When Pearl Jam formed and began storming the Seattle music scene during the early 1990s, they made a name for themselves by being inherently different from all the other bands that populated the same clubs and venues they played at. Unlike the alternative metal of Soundgarden and more explicitly punk-influenced acts like Tad, Pearl Jam played classic rock indebted alternative music, complete with ballads and storied epics from the very get-go of their recording career. They had a solid set of songs that made up their debut Ten, and all they needed to do was bring them to the people.
That’s another area where Pearl Jam differentiated themselves: their live performances. Whereas the Melvins could be brutal with their punishing volume and Nirvana could be spontaneous with their equipment destruction, Pearl Jam were the only band putting on a death-defying act every night. That was thanks to Eddie Vedder’s penchant for scaling scaffolding, which would put him at heights that would have been deadly had he slipped and fallen. Usually occurring during the band’s set-closing song ‘Porch’, Vedder would climb to the top of stacked speakers, hang from electrical wires, and dangle precariously from lighting rigs as he traversed the deadly heights like a kid on playground monkey bars.
When sitting down on The Howard Stern Show in 2020, Vedder explained that the origins of his athletic feats came from being a curious young adult who often attended music shows in Chicago. “I’d be at the Metro in Chicago or you’d be in one of those theatres that had kind of an ornate [decor] and king and queen booths on either side and curtains and all that stuff,” Vedder said.
“While I’m waiting for the band, in between, waiting and waiting I used to look at that stuff and go, ‘It would be fun to climb that curtain and then jump into that red velvet king and queen booth. Then you could get to the middle and you could hang off that light thing, do a little monkey bars and then flip into the crowd right near where the soundboard is.'”
When he finally got to play similar venues as a member of Pearl Jam, he capitalised on his old ideas. “That just came from me being bored in between shows giving myself a mental exercise,” Vedder said. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do it, but when the opportunity came I was like I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Vedder also explained that he kept his death-defying acts restricted just to ‘Porch’, specifically because that song illustrated the need to take risks. “I don’t think I ever did any of that crazy Evel Kneivel shenanigans except for during one song which was called ‘Porch,'” Vedder said. “The whole thing about that song was celebrating we are alive for one time. Anything could happen at any moment. The ice cream truck could hit you tomorrow. That was the whole idea of it. I think so much of our music or our songs is like let’s live in the moment.”
Nowadays, Vedder doesn’t feel the need to be so risky in his behaviour but thinks that it was appropriate, if a little naive, at the time. “It was also our first tour. You’ve been pent up. This is the job you’ve wanted your whole life and you get a shot to make an impact for better or worse. Maybe it was just bordering on silly. Also, I had to say, this also came at a time when you were going to punk rock shows and Fishbone’s Angelo [Moore] ‘s jumping in the crowd with his saxophone and getting passed around.”
“You’re seeing the Clash, you’re seeing Ramones. Everyone’s climbing on stage, jump off the stage, get thrown back up, get kicked in the head, get slammed on the ground. Someone’s stepping on your hair, someone’s pulling you up, they’re ripping your hair out, then you go back and do it again. I think it was part of the art form. It wasn’t the most unusual thing to throw yourself off a balcony into a crowd.”