Watch Pearl Jam perform ‘Black’ on MTV Unplugged
(Credit: Pearl Jam)

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Watch Pearl Jam perform ‘Black’ on MTV Unplugged

@TomTaylorFO

    Eddie Vedder has a voice that could stir honey into tea from a thousand paces. His intoxicating drawl helped launch Pearl Jam from the Seattle grunge scene into the upper stratosphere of mainstream rock back in the early 1990s. ‘Jeremy’, along with ‘Black, ‘Alive’ and ‘Even Flow’ formed the quintet of songs that catapulted them into the public consciousness and helped create the definitive sound of an era.

    Rising from the murk of grunge into the gaudy glow of arena rock shows was a transition that Eddie steadied with unwavering sincerity and passionate frontman performances. These near-mystic stage displays helped capture the intimacy of some Seattle dive bar regardless of whether they were playing to thousands upon thousands of people. As far as frontmen go, Vedder was the complete package.

    His unique, gruff, baritone vocals have always been instantly recognisable and exclusively exhibited a haunting reverence to the Illinois-born rockers work throughout his career. In short, he is undoubtedly one of the most original and gifted singers in alternative music history. When his voice is stripped down for a bare-naked acoustic set then you can add a pitch of vulnerability to his mix, and it soars even higher. 

    Although the performance is a force to behold for fans now, Vedder might not feel the same way. “It’s hard for us to watch early performances, even though that’s when people think we were on fire and young,” Vedder later admitted about the Ten era of Pearl Jam. “Playing music for as long as I had been playing music and then getting a shot at making a record and at having an audience and stuff. It’s just like an untamed force and a different kind of energy.”

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    He added: “I find it kind of hard to watch those early performances because it’s so just fucking, semi-testosterone-fueled or whatever. But it didn’t come from jock mentality. It came from just being let out of the gates. And Jeff and Stone, their horse was just about to be put down when it was put in the race. And I was coming from the same place. So when they finally let us out of the gates, we didn’t have a smooth, galvanized, streamlined gate. We were just rocking all over the place.”

    However, the MTV Unplugged show took a noticeable turn. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” Vedder says at the top of the show. Only a few months earlier the band had performed a show at the Albani Bar of Music in Switzerland. The band arrived at the venue only to discover that it was a music cafe that more closely resembled a shoebox than an arena. “The stage was only about as big as our drum riser,” Jeff Ament recalls in the documentary Pearl Jam 20.

    Thus, the band elected to do something very different: they went acoustic. As is referenced in the documentary, this is commonly cited as the impetus for the band’s invitation to play an iconic Unplugged set, and the rest is ancient history. This stunning rendition of ‘Black’ has inspired covered by the likes of Chris Cornell’s daughter Toni and showed another side to a defining band of the 1990s. 

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