What is the longest gap between Pearl Jam shows?

by Andrew Brenner on August 10, 2011

Alpine Valley

With Pearl Jam Destination Weekend, September 3-4 at Alpine Valley, now just days away, Pearl Jam will be returning to the stage after a 314-day break – their last live performance being October 24, 2010 at the Bridge School Benefit.

314 days! That’s a lot of time, but this begs the question: “Is this the longest they’ve ever gone without playing a show?” The answer, believe it or not, is no; and, it’s not even in the top 5! We’ve calculated the longest breaks between studio albums; now Andrew Brenner takes a look at the five longest breaks in Pearl Jam history.

  • 409 days: October 22, 2001 -> December 5, 2002
  • 403 days: July 1, 2008 – August 8, 2009
  • 385 days: October 10, 1998 -> October 30, 1999
  • 352 days: November 25, 1996 – November 12, 1997
  • 347 days: November 6, 2000 – October 20, 2001
  • 314 days: October 14, 2010 – September 3, 2011 – current!

A quick note. In order for a performance to be considered a “show,” we’re using the criteria of at least a 30-minute set where the entire band is present. Therefore, most TV appearances do not qualify, but Bridge School sets do.

409 days: October 22, 2001 -> December 5, 2002

After Pearl Jam’s 11th anniversary show, a benefit for hunger October 22, 2001, “Groundwork 2001″, the band embarked on what would be the longest break from live shows in their history. October 22, 2001, would be one of the most unique sets of Pearl Jam’s career, a 50 minute smorgasboard notable for the electric debut of “I Am Mine” and the only time “Long Road” has ever closed a set, guested by Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. With the exception of the band (sans Stone) opening for the Who at the House of Blues in Chicago on September 23, 2002, and a rare back-to-back performance on Letterman November 14-15, Pearl Jam would go 409 days between shows.

So what did they do with their break? Well, there was a small Brad tour at the end of November of ’01, some Brad promo shows in August of ’02, and a full out Brad tour in October. Ed was busy playing the random solo gigs here and there, and Matt was working on what would become Wellwater Conspiracy’s 4th and final album. In all of this, Pearl Jam was able to find the time to get together and record Riot Act, which would feature the most songs on any Pearl Jam album to date. The band returned to the stage with a pair of club shows at the legendary Showbox in Seattle. Arguably the toughest ticket in Pearl Jam history, at the Showbox, Seattle, WA, December 5, 2002 would be a little sloppy, with Ed by the end of the show apologizing to fans for paying $36 to watch the band rehearse. The show is notable, however, for the live debut of seven songs off of Riot Act, as well as eventual fan favorite “Down.” It also showed the band had thought about polishing off some of its older material during their break, as “Blood” was played for the first time since March 15, 1998 Brisbane, Australia (a 131 show gap).

403 days: July 1, 2008 -> August 8, 2009

Much like the 2001-2002 break, the last show before this one was a benefit show, a gig for the Robin Hood Foundation at New York’s legendary Beacon Theatre, July 1, 2008. The Beacon show is unique in many ways, including being the only show to open with “Low Light,” the fourth playing of “Undone”, and the last full version of “W.M.A.” “Harvest Moon” was played for the first time without “the Sleater-Kinney chorus” and it has not appeared on a setlist since. “Who You Are” and “Masters of War” have also disappeared from Pearl Jam setlists since this show, so clearly the end of the 2008 tour represents a turning of the page.

The break period represents a rather quiet time for the band, in terms of public appearances. Pearl Jam would appear on July 12, 2008, for the taping of “VH1′s Rock Honors: the Who”, playing “Love, Reign O’er Me,” and their first full cover of “The Real Me.” The band spend considerable time in the studio during the break, coming back with Backspacer, released on September 20th. Backspacer would go on to become the band’s most critically-acclaimed album of the decade, and earned the band two Grammy nominations, their first since “Grievance” in 2001.

