A Week in the Life of PJ: November 8-14, 1991

by John Reynolds on December 8, 2006

During a week long stretch of shows from November 8 through 14, 2006, Pearl Jam played to over 57,000 fans in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. But 15 years ago in 1991, they played the early show at a 200-capacity club and made record store appearances to crowds consisting of mostly employees and random shoppers. TwoFeetThick takes a look at a week in the life of this fledgling band paying their dues marketing their debut, Ten

November 8, 1991

CBGBs, New York, NY

There’s not much to say about famous New York City club CBGB that hasn’t already been said. It’s hard to imagine that the dark 2,000 square foot space could hold so much history to so many different music genres. The club was the home, in the ’70s, to the Talking Heads, Blondie, and – most pertinent to Pearl Jam’s roots – the Ramones.

Pearl Jam’s turn on the infamous 14-foot-by-14-foot stage was a barely-publicized, late-afternoon affair, but playing at CBGB is a feather in the cap of any band, particularly a brand new one. PJ was only 13 months old, but Stone and Jeff were CB’s veterans — they’d played there a few years previous as members of Green River.

PJ’s set that Friday in November 1991 was a part of the CMJ Music Marathon, a few days of showcase gigs featuring dozens of emerging bands. It brings scores of laminate-wielding record industry and music press and adventurous music fans to check out shows all over New York City each fall. The show was not listed in the band’s tour intinerary or in venue advertising, and was basically unannounced to the public. Two early New York fans, Eddie Sambucci and Rob Prisament, were lucky enough to enjoy this show from the pit and onstage!

“I found out that the boys were doing a showcase at CBGB for Sony so my girlfriend and I went down and hung out in front of the place from two o’clock until they showed up in their limo for soundcheck” says Sambucci, a Staten Island native. “I was really there to see Stone and Jeff mainly. We didn’t have tickets or anything of course. [PJ] were scheduled to play 45 minutes and that was it as far as we knew. I spoke with Jeff, Mike, Stone, and Ed for a while outside the club, and then Ed shook my hand and went inside with the rest of the guys for soundcheck. But two seconds later Ed pops his head out and asked if we were coming in. I said, kinda laughing, ‘Nah man, we ain’t got any tickets. We just wanted to come down and meet you guys and all’ He couldn’t believe it and said, ‘Alright lemme see what I can do.’ He went in, came back out, and said ‘Eddie, Eileen: you guys are on my guest list so come in whenever you’re ready.’”

PJ played the “early show,” but the ad for CBGB in the Village Voice only listed the “late show” headlined by Courtney Love’s Hole. Eddie greeted the small crowd by saying “Ever since I was 14 I wanted to come to this place. And now we’re playing, so it’s pretty cool. And it’s nice to be in a small room too and we can feel each other. And there’s a guy named Chris who wanted to hear something that we never play… We never play it, but maybe we’ll play it right now. ”
And the band played opening notes of “Black.”

A decade before it became an eight minute staple at nearly every show, “Even Flow” was next. In those days, they often played it early in the set to get the energy flowing. “I know it was a big hassle,” Eddie acknowledges the crowd again, “but it looks like everyone that needed to get in got in. Why…. Go … Home”.

“Why Go” blazes in and “Jeremy” follows. It sounds like Ed is on cloud nine in this punk shrine. “You know, I think about it and I can’t imagine how many people have tripped in this room. And I think about and I think about it and we’re a living example of how life is a trip. Magic Johnson’s an example that life is a trip. [note: MJ had just revealed he had HIV]“.

At the time, PJ had only release one single, “Alive,” and it was in heavy rotation on MTV. Live at CB’s, Ed included the lyric change that he has continued through the years, empowering the crowd that “You’re still alive!”

Ed picks up an empty water bottle on stage and muses “I always wondered why a bottle of water cost $1.50. But then I figured out the title backwards [think Evian]“. While many fans were rocking out, the industry and press stuck to the casual head-bob. Ed noticed them during “Once,” singing, “I got nothing to say / but I can see you people aren’t movin’ much.” Not letting them off the hook, at song’s end he says, “You people in the back are being very polite. They’re not moving much but they’re clapping. Are they moving? Is it a trick of the light? What? I got some friends up here anyway. And for them, I can tell you all once, I can tell you right here … 1-2-3-4″ leading to “Porch.” This is where Ed Sambucci’s night got really interesting.

