The Canyon starts us off with a montage of Eddie long board paddling the Potomac River, then becomes the theater where he will play this gig, and the crowd filling their seats etc etc. It’s a bunch of him yelling inarticulately while an organ chords and voices sort of grunt. Strange. Then there’s disembodies music as he takes the stage and, in his typically unassuming manner, waves at the crowd and gets setted with a white Strat. He’s even got a wooden block to stomp on, a la John Lee Hooker. He rips off a version of Sometimes that’s pretty sweet, even when he forgets the words and tries to tell the crowd he hasn’t forgotten, then gets them to sing along with the next part. Of course, they know the words.
With no acknowledgement of the applause, he dives right into Cat Stevens’ Trouble, which is a sweet little bluesy thing with lots of tricky little chord changes. It’s neat to see just Eddie on the stage, in a little setting of his own choosing. It’s at this point I think this kind of thing could only happen properly in this setting. If he were on the couch at home, he’d sound like a bit of a lunatic, all the ups and downs. Anyway. It is true that he has a definite grasp of dynamics.
Up next is another PJ chesnut, Around The Bend, which he pulls off with a certain aplomb. Very well done. Then we’re back into another montage of Eddie on the bus, trying so hard to pick out his setlists, (oh he’s so tortured)… all to his version of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan’s Girl From The North Country from the incomparable Nashville Skyline album. Eventually it ends up with him on stage (at sound check), so that’s alright. A cool version, and a lovely Martin guitar. Next up is Guaranteed, which gets a huge audience response. Still on the Martin, he picks his way through this one skill and passion.
We head into Setting Forth after Eddie talks a while about a guy with whom he worked (and his opinion that what most people think is normal is actually insane), and at the beginning he’s tuning up and plunking away on a little ukelele shaped like a black Telecaster. But, even though he’s wearing the same shirt and it seems to be the same stage set-up, by the time he gets to the song he’s back on the Martin acoustic. So there’s a weird cut there, bad edit. Still, great song.
Then Eddie starts talking about his experience long board paddling the Potomac, commenting on patriotism, cultural greed, stupid boat names, and winding up unmolested on a naval base when at airports they scan little babies for weapons. Then he fairly blasts into Setting Forth, a powerful acoustic track. So cool. At this point, the audience (already fans), is fully in his hands like putty, ready to be formed. No hesitation, straight into No Ceiling. Another great track, though very short.
Then he’s onto the mandolin for Rise, a song about a kid hitchhiking. Well done. Then we go back to the dressing room with Eddie and some lady (the packaging doesn’t say who) singing Golden State. She’s very good. Man, Eddie in that outfit… his knees and legs look so small. Weird. Then we’re back to the stage and Eddie brings out Liam Finn (Split Enz and Crowded House) for Society. Fantastic. A super song that gets a sweet treatment here. Then he’s back to the Strat for Forever Young (the Bob Dylan version, not the Rod Stewart version). With minimal lighting and Eddie just doing what he does, this is a highlight of the film.
We then go into this weird thing where Eddie is meeting the crowd, while in the background plays his Ed Piano (Instrumental). I have to assume this is an encore break. Very strange editing indeed. Because, then we’re back on stage and he’s playing I’m Open with a whispery voice and picking delicately away on what really looks (to my uneducated eye) like a half-sized, smaller model of that same Martin. It’s such a short track, and it quickly become Man Of The Hour, for which the crowd is very grateful indeed. His vocals really take off, at points, here. A good version. There must be some editing, because he doesn’t do a whole lot of thanking the crowd in this video, until the end. If he didn’t, he should have.
Drifting bops along nicely, and even shows Eddie has learned to play a bit of harmonica. Nice. Then straight into another song called No More, which he dedicates to a friend. As you well know, it’s a strummy protest song, and the crowd is definitely into, singing along when he gets to the chorus. The occasional shot shows the audience, and everyone is on their feet! Imagine. One dude with a guitar. Doesn’t happen in your local coffeehouse, I’ll betcha.
