The Story of Pearl Jam’s First Show
Nobody who was at the cramped Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle on Oct. 22, 1990 could have known the historic nature of the show to which they were about to bear witness. It was the first concert by a band named Mookie Blaylock – after the then-New Jersey Nets point guard – though they would change it a short while later to Pearl Jam.
Much of the set that night was dominated by songs that would later be heard on their debut, Ten, including “Alive,” ‘Once,” “Even Flow,” “Black” and “Release.” As you can see in the footage above, even at this early stage, the band was tight, and McCready, in particular, was an incendiary soloist. Vedder, on the other hand, took some time to get his bearings, but he would soon develop a reputation as one most compelling singers of his day.
The road to that night at the Off Ramp began with the demise of the band Mother Love Bone when their lead singer, Andy Wood, died from a heroin overdose. It was a sad and unexpected event that left both the surviving members of the group as well as the entire Seattle music community reeling. The band’s guitar and bass duo, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, spent the next few months not doing much of anything before Gossard began jamming with fellow guitar player Mike McCready, who encouraged him to call up Ament and see if he'd join in. The three men ultimately recorded a demo tape which they passed around the scene.
One of those people who got his hands on the tape was Eddie Vedder, who was working part-time as a gas station attendant in San Diego and singing in his band Bad Radio. Vedder was compelled him to write his own lyrics to the melodies, record them and send the tape back up north to the unsuspecting trio, who were blown away by what this unknown guy had put together. Almost immediately, they called Vedder up and got him a one-way ticket to Seattle. A week later, he was officially in the band.
Rehearsals began right away after the band recruited Dave Krusen to play drums. The band hashed out “Once” and “Black,” both of which had been on the tape that brought Vedder into the fold, along with many of the songs that would make up their debut album Ten. It didn’t take long before the band decided to try out their burgeoning repertoire in front of some unfamiliar faces.
Looking back, Krusen seemed nonchalant about Pearl Jam’s first gig. “The first show we played was the only one that wasn't packed… because we didn't announce it,” he recalled in an interview with Pearljam.se “We just went down there and played through some songs we were working on.”
After the show at the Off Ramp, the band laid low until the opportunity arose to open up for fellow Seattle rockers Soundgarden at the local Moore Theater on Dec. 22. The next year they would sign a deal with Epic Records and begin working on their first record that would lead them down a path to grunge rock domination across the next two-and-a-half decades.