Review: Pearl Jam ‘Twenty’

Last night I saw the Pearl Jam documentary ‘Twenty’ in a movie theater half-full with diehard fans of the band, including two people who had obviously confused the event with a concert and booked seats in the center of the front row. Directed by (and told through the point of view of) Cameron Crowe, a man just as interesting as the bands that he documents, this movie is brilliant, surprisingly powerful, and very interesting. But despite this it’s still strictly just for fans, which is perhaps why it only appeared in cinemas for the one night.

The best thing about ‘Twenty’ is rare footage of the band, ranging from their disastrous drunken performance at an MTV party, early footage of Mother Love Bone performing, clips of Eddie climbing to dizzying heights above crowds before leaping down into their midst, and, most memorably, Eddie and Kurt Cobain slow-danncing backstage to Eric Clapton at the 1992 VMAs. Trawling through video archives and thousands of hours of fan footage must have been pain-staking, but it has paid off.

Similarly rare songs make appearances, and these are all collected in the fantastic soundtrack, which is available now. Watching Eddie and Stone piece together an early version of Daughter in the back of a tour bus gave me goosebumps when coupled with the knowledge of what the song would become. Pearl Jam’s first ever acoustic performance, captured in a tiny club without a stage big enough for the whole band, is also breathtaking to watch all these years later.

We also get fascinating insights into Eddie’s songwriting process, why the band record official bootlegs of virtually all of their songs, why they construct unique setlists for each performance only minutes before taking to the stage, and even why Eddie joined the band in the first place, complete with the original demo tape he sent to Stone and Jeff.

But these are all things that only fans will truly appreciate. There’s plenty of other interesting stuff here, such as a brief look at Pearl Jam’s fight with Ticketmaster and a heart-wrenching account of the Roskilde tragedy, but unless you’re in the mood for plenty of concert footage and generic interviews then you may find it slightly tedious, especially on DVD without the sound system of a movie cinema.

But, for a fan looking for an honest, touching, and definitive look at the history of one of the most important bands of our age, look no further than ‘Twenty’.

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