Then out comes the black Tele ukulele again, and he talks for a bit how, after realizing how happy the instrument sounded, it was his mission to make it sound sad and evil, but only after he wrote the next song, You’re True. Suddenly, as that song ends, we’re looking out an airplane window, then we’re in some house in what looks like Hawaii (but could be anywhere like that) as Ukulele Instrumental plays. Then he walks up a hill with an acoustic, and plays Unthought Unknown sitting in the middle of nowhere. Should have given more thought to camera angle, so those branches wouldn’t be in his face through the whole thing. The it’s into Arc, the vocal-exercise-turned-song, complete with Eddie singing along with loops of himself. The he’s in what looks like a lab coat, walking along the front of the stage, slapping hands with the crowd down front with the curtain down.
The curtain comes back up and Liam Finn is back, on the drums, and that girl who sang earlier too, both also in lab coats. He pushes play on a reel to reel deck, and out come the chords for Indio’s Hard Sun. Eddie sings and plays the Strat over top of it. Couldn’t get somebody to strum an acoustic? Weird. Betcha that roadie could have done it. He’s probably got a band too, you know. Anyway. They break out the dry ice and Eddie stomps around and goes into a funny hand-clapping dance and they do their level best to turn this song inton arena-rawk monster. I don’t know, I think it kind of misses the point of the song, but whatever.
Cut to Eddie walking out the door with his suitcases, then meeting more fans as it fades back into The Canyon (Reprise). People are weird, it must be a very odd experience, doing that. Three seconds with each person, like a wedding receiving line, they all are trying to express everything they felt about the show and his work and career in those three seconds… wonder if it phases him at all. Close out with Eddie on the bus, falling asleep with the headphones on, then waves on a beach.
Whew. Well, after all that description, what are my thoughts about this? It was very cool, for the most part. There was some bad editing, and a lot of close-ups on his face that we didn’t really need. But it’s not about that, is it? It’s about the music. Eddie still seems to be searching for the truth, for peace and beauty. He has been for a long time. He seems able to appreciate it where he finds it, and all the people clapping and cheering him on are both there (he wants to reach them) and also not there (it must all blur together for him). There’s a surfer dude in Eddie Vedder still, an authentic friend, and this rush must seem crazy for him. He seems like he’s just trying to hang on, enjoy the ride, and put out some messages that need to be heard. Good on him.
As you’re already aware, there’s a precedent for this kind of thing… Eddie has thrown tracks like this onto Pearl Jam records, of course. But a whole record of them? Would it fly?
The tracks contained here are thoughtful ruminations, heart-felt appeals for love and understanding. Yes, they are plinky-plunky little ditties that would sound ridiculous if anybody else had attempted this – in truth, Eddie’s got some stones for throwing this solo record out into this savagely critical world. After all, this may be a disorienting departure for him because most people don’t really think of Eddie as a player, but as a vocalist first. Sure, he’s been seen with guitars (and ukuleles) more often as time has gone on (can’t keep up his youthful flailing around forever), but he’s still the “singer” to most people. Well, to those who were thinking of giving this a miss as a frippery, know that the musicality and instrumentation here are very tight, and yes, the vocals are pure Eddie. This is a great record you need to hear. Also, Pearl Jam fans – who really don’t give a shit what the world thinks of their devotion to their favourite band, and there are a lot of these people out there – will eat this up, so maybe he’s not so crazy for doing this after all…
These are mostly short songs, with only one track cracking the three minute mark, and the whole record blasts to a close in under 35 minutes. I see the wisdom in this – too much of a good thing is still too much of something, and these ideas are complete without repetition. No sense dragging things out. Very punk in its thinking, that.
