Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Video: Superblood Wolfmoon

It seems that the band that once refused to make videos now cannot stop.  Today, Pearl Jam released a "tiny concert" video of Superblood Wolfmoon.

Animation by @TinyConcert on Instagram.
Created by: Tiny Concert
Director: Keith Ross
Video Producer: Scott Greer
Post Production: PB&I
Post Producers: Todd Broder, Ryan Duff, Amit Mackar
Editor: Gino Gianoli
Studio artist: Joan Heo
Artist Consultant: Talia Handler
Twitter: @tinyconcert

Superblood Wolfmoon: The TSIS Review

For a simple song (although it’s a deceptive simplicity) Superblood Wolfmoon  (SBWM) posses some odd challenges as a second single – and the first ‘traditional single’ far more akin to the typical Pearl Jam song than the surprising and magnificent Dance of the Clairvoyants. It’s not Pearl Jam by numbers, but it is Pearl Jam with much stronger catalog roots. If you placed SBWM in the center of a Venn diagram of Pearl Jam songs  you can find overlap with a whole array of songs dating back to No Code.  Mankind, Don’t Gimmie No Lip, Habit, Leatherman, U, All Night, Black Red Yellow, Gods Dice, Get Right, Green Disease, Big Wave, Supersonic, Gonna See My Friend, Johnny Guitar, Let the Records Play, Again Today – for a number of reasons Johnny Guitar is probably its closest parallel (and it does feel like a song that could nestle comfortably into Backspacer), but whether it is the playful tone, the propulsive rush, or the higher register, this is well traveled territory.  We immediately think we know what this song is.

The problem is that  none of the songs mentioned above are singles, or intended to be singles .  These are the Pearl Jam b-sides, or the album tracks that feel like b-sides. Not a comment on their quality, per se – I do love a few songs on that list above – but they usually feel light and disposable.  And even though I just rattled off 16 songs, they’ve always felt like outliers in the catalog. A lighter moment that the band is entitled to, but shouldn’t be taking up album real estate. Palette cleansers, or attempts at having ‘fun’ for a band who, with the exception of the criminally underrated Backspacer, can even make fun sound like serious business.  And while there are a number of good songs on that list above, it is hardly a murderer’s row of greatest hits.   

So it was hard on first listen not be at least somewhat deflated by Superblood Wolfmoon. Why would they release their fun ‘filler’ song as the first real hard driving declaration of intent (especially when it has been made clear, by the band, that DotC is an outlier?   The under four minute rocker is a recent Pearl Jam single staple (World Wide Suicide, The Fixer, Mind Your Manners), but all of those songs felt like statements in a way SBWM does not – and, to be fair, does not aspire to be.    There’s nothing on the album with a greater sense of self-importance they could share first?  Especially since the last ‘weird’ singles we had received (Who You Are and Nothing As It Seems) were immediately followed by Hail Hail and Grievance (live).

And beyond that, this is the second track on the album.  That’s an exalted spot, for the most part, in the Pearl Jam catalog, a collection of thematically resonant musical all-stars.  Even Flow, Animal, Spin the Black Circle, Hail Hail, Faithfull, Save You, World Wide Suicide, Mind Your Manners – all lead singles or essential album tracks.  And the first little musical snippet we received prior to the single spoke to a song that felt at least slightly more muscular than what you hear on first listen (in the same way that the opening moments of Mind Your Manners, the first element of the song we heard, is not necessarily indicative of the rest of the song).   And so Superblood Wolfmoon immediately draws to mind the lighter songs usually confined to a b-side or the back half of a record, and compares itself to some of the most important songs in the catalog.   It stacks the deck against itself on first listen, at least for the long term fan who will immediately, whether they are aware of it or not, start to compare, evaluate, and process the song against their internal expectations (here comes the important ‘classic pearl jam’ song after the DotC detour) the slightly misleading musical preview, and the immediate connections to the b-side fun track – no one’s favorite sub-genre of Pearl Jam.

But since I’m not paid by the word, lets actually talk about the song itself, which, despite an underwhelming first listen, turns out is pretty good.  Superblood Wolfmoon took a few listens to really unlock itself for me .   I needed some space and time to rid myself of prior expectations and evaluate the song on its own terms (what the song is rather than what I was expecting or needed it to be), and because there is a fair bit of nuance underneath its simple packaging.

Musically it is in the pop/punk vein that is generally the type of Pearl Jam song I like the least (though I do think this is arguably the best pure version of this they’ve done).  We start with a familiar Matt Cameron intro (variants of which have been used in Undone and Again Today – to better effect, I think – this is a song that would probably benefit by diving right in) and a bouncy guitar part and title statement that immediately makes clear this is not a dark and serious song (though I wouldn’t mind if they used the heavier tone we get when this section repeats later on).  It moves right into some fairly standard pop/punk guitar parts, and Eddie’s vocal melody seemingly floats along in harmony with it.  But on early listens there was an odd, stitched together quality that took a while to unravel (and it was this unraveling that really helped settle the song for me).   Pearl Jam songs, even the more ‘experimental’ ones, tend to follow a fairly similar structure – musical intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse and/or chorus, outro.  Superblood Wolfmoon abandons that structure in interesting ways.  The song starts with what passes for a chorus, it contains a primary verse structure that it repeats itself throughout, but there are also at least two other recurring sections of the song that could be bridges, could be alternate choruses, could be different verse structures. It’s like SBWM can’t decide, or doesn’t think it matters, or knows but doesn’t feel like telling you. It puts the listener on edge in an unexpected way, as the song doesn’t seem like it is written to challenge you (as opposed to songs that clearly intend to be ‘difficult’). It took a few listens for me to stop trying to force the song into a familiar mold and accept the Frankenstein approach.  