“They launch into ‘Porch’ and Eddie points at me and motions to come up! I jumped on stage and when the break kicked in after the first verse, we both just went ballistic; jumpin’ and bashin’ into each other” Sambucci recalls. The pair, front man and fan, traded off on singing, with Eddie singing “All the bills go by …” and Sambucci finishing off with “initiatives are taken up.” Ed V. continued “By the middle” and Ed S. followed with a strong shout of “There ain’t gonna be any middle any more.”

“I can’t believe what I am doing at this point. Reality [was] hitting home” Sambucci recalls. After they finished trading off the line “And the cross I’m bearing home / ain’t indicative of my place” Sambucci “kneeled down in front of the drum riser, just digging the whole thing. Letting it sink in, you know? Next second their roadie grabs my leg and I’m offstage. I’m like ‘Whoa, you didn’t have to yank me off the fuckin’ stage like that!’ Like I should have even complained, right?”

Wrapping up the short but explosive set, Ed thanks everyone and talks about the upcoming week “We’ll be here all next week with the [Red Hot Chili] Peppers, but I know for a fact that we won’t be this close, so I’ll remember this. We’ve been thinking about this song a lot so we’ll try to play it even though we don’t know how.” The band launches into the Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling”, much to the delight of at least a few fans, who scream their approval. Lyric improvs include “Stone Gossard had one line” and “Hey c’mon, look at me, I’m playing CBGB!”.

In less than an hour, the members of Pearl Jam had all passed a milestone, they could now say, “we played CBGB.” At the end of the Beatles tune, Ed adds “We got a feeling, we gave it to you, now we’re leaving.

Enjoy pictures of November 8, 1991 from Ed Sambucci

“Black” opener

CBGBs small stage

Duct-taped pants!

“Let me sing!”

Ed squared rockin’ out

Rockin out, part II

November 9, 1991

Tower Records, Rockville, Maryland

There is no small venue that could contrasting to CBGB than an afternoon in-store at Tower Records. A day later, they played at Tower in Rockville, Maryland, and followed that at Towers in New York and New Jersey, as part of the promotional juggernaut planned by Epic records. Jeff, Stone and Mike played acoustic guitars and basses, Dave played a stripped down drum kit with brushes instead of sticks, and Ed was powered by a simple P.A. system.

The store was adorned with Pearl Jam posters and promotional displays from floor to ceiling. An entire display unit was filled with multiple racks of Ten CDs.

Longbox. Promotional posters and early t-shirts that now go for over $100 on eBay are displayed and worn casually. The band, in the middle of their tour with the Smashing Pumpkins and Chili Peppers, is slated to play at nearby Bender Arena later in the day.

To say Ed and the band felt “out of their element” is an understatement. Bright florescent ceiling fixtures and neon Mariah Carey signs were everywhere. While the band warmed up, Ed paced and flipped his hair uncomfortably, reaching for something to say. “We’ve never done anything like this before, ” Ed says, looking through a magazine. “I’m picking out my first tattoo, maybe you guys can help me. I’m thinking of getting Bernard King right here. [note: King was a high-scoring forward playing for the home-team Washington Bullets]”

Ed asks “Is anyone going to the show tonight? Pumpkins? The Peppers?” to a handful of claps. In a longshoreman’s coat and green cargo shorts, Ed adds, “We’ve never even been in this city before” and then realizes he’s staring down the barrel of an array of VHS camcorders. He playfully flips them bird. “Hi … fuck you … fuck you. If we ever make it big it’s gonna be on a Current Affair or something. Fuck off, Maury (Povich, Current Affair host).”

Finally ready, Stone starts off with the non-Ten song, “Wash”, and Ed crouches in front of Dave’s bass drum. Realizing that the intimacy of the store and his proximity to the crowd is rendering his mic useless, he drops it to the floor and belts out the “Wash my love!” final chorus, showing the raw power of his voice. With Stone standing behind him, Mike is on a stool to Ed’s right and smiles big as Ed’s un-mic’d voice fills the store.

Watch “Wash” from November 9, 1991, Tower Records, Rockville, MD

Following generous applause, Ed seems warmed up and remarks that “in a way, it feels like rehearsal. I guarantee you we don’t have all this neon at rehearsal,” looking around at all the promotional wall decorations. “Black” is next – “a soft one off the record” – and includes Ed’s trademark second-verse melody change, floating across the line “some kids at play.” Stone adds his “do-do-do” backups and Ed again drops the mic for the “I hope someday you have a beautiful life” part.

