An artifact-heavy exhibit dedicated to Pearl Jam’s 20-year history was one part of the group’s Destination Weekend last September. Featuring lyrics, concert posters, surfboards, awards and onstage outfits, it could have been immediately placed in a museum. That same attention to detail makes up much of the two-hour documentary Pearl Jam Twenty. Directed by Cameron Crowe ( Almost Famous, Singles ), the film trims over 1,200 hours of rare and never-before-seen footage plus additional hours taken from recent concerts and interviews and moves through the band’s history with an intimacy that should be illuminating for even its most dedicated followers.
The beginning focuses on Mother Love Bone, which featured PJ members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, and that group’s rise within the Seattle music scene before crashing to earth following the overdose death of its frontman and creative spark Andrew Wood. Although this section runs a bit long, it does give a better understanding of the tight-knit camaraderie among the city’s musicians.
When Pearl Jam does form, it comes together through natural associations and fate.
Like many biographies, the film weighs heavier on the early days of the group, where the naiveté and innocence of taking on the world shows the members less guarded before the camera. That’s followed by the growing pains of the band when there’s an adjustment to success, loss of control, battle against Ticketmaster. The change in band leadership from Gossard to Eddie Vedder indicates that the musical entity could have imploded numerous times. Although that situation’s not given enough coverage in the film, it’s clear that the bandmates discovered the ability to work within the parameters of five stubborn creative individuals.
Some subjects are touched upon but not in-depth, i.e. the band dealing with nine concert deaths at the Roskilde Festival. Just as important, it ignores the group’s return to a music festival setting at Bonnaroo where the band was so pleased that it played a longer set than was scheduled. Although these important elements to the band’s story are missing, overall, Pearl Jam Twenty is stuffed with engrossing details
The DVD’s bonus features include additional interview segments that didn’t make the final cut.