Outside of the standard pop/punk power chords the band does a nice job coloring in the song, especially in the superior second half of the song (thought the best lyrics are in the first half). There are interesting moments happening underneath and outside of the main movements of the song that add emotional intensity and urgency.   The high point is arguably the solo, not so much for the solo itself (which is pure Van Halenesuqe guitar wankery) but for everything that is happening around the solo – the way the song doesn’t want to let it escape.  The solo has to crawl itself out from underneath Eddie’s growling vocals (strong end of sequence transitions from Eddie throughout the song), and it stays surprisingly lower in the mix as the rest of the band works to cage it in.  It’s an interesting effect, especially since Mike’s solos are almost always front and center, and this is a particularly flashy one.

Eddie sounds good – it’s a wordy song but they don’t feel like they are outpacing him (which has happened on occasion), and while he is singing it in a higher, brighter register I don’t enjoy nearly as much as his baritone, he maintains control over it.  More importantly, his performance manages to capture the mix of playful energy, entitled tantrum, and personal disgust present in the lyrics.  It is not an all time performance, and there is nothing in at as immediately haunting and striking as the back half of Dance of the Clairvoyants, but it serves the song well – the right choices for the song.

Lyrically this is heads and shoulders the strongest writing effort we’ve seen in this kind of song (with the enormous caveat that this is based on best guess attempts at lyrics).  But Superblood Wolfmoon is a tantrum of a song (which makes me wonder, given some lyrics in DotC, about the gender politics and themes that may run below the surface of the album), about a guy (I am presuming) hopelessly in love who has lost (or maybe never had) the object of his desire.  We’ve seen Eddie mine this territory before – experienced as desperate sadness in I Got Shit or parody in Johnny Guitar – but this is probably the first time its been presented as judgmental. Although the song is written with some empathy, we’re not really supposed to feel sorry for this guy. He is throwing a tantrum. In comes cases there is enough self-awareness for it to be acknowledged (I’m feeling selfish and I want what’s right), and in others as petulance (my eyes are swollen/my face is broken/and I’m hoping that I hurt your fist) or pleading (I ask for forgiveness/I’m begging myself), with the attendant sense of self-disgust for debasing themselves (feeling angry/now get off the stage).

But it’s not a #me too inspired rant either.  These are real feelings we’ve all experienced, and while possessiveness can be experienced as gendered, it can also be experienced as human, and the main character is clearly reeling (I don’t know anything/I question everything/this life I love is going way too fast).  And of course there is the truly magnificent line ‘and love not withstanding we are each of us fucked’, which immediately became an all-timer for me.

We have received about 1/6th of Gigaton so it is way too early to start reading too much into album themes, but it does seem like the record may be exploring the lack of certainly and control that defines our current moment. Dance of the Clairvoyants tries to make peace with it.  Superblood Wolfmoon rages against it.  But neither song can find it, and I am very much looking forward to continuing the search,

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Superblood Wolfmoon

Pearl Jam's second single for the upcoming album, Gigaton, dropped in the wee hours of the morning.  We'll most likely be reviewing it later, but it's definitely a departure from recent Pearl Jam.  Is it a return to form?  

Friday, February 7, 2020

VIDEO: Dance Of The Clairvoyants: Mach III

A third video for Dance of the Clairvoyants hit YouTube today.  Pearl Jam is calling this their "first official music video in 7 years," so we are left to guess that the previous two videos were steps in a process that gave us this, their final, video for the song.

Produced by: Evolve Studios (
Executive Produced by: Tim Bierman, Joel Edwards
Studio Director: Ryan Cory
Studio Director of Photography: Derek Klein, Ryan Cory
Studio Crew: Ryne Hill, Eric Finlon, Matt Michel
Studio Grip: Jay Rinehart

Olympic Studios Seattle

Audio Engineer: John Burton
Backline Technicians: Neil Hundt, George Webb
Stylist: Tammy Baker
Production Assistant: Kevin Shuss

Edited by: Seth Evans
Produced by: Joseph Bastien
Lead VFX by: Ryan Trommer
Post Team: Braden Winfree, Aaron Wheeler, Jake Helton, Tanner Larson, Kendall Rittenour
Footage by: Filmsupply (
Cinematography by: Evolve, Kendall Rittenour, Aaron Seldon, Joel Edwards, Jesse Edwards, Stephen Johnson, Nick Midwig, Dustin Farrell, Enrique Pacheco, Joseph Large, Mike Olbinski, Tomi Rantanen, Tyler McGrath, Brooklyn Aerials, Elevation Film, Variable, Sypher

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Pearl Jam Coming to the Apollo

Ahead of their US dates and Gigaton's release, Pearl Jam will be playing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem next month.  Pearl Jam will be playing a show on March 26th which will be broadcast live on their SiriusXM channel followed, immediately, by the premiere of Pearl Jam's new album, Gigaton.

The audience will be limited to Pandora and SiriusXM subscribers.
Tickets for the Apollo Theater show will be available exclusively to SiriusXM and Pandora subscribers. SiriusXM subscribers will be able to win tickets through an on-air Pearl Jam Radio contest, or via e-mail if they’ve approved email marketing from SiriusXM; there will also be a special travel contest for all SiriusXM subscribers who have used the service since January 22nd. Select Pandora listeners will also be offered the opportunity to snag tickets based on their listening histories.
It sounds like Stone Gossard is expecting some great music at the show.
"It’s hard to understate the sacred and historical importance of the Apollo to the history of American popular music and African Americans’ preeminent role in its invention. We will play this special one time show with those artists in mind.”

Monday, February 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Boom Gaspar!

Yield Turns 22

Recommended listening: "Low Light" from Pearl Jam's 10/22/03 show at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.