August 8, 2009, Calgary, AB, marks the kickoff of one of Pearl Jam’s more interesting years, and it’s also got a notable setlist. “The Fixer” and “Got Some”, soon to become live staples, make their live debuts, and “Brother” is played for the first confirmed time since February 7, 1991 (as Mookie Blaylock) – FAR AND AWAY the longest gap between renditions of any song in the Pearl Jam catalog. “The Real Me” was played for the first time at a Pearl Jam show, but there were few other notable aspects to this show.

385 days: October 10, 1998 -> October 30, 1999

Like the two predecessors on this list, Pearl Jam capped off their 1998 tour with an unscheduled performance. In this case, repaying a favor with an unannounced opening gig for Cheap Trick at Seattle’s Crocodile Café, October 10, 1998. Despite a nearly 3 week layoff, Pearl Jam plays a super-tight 50 minute set to cap off one of their most successful years, and the show would turn out to be their last electric show of the decade. Most notable is that after this show, it will be 150 shows until the return of “All Those Yesterdays” on July 11, 2003, Mansfield, MA.

The break would be used well, as most of the songs for Binaural would be written during this time. Jeff took a chance to do a two month club tour with Three Fish, following the release of their second album, Quiet Table. Stone spent a little time with Brad, working on some of the songs that would appear on Welcome to Discovery Park; he was also working on some of the material that would later appear on his solo album Bayleaf during this period. Mike took a break from the band to deal with some personal issues, while Matt was in the studio working on Wellwater Conspiracy’s second album, Brotherhood of Electric: Operational Directives.

Ed was, as always, a busy bee. At some point during the break, Ed began toying around with a ukulele, though it’s unclear how many of the songs on the Uke demos he recorded in 2000 were written during this time. He played 5 shows with local band C-Average, the biggest of which was as at the Tibetan Freedom Concert, marking the 3rd straight year that he had appeared at the festival. The highlight of Ed’s “summer break,” however, was a show with C-Average on July 14th, 1999, where they played a set entirely of Who covers. He would also finally make a dream come true by appearing as a special guest at two intimate Pete Townshend solo shows, as well as offering backing vocals on Pete’s July 28, 1999, Letterman appearance.

Pearl Jam returned to the stage for the 1999 Bridge School Benefit, October 30-31, playing both nights. The first night saw the debut of “Thin Air,” in an otherwise standard Bridge set; however, the true highlight of the night came when the full band returned to the stage for the final jam, a cover of Dylan’s classic “I Shall Be Released.” The second night opens with the debut of “Nothing As It Seems,” still unique in the Pearl Jam catalog for its slow, bluesy opening. Mike wears a silver mask, and Ed dedicates a special version of “Last Kiss” to his friend Maricor. While not an incredible set of shows by any means, they mark a band in transition as the new millennium nears, and 2000 will be a very important year in the band’s history.

If you take out these two acoustic shows, between October 10, 1998 and May 10, 2000, Bellingham, WA, Pearl Jam would not play a non-acoustic show for 578 days.

352 days: November 25, 1996 -> November 12, 1997

The 1996 tour ended with a huge bang November 25, 1996, Cascais, Portugal, with Pearl Jam putting on an epic show. “Who You Are” opened for the only time in its history; after this show it would be played only twice on the Australian leg of the 1998 tour before disappearing for over a decade until June 11, 2008. “Hunger Strike” appears; it would only do so again twice in the next 7 years. “Sometimes” is played in the middle of the set, the last time it has done so at a regular show. “Tremor Christ” makes its last appearance as a setlist regular, never returning to its 1996 frequency after this show. “Yellow Ledbetter” is played 2nd to last, something that has happened only a handful of times since.

