Words: Colin Franklin
Illustration: Justin Cook
I must confess when a friend of mine suggested venturing out on a freezing cold February night to The Esplanade in Southend, to see a band from Seatle I’d barely heard of I was less than enthusiastic. The history books say that their first album ‘Ten’ had been released late the previous year but I had not heard it, and neither had anyone else I knew. The single ‘Alive’ was the only thing I was familiar with and to be honest, I thought it sounded a bit ‘Doorsey’. However my friend convinced me they were going to be huge, and to be fair he had a pretty good nose for these things having gone on about Nirvana since seeing them support TAD and Mudhoney at The Astoria a few years previous.
I must confess when a friend of mine suggested venturing out on a freezing cold February night to The Esplanade in Southend, to see a band from Seatle I’d barely heard of I was less than enthusiastic. The history books say that their first album ‘Ten’ had been released late the previous year but I had not heard it, and neither had anyone else I knew. The single ‘Alive’ was the only thing I was familiar with and to be honest, I thought it sounded a bit ‘Doorsey’. However my friend convinced me they were going to be huge, and to be fair he had a pretty good nose for these things having gone on about Nirvana since seeing them support TAD and Mudhoney at The Astoria a few years previously.
The Esplanade was the place to play if you were in a band, as there was a chance you might get to support someone relatively famous either on their way up or sliding back down the greasy pole of success. I was to find out later that a friend’s band had actually turned down this particular support slot, presumably on the assumption that no-one would want to come out on a freezing cold February night to see a barely known band from Seattle. An easy assumption to make I suppose! They could not have been more wrong as the Esplanade was absolutely rammed! I think they started turning people away not long after we got there as the venue held only a few hundred at most.
Apart from ‘Alive’ the only song I recognized was ‘State Of Love And Trust’ as it was on the Temple Of The Dog album, a sort of grunge super group put together by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden as a tribute to his late flat mate Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone.
At one point I noticed Eddie Vedder trying to find a foothold to hang upside down, as I had seen him do in the video for Alive on ITV’s late night bastion of all things rock ‘Noisy Mothers’. Giving up on this as a bad idea, he then went for what was probably one of the first attempts at crowd surfing yet witnessed in Essex. To be honest I’m not sure Southend was quite ready for this as from my viewpoint it appeared as if he landed on the crowd, who instead of holding him aloft let him fall to the ground. Undeterred, he promptly hoisted himself back up and managed to successfully crowd surf the entire length of the venue, brushing past my hand as he did so. This felt decidedly soggy as I remember.
The whole gig seemed to fly by and while I was unfamiliar with most of the songs, they seem to be playing them all at break neck speed. This fact was borne out when the BBC broadcasted a concert from Newcastle from a few days later and I was able to subsequently compare it to the album versions.
Something we thought odd was when Vedder announced that they were to appear live on British TV the following evening, and was there anyone he should tell to fu*k off! Bearing in mind this was a Monday and British terrestrial TV was not exactly awash with quality music programming so we could have been forgiven for expressing a collective WTF?
It was not till many months later when BBC2’s Late Show broadcast a compilation of ‘grunge’ bands entitled ‘No Nirvana’, sure enough there was Pearl Jam playing Alive. From the stage, Vedder announced that he planned to go skinny dipping after the show and while he may not have gone quite that far, he must have at least gone for a bit of a wander down the seafront as the next day he was spotted in London with a Keep Southend Tidy sticker stuck to the back of his jacket! Vedder also informed us that this was the first time the band had played outside the USA! After playing the single ‘Alive’ he inquired how many of us had been to America and asked us to imagine what it’s like to always want to come to a country and then find when you do, people know the words to your song.
After operating as a successful music venue for many years, the owners decided to turn it in to a family pub. After which the team behind it moved a few hundred yards down the Seafront to Chinnerys. It was there that I recently sought out promoter Glyn Morgan as the only other eye witness that I know was there for sure, as he was on the sound desk that night. Incredibly enough there is a bootleg available online, just do a quick search for Pearl Jam, Southend.
I’m afraid to say this was the first and last time I saw the band. Having been almost dragged there in the first place it turned out to be one of the most thrilling gigs I have ever witnessed, and to be honest the prospect of watching them in some massive arena or in the middle of a field would not have compared. Having bought the first three albums my interest in them diminished over years, but I can honestly say that the most recent album ‘Backspacer’ is as good as anything they have ever done. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to see them again, but it will never be in such an intimate setting as that February evening in Southend.