There are a few oldie tracks here: More Than You Know (1929), Sleepless Nights (1960), Once In A While (1937), the single, Tonight You Belong To Me (1926), and album closer Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1930). All of which fit perfectly, that old feel translating well to modern ears. And the original songs fit right in – the album is seamless. The cell phone thing at the end of Satellite, whether it was staged or not (do you really believe that’s Eddie’s ring tone?), is funny. The cello by Chris Worswick on Longing To Belong is lovely. Cat Power sings some harmonies on Tonight You Belong To Me in her unique voice, and Glen Hansard (Frames, Swell Season… and he was Outspan in The Commitments) lends perfectly complimentary vocals to Sleepless Nights.
The only thing that makes me wonder about this whole enterprise is the cover of PJ’s Can’t Keep as an album opener. Sure, he gives it hell, but was he hoping that a (potentially) familiar song would ease the listener into the rest of the record a little? Personally, I think he should have started the record with the eight second-long Hey Fahkah, and buried the PJ track in the second half. Try it out in your head – it works! Peripherally, I’m also not sure what Waving Palms is doing here, seems an afterthought, but so be it.
Kudos to Eddie for this (overall) excellent record. I wasn’t certain I needed to hear an entire album of Soon Forget, but this is not like that at all. That song’s anger is not present here. This is much, much more, a very thoughtful and well-executed effort. Two thumbs up.
All apologies to Mr. Penn, but I haven’t been to see his movie yet. In fact, I will not get to see it until it’s on DVD because I’m not allowed to go to movie theaters anymore. But that’s another story for another day which has nothing to do with Mr. Penn and his (quite likely) excellent film.
Anyway. Given the agenda of this site, I’m here to talk about Mr. Vedder’s record of music for the film.
From some reading online, I gather that this is a true story, a modern-day Walden of sorts, some guy just walking off into the wilderness and leaving the shackles of society behind. Sounds like a project Mr. Vedder could totally love, at least ideologically.
The songs on this collection carry messages, very important messages, in pretty packages. It’s acoustic, it’s folky, it’s thoughtful, it’s anarchic and it’s insistent. It has always been some of my favourite music, indeed, that forces you think, to engage your brain and try, dammit, try! Better yet, this record makes great driving music, cruising an open highway, letting your thoughts follow along as the highway disappears underneath your wheels. Yummy.
I think we can all, on some level, identify with the intention here, though I’d be willing to bet that next to none of us would have the balls to follow through on our fancy words, like this guy did. Or would you?
It’s nice to hear Eddie playing ukelele again (on Rise – haven’t heard that since Soon Forget, if I’m not mistaken), and there’s a treasure trove of great stuff all over this record. In a way, these could be simplified and embryonic Pearl Jam songs – not because of Mr. Vedder’s voice, but I can totally hear the band’s versions of these songs in my head. Not to take away from all of the work that into this record, oh no. Not at all. I’m just saying, is all.
Tuolumne is a pretty instrumental, and we are all well aware by now that corporate radio has been playing the bejeezus out of Hard Sun. I wonder if they are aware of the irony. Probably not. Nice reference to the ‘Better Man,’ though. Interesting.
It all comes to a blunt head, though, on Society and Guaranteed. Throw in the weird, short screamo track The Wolf and you get a cool mix of tracks that will keep you listening with rapt attention. There isn’t a stinker anywhere on here.
Guaranteed is, by the way, like a concise one-track history of Mr. Vedder’s lyrical output to date, with his messages of freedom, loving each other, peace, and understanding. Goodness, I just had a thought! Folks, we’d better arrange to get that man some body guards! After all, anytime anyone in a position well-enough known that they can influence peoples’ thoughts in America has a message like that, they tend to get shot.
Did I just say that? Yes I did, folks. Yes, I did.
In sum, I can see myself listening to this record many times, late at night when the big questions start crowding in (as they always do) and seem bigger than they do during the distractions of the day. We would all do well to listen to these tracks with more than a superficial, surface understanding.
I don’t know whether I’ll agree with the movie or not, until I see it, but the songs contained herein are wonderful and, being a music geek, that’s more than enough for me.
01 Setting Forth
02 No Ceiling
03 Far Behind
05 Long Nights
07 Hard Sun
09 The Wolf
10 End Of The Road