It’s Alive! Pearl Jam’s Iconic Single Turns 20

by John Reynolds , Kathy Davis , Jessica Letkemann on August 3, 2011

Alive

September, 1991, you’re watching MTV (when they actually played videos) and you see this cool live video from this Seattle group “Pearl Jam”. It rocks. Eventually MTV puts it on heavy rotation. It rocks over and over.

What seemed at the time like a straightforward live performance, in hindsight has multiple subplots! To this end, we’ll take a TwoFeetThick deep dive into the release of “Alive” on radio and MTV.

Rock and Roll Radio

For the its radio release, the cold hard fact is that it was released to radio on August 2, a monster 5-minute 41-second track sent out on CD sans B-sides. Unlike the previous promo single, this version is the album version mixed by Tim Palmer that would eventually turn up on Ten. There’s not much more to say about the radio release, so let’s move on to the visual…

Single “Video” Theory

If you’ve never seen it, or just haven’t seen it lately, check out the official video for “Alive”.

Directed by longtime Stone-pal Josh Taft, this video was shot on Saturday, August 3, 1991, at a gig at RCKNDY, with opening act Sweetwater.

The band is adorned in their standard 1991 garb. Stone in a vest covering a Luv Co. t-shirt, with the Les Paul giving a face to the riff. Mike looking very SRV in a silk shirt, hat, and the Fender that makes the solo roar. Jeff has his trademark hat, black tank top, and a ton of necklaces. Eddie is shown with a variety of shirts including a familiar flannel, Butthole Surfers cutoff, and a Bulls #23 Michael Jordan jersey. And Dave Krusen the drummer … wait, that’s not Dave Krusen, who is that? Matt Chamberlain! After his debut July 4 at RCKNDY and brief Summer tour of the U.S., this August 3 gig ended up being his last, as he handed the sticks to Dave Abbruzzese who had driven up from Texas and whose first exposure to the band was this very show.

From the various wardrobe changes – Ed starts w/flannel, loses flannel with BH shirt underneath, switches to Bulls #23 for encore, plausible? – and sweat/energy levels of the band, the footage is pulled from more than one performance of the song from this gig. Footage from other songs might also be included, most likely from “Porch” where Ed is shown climbing from the rafters and crowdsurfing. All indications, though, are that the video is all from the same show.

Establishing “wave” imagery early on, the black-and-white video starts and ends with the sound and image of a slow-motion wave crashing. This visual is also shown with transparent live footage (2:46) during the last verse.

Did this show look like tons of fun? Well, there were even more surprises. Fan Phillip Navarre was there, and told us about his neighbor in the moshpit:

What I remember the most was I got into moshing upfront towards the end of the show and didn’t realise the the guy with long hair in front of me was Chris Cornell.  When he was invited onstage he popped up from the crowd with shirt off to sing those two Temple of the Dog songs.

Indeed, it was reported that “Reach Down” and “Pushin’ Forward Back” were performed, with the latter song making us all wonder if Matt Cameron was present for drumming duties(?).

Staying Alive

By September when the video aired, Pearl Jam was already out on the road with I Love You and a month away from bigger things with the Smashing Pumpkins and headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers.

For many, “Alive” was fans’ first exposure to the band. Where were you the first time you heard or saw “Alive”?

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.
Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

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