ROCK MUSIC Pearl Jam: Heir to the throne?
The Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam are more alike than you might think.
By JOHN BENSON
It's only rock 'n' roll, right?
While 2005 may seem like any other year in music, there's one story line that rings familiar: No matter how you look at it, time is not on the side of The Rolling Stones.
With three (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts) of their four key members already in their 60s (Ron Wood remains the youngster at 58), the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band may show no signs of slowing down but fate and mortality will eventually play their parts.
Considering the Stones have defied drug arrests (marijuana and heroin), dozens of musical trends (from punk to disco), shoddy albums ("Emotional Rescue" and "Dirty Work") and enough infighting to crush the spirit of 10 bands, the band's legacy will unlikely fade away after Richards rips into "Start Me Up" and Jagger struts off the stage for the last time.
As far as heirs to the rock 'n' roll throne, there are a few names in the running. Aerosmith did its best to assume the crown, but age-wise the Boston band isn't too far behind the Stones. It's about time we officially throw Pearl Jam's name into the hat. The Seattle band opens for the Rolling Stones Wednesday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Nearly 15 years after emerging as a grunge act alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam remains one of today's more compelling recording acts. And even though a quarter of a century separates the rise of success between Pearl Jam and The Rolling Stones, the two bands have more in common than one might think.
Both are incredibly independent, blues-based acts that have changed the face of the music industry for both fans and peers. Concert giants, which essentially can tour to sold-out arenas without a hit single or a new album to support, the Rolling Stones ushered in the age of major concert sponsorship over two decades ago, and Pearl Jam revolutionized the notion of live concert releases, offering fans the opportunity to buy recordings of its last three tours -- literally hundreds of concerts -- hours after the house lights went on.
Both have overcome public failures: Pearl Jam's unsuccessful attempt to break Ticketmaster's stranglehold over charging outrageous fees at its concert venues; and the Rolling Stones' tragic decision to allow the Hell's Angels to provide security at its famed Altamont Speedway show resulted in one man's death (not to mention the end of the '60s peace and love idealism).
Both also have an ear for new and underground talent, with Prince -- wearing nylon stockings nonetheless -- opening for the Stones in the early '80s while Sleater-Kinney has received national exposure supporting Pearl Jam over the past few years.
Whereas public perception of the Rolling Stones is that of the two-headed beast of Jagger and Richards, Pearl Jam's notoriety begins and ends with Eddie Vedder, the once angry young man who turned his passion into political and social endeavors. Just like the Stones offered plenty of social commentary ("Sympathy for the Devil," "Mother's Little Helper" and "Sweet Neo Con," from its latest album "A Bigger Bang"), Vedder and company haven't shied away from the issues of the day, with Washington, D.C., often being its target ("Grievance" and "Bushleaguer"). In fact, Pearl Jam put all of its political eggs in one basket last year, touring on the anti-Bush "Vote for Change" tour.
Anybody can comment on the news, but it's a credit to the keen songwriting and passion of both bands to be able to capture the nuances and spirits of the day, thus creating timeless anthems of protest.
Whether or not you buy into the Stones bequeathing their throne to Pearl Jam, U2 is already staking its claim, the similarities between bands is undeniable.
And if attending the Pittsburgh show, do yourself a favor: Catch the entire set and judge as one legend savors every remaining second of its royalty while another, whether consciously or not, assumes the role of World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.