The early days of the band are of particular interest as Crowe examines the way in which the members of the group came together and the work that led to their breakout album, Ten. Through the various interviews and video clips, you are able to get a real feel for the brotherhood not just among the members of Pearl Jam but also among all members of the Seattle music scene, regardless of band affiliation. In one clip, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) stated that his musician friends from New York couldn’t believe how supportive each band was of the next; New York bands viewed themselves as competitors while the grunge acts saw themselves as parts of a whole. In many ways, that feeling of togetherness is representative of a movement that was embraced by millions of (young) people from different walks of life who felt disenfranchised by society in general, let alone the crap that dominated the airwaves at the time.
One of the more intriguing parts of the film is the way in which it displays the changes in the both the personalities of the band members and the music they put together. As PJ20 progresses, you witness the evolution of both band and individual. Front man Eddie Vedder is almost out of control in early footage, both on and off stage. There’s a sense of frustration, almost rage, that pours through in every song. Later concert footage and interviews show a much more controlled and mature man who has traded anger for political and social angst but one who still knows how to put on an incredible show and make fantastic music. It was engrossing for me to watch the changes take place over the course of 20 years and brought a new appreciation for some of the band’s music that I haven’t always been as impressed with.
If nothing else (and perhaps above all else), PJ20 offers up an enthralling anthology of Pearl Jam on stage. The concert footage is exquisitely cut and distributed throughout the runtime so that it never becomes a true concert film but also never allows the viewer to forget that these guys represent a powerhouse on the stage. The mix of early footage with more recent shots (including an IMPECCABLE performance of Release from a few years ago) provides a powerful sampling of the truly special body of work Pearl Jam has put together over the years. I would have loved for Crowe to delve deeper into the middle years of the band in which there was an apparent, if unspoken, conflict between the band members or give more insight into the origins of some of Pearl Jam’s more popular songs. But as it stands, PJ20 provides a beautiful and heartfelt look at one of the world’s most prolific rock bands.