“Thanks again”, Ed acknowledges, “it’s really weird to be … (someone yells “Why go home!”) Why go what? Yeah, why go home! See, that one I can’t even get motivated to sing unless there’s slamdancing. And they warned me if there was any slamdancing they wouldn’t sell one of our records. (crowd laughs) They’d take them off the shelf. (another request of “Even Flow”) ‘Even Flow’ we’re gonna save for tonight. Whoever’s going tonight … we promise to play that one louder and faster than ever.”

Realizing he doesn’t have to roam any large stage, Ed puts his mic on its stand and comfortably sits on Dave’s bass drum. Not used to hearing their anthem so stripped down, you can see Ed mouth “this is so bad” through his teeth during Stone’s opening chords. “Alive” lyrics are altered to “‘Son’, she said, ‘why’d you pick that tattoo?’” and later, the amusing:

“Is something wrong she said?
Of course there is, you’re unplugged she said
It’s’ driving me crazy, is that the question…”

Jeff, seated and relatively motionless during the performance, joins in and hits one of Dave’s two cymbals during the outro of the song. Ed starts swinging his mic cord Roger Daltrey-style and nails himself in the head.

Never missing an opportunity to pay homage to his favorite local music icons, Ed sings a verse of Fugazi’s “Suggestion,” which he often did throughout 1991 and into 1992. The only difference here is that the crowd doesn’t seem as to get the reference and Ed finishes “we blame her … for being there” to zero applause. Mike soon starts fiddling with the main riff of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Ed introduces the last song, “Porch,” with “I guess this will be our encore. Ok, I’m gonna count it out…” Not letting the small setting pass him by without trying to climb something, he stands on top of Dave’s bass drum, hands firmly clasped behind his back and belts out the last verse of “Porch” without the mic again. He fakes a backflip dismount and introduces the band. “This is Mike, this is Stone, this is Dave, the amazing Jeff Ament, nice meeting you all.” Lucky fans get autographs during a meet-and-greet afterwards, and Pearl Jam’s “first” unplugged performance is in the can.

November 14, 1991

Tower Records, Yonkers, NY

Pearl Jam’s tour itinerary in 1991 was wide-reaching, but relatively exhausting on the band. They played concerts at the University of Massachusetts and in Ithaca, NY on the off-days of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tour. Other free time was booked with more radio show and Tower records appearances.

Following the acoustic/electric gigs on November 9th, the band played New York City on the 11th and 12th. Before their return to New York City for two more shows on the 15th and 16th, they played not one, but two, Tower Records appearances on Thursday, November 14th.

Ed Sambucci attended both acoustic performances, starting at the Yonkers Tower Records he frequented and where he often chatted with the manager, Rob Prisament. Sambucci was well aware of the show, but he was one of the few.

“There were around 50-75 people there which I busted my butt to get there” says Prisament. “Even at that, around 25 of them were employees of the store. Sony was hesitant because they thought no one would show up. They weren’t that far off.” Being a record store manager, Rob got to see Pearl Jam’s July appearance at the New York Club, Wetlands, and the CBGBs show a week prior – all on Sony’s guest list.

At this appearance in Yonkers, there were CD bins lining the front left, right and center of the stage, standing and leaning on them just like a front-row barrier. The aforementioned sparse crowd included a few moms and a handful of 3- to 5-year old children, and also two vacationers from Seattle who were well aware of the band’s role in the emerging “Seattle” scene.

Just after 4 PM on the vacant stage, a Sony representative named Tom introduced the band sporting the now very dated bandana-and-Ray-Ban look. Tom had asked Rob if he wanted to introduce the band but Rob said, “Nah – you do it.” To applause, the band emerged from behind Dave’s kit in the same positions as a week earlier, except that Mike sat in front of Jeff at stage right with a huge “Pearl Jam” banner behind them.

I Saved Mike’s Life!
by Rob Prisament
I was sitting on the floor in front of the riser during the entire show. Jeff, Mike and Stone were sitting on chairs I brought in from my house. During one song, one of Mike’s chair legs starts to move up to the edge of the riser. I was holding my breath and biting my lip that it wouldn’t fall over during the song. When the song ended I got Mike’s attention and told him to move it back. He couldn’t believe he was on the edge when he backed up his chair. When he signed something for me later he wrote “To the man who saved my life”.

