklen's blood.

Gigaton ??

Seattle, Washington


Pearl Jam sent out an e-mail to their Fan Club list including flames at various cities around the globe.  Fans are finding billboards at those sites with new artwork which we can only suspect is album art for an album titled Gigaton.

Stay here for more news as it develops.

Mexico City
Santiago, Chile

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 5 Pearl Jam Moments of 2019 #1

#1, Record Store Day

Pearl Jam hadn't dropped vinyl on Record Store Day as a band for several years, but our patience was rewarded in 2019 with a pair of classic shows after Pearl Jam was declared the 2019 Record Store Day Ambassadors.  Sure, both shows have previously been released in other formats, but this was the first time on vinyl for both.

First, was their 2005 Record Store Day performance at Easy Street Records in Seattle, previously released as an EP on CD.  This year is was available in record stores on vinyl, and via the Ten Club on red vinyl.

Then, later, in November, we were treated to their 1992 MTV Unplugged performance.  Both are great, iconic shows, and even though neither record is a full show (Easy Street is a sampling of the show, and Unplugged is the missing the Rockin' in the Free World encore), both are great collectibles worth visiting your turntable for often in the coming year as you wait for Album #11.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Top 5 Pearl Jam Moments of 2019 #2

#2, Eddie Tours Europe

Perhaps to refresh himself and stir creative juices, Eddie took a break from two years in the studio with his band mates to hit the road across Europe.  Hitting a mix of small venues and festivals, Ed brought his individual brand of music.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Top 5 Pearl Jam Moments of 2019 #3

#3, Vault Release: Seattle 12/8/1993

Pearl Jam's Vault releases always seem to make our list, but there was quite a bit of debate on this one.  Did we need another 1993 release?  Las Vegas 1993 was Vault #5.  Was this show actually deserving of a place of honor?  Some claim it's particularly sloppy.

Quality and necessity aside, in a quiet Pearl Jam year, it's no doubt this was going to make the list.  Check out the album on vinyl, CD, or digital formats.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Top 5 Pearl Jam Moments of 2019 #4

#4, A Grammy Nomination for Jeff Ament

A surprising amount of Pearl Jam news this year was actually Soundgarden news.  Joe Spix, Jeff Ament, and [his brother] Barry Ament were nominated for a GRAMMY this year for Best Record Packaging for their work on the Chris Cornell career retrospective, which contains a few Temple of the Dog songs and "Hey Baby! (Land of the New Rising Sun)," a Hendrix tune covered by McCready, Ament, Cameron, and Cornell (one member short of Temple of the Dog).

You'll have to tune in next year to see if the nomination turns into a win, but hey, maybe you'll see that in next year's Top Ten.

Top 5 Pearl Jam Moments of 2019 #5

I hate to admit that there are not 10 great moments to celebrate in 2019, but let's be honest, Pearl Jam played zero shows and released zero new music in 2019.  In a year when there were no major appearances by the band, and they stayed sequestered, possibly, working on a new album for 2020, here is what we've come up with to celebrate.

#5, Infinite Color and Sound

If you were a fan of Mike McCready's 2018 project with Kate Neckel blending Mike's trippy sonic creations with Kate's performance art, you had a chance to catch entirely new live creations in Seattle, New York, and New Jersey in 2019 as the show went on tour. 

You also had a chance to collect three 7-inch vinyls of the music at the Ten Club. 

Now, however, your only chance is the sample below, put out by HockeyTalkter Records.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Vault Release #9 (Seattle 1993) Is Now Available in Digital and CD Formats.

You can now pick up the December 8th, 1993 Seattle show at Seattle Center Arena is now available in Digital ($10) and CD ($17) formats via the Ten Club store.

Even Flow
Sick O' Pussies
Why Go
Daughter/Do You Feel Lucky/WMA
Glorified G
Last Exit
Tremor Christ
State of Love and Trust
I've Got a Feeling
Rockin' in the Free World