Here is where you’ll see a pattern develop. During Pearl Jam’s break from the road, Stone would play two months of shows with Brad, Ed would make a few solo appearances here and there, and Pearl Jam would record an album; in this case, Yield. 1997 would be a quiet touring year for Pearl Jam, until they were asked to open four shows for the mighty Rolling Stones at Oakland Stadium in November. As a warmup, the band plays a “surprise” show, billed as the Honking Seals at the Catalyst, a club in Santa Cruz, November 12, 1997. The show kicks off the Yield era, with “Given to Fly,” “Wishlist,” and “Do the Evolution” making their live debuts; all three songs would go on to become arena sing-alongs and standards of the Pearl Jam catalog. “Brain of J” returns reborn after its November 1995 appearances as “Brain of JFK.” Originally a standard in ’98, the song has appeared less and less with each successive tour. Still, this warmup show gives fans a good gauge of where the band is headed in their monster 1998 tour.

347 days: November 6, 2000 -> October 20, 2001

2000 was arguably the most difficult year in Pearl Jam’s history, and in terms of actual touring, it would be followed by the longest break in the group’s career; there would be no real tour again til 2003. As such, what a way to end it. November 6, 2000, Key Arena, Seattle, WA, sits in the pantheon of all-time Pearl Jam shows. The clear highlight of this show was the triumphant return of “Alive,” which returned after a 47-show gap, the longest in the song’s history. As the song that was next on the setlist when the Roskilde tragedy occurred, the song had been put into storage, and its emergence signaled the band turning the page; it was a cathartic moment for both band and fans perhaps unmatched in Pearl Jam’s live career. Many of the Binaural songs would fade into obscurity after this show, most notably “Light Years,” which was played at 46 of the 74 2000 shows, and has only been played 28 times since. “Evacuation” and “Parting Ways” were never setlist regulars, but both have been played only 8 times since. This show marked the definitive end of an era.

The break was pretty quiet for much of the band, and they didn’t spend much time in the studio. Ed, as always, was most active, showing up at a Who show on November 27, 2000 in London, guesting on five songs. In April of 2001, he joined Neil Finn’s all-star band for a 4-night stand at the St. James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, highlights of which would later be released on DVD and CD as Seven Worlds Collide. He also made a stop at a Ben Harper show to guest on “Indifference” while he made the rounds down under.

Matt took to the road with Wellwater Conspiracy in the summer of 2001, and Ed guested at two of their shows. Stone, per usual, got in a few Brad shows, and Mike even showed up on his own at the San Diego Street Scene Festival in September. There’s no need to rehash the horrible tragedy of 9/11, but Ed, Mike, and guest Neil Young offered up one of the more haunting performances of “Long Road” on the Tribute to Heroes special on September 21, 2001.

As we’ve seen throughout Pearl Jam’s career, however, all roads lead to Bridge. October 20-21, 2001 was the band’s fifth Bridge School appearance, and the band has since returned three more times, plus an Ed solo appearance in 2004. “Gimme Some Truth,” “Driftin’,” and the Mike McCready-penned “Last Soldier” all debut on October 20, and Ben Harper guests with Pearl Jam on “Indifference” for the first time since September 11, 1998. Ed’s 9/11 inspired song “I Am Mine” would debut at the October 21 show, as would “Low Light”, becoming the last Yield song to be played live (“Red Dot” and the hidden track don’t count, nitpickers). After playing for a 3rd straight day on October 22 at the aforementioned Groundwork Benefit, Pearl Jam would again take a long breather from the road, taking a 409 day break between shows. In all, between November 6, 2000 and December 5, 2002, Pearl Jam would play only 3 short sets in 756 days (only one of them electric, and an abbreviated set at that). Luckily for us, a break of that length has never been repeated, and our boys will be back on stage September 3rd after only 314 days off.

Concert Chronology

For more live Pearl Jam concert history, check out the Pearl Jam Concert Chronology.

Andrew Brenner
Andrew Brenner is a NYC-based financial professional and Pearl Jam history junkie. He's traveled far and wide to see the band since 1993, his first show being August 18, 1993, Toronto, ONT and favorite still 9/11/98 Madison Square Garden, NY, NY.

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