Again in a comparatively docile environment, Ed mentions that “they said something about no slamming, but don’t listen to them.” Ed talks about the previous nights at Roseland “so was anybody else there on Tuesday night? (lots of “yeahs!”). I’ll always remember Tuesday night because there’s a little smile on my hand, a little scar.” A bandaged Ed told Prisament earlier that he cut it open smashing his hand on one of Dave’s cymbals, only Dave had hit the cymbal up while Ed’s hand was coming down. Ouch!

“Wash” and “Black” start the show again, and Ed again realizes that his voice is easily heard without the mic. Hanging above the stage are circular “album flats” with the Ten album cover, and the little kids near the stage are playing with some as well. Ed glances at them throughout the show, saying “our biggest fans right over here … we’ve always done it for the kids.”

During “Alive”, Ed modifies the lyrics to “Is something wrong she said / Of course there is / I have no voice he said / Do I deserve one?” Ed lets loose during “Alive,” whipping his head wildly at the end, perched on a small riser. Afterward, they acknowledge a request for “Oceans.” Since this requires a lengthy guitar tuning, Ed chats with the crowd. In this intimate setting, Ed Sambucci took the opportunity to ask Eddie about his hand: “You even had your hand wrapped up the other night, did you hurt your hand swimming in the audience?” “No, the audience treated me right,” Eddie responded. “It’s myself that did the damage. That damn cymbal … cymbal … it’s a ‘symbol.’”

Even with a sore voice, the acoustic “Oceans” is beautiful, though Ed doesn’t quite nail the high notes. Ed intros “Porch” saying “We’ve got enough people to have a good pit. Tomorrow night, I guarantee.” “Porch” had everyone in the store (even the little kids) clapping during the final chorus. Ed reaches high for all the hanging promotional materials and flings them out to the crowd.

Watch “Oceans” from November 14, 1991, Tower Records, Yonkers, NY

The store employees arrange a table in front of where the band had played, and the band signs many different things including the Ten CDs, t-shirts and even a torquoise Fender Stratocaster guitar. Eddie and fan Ed Sambucci have now become accustomed to seeing each other and the fan tells the singer “I’ll see you in Jersey” which Ed V. gives a puzzling look, almost as if he forgot they were doing another appearance.

During the meet-and-greet to follow, the store was playing Ten and the band asked Rob to take it off and put on their friends’ new CD – Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger. During the signing, Jeff doodled a basketball player and hoop saying “Ames in Yonkers” on the disposable tablecloth in front of them. Before they left, Rob had them all sign it. Fifteen years later, he still has it. For a short time after the set, in the parking lot outside there was a Basketball net set up by Sony and fans lined up for a shooting contest. If a fan made a basket, they were awarded with a now-cherished Mookie Blaylock t-shirt. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

November 14, 1991

CD World, Menlo Park, NJ

Menlo Park Flyer

Recently, Joe Ciano from Bayonne, NJ, revealed on the official Pearl Jam message board that he had seen Pearl Jam perform at a CD World in the Menlo Park Mall in Menlo Park, NJ. Proof? He had pictures! (see below)

Previously unknown, this appearance was the second of the day for the band, and consisted of only “Alive” and “Porch.” The appearance was scheduled for 7 PM, but the band was late because of the traffic from New York City into New Jersey. Because they were running late, Dave Abbruzzese’s drums were left behind, so he sits this one out and resigns to knee-slapping the beat as the band – all seated on the floor – play to a small crowd. Ed sings without a mic throughout, kneeling behind Jeff in what looks like a corner of the store.

Snippet of “Porch” from November 14, 1991, CD World, Menlo Park, NJ

Meet-and-greet from November 14, 1991, CD World, Menlo Park, NJ

Enjoy pictures of November 14, 1991, Menlo Park, NJ courtesy of Joe Ciano

Aww, my achin’ hand!

A Capella Ed

Hear my name…

The Bassmaster General

It’s me, Mike!

Acoustic Stone

The Week In Review

The week spanning November 8, 1991 to November 14, 1991, was hectic, but was a sign of things to come. Pearl Jam continued their opening slot with the Chili Peppers throughout November and December. Barely taking a breath, the busy promotional schedule continued in 1992, including another record store appearance in Paris, France – this time at a Virgin Records. It’s only because of the efforts of casual tapers, and the long memories of fans Rob Prisament, Ed Sambucci, and Joe Ciano that these vivid accounts of a week in Pearl Jam’s history from fifteen years ago are possible.

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

Leave a Comment