What did Pearl Jam play at their first ever show?

25 October 2020, 18:00

Pearl Jam performing at the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle, 26 February 1991. At this show, they were supporting Alice In Chains
Pearl Jam performing at the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle, 26 February 1991. At this show, they were supporting Alice In Chains. Picture: Alison Braun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It's 30 years since Eddie Vedder led the rock legends through their debut gig - but what was on the setlist?

On 22 October 1990, a band called Mookie Blaylock made an unannounced appearance at a tiny club in Seattle, Washington. It was more of a public practice, really, but it was the first step in the story of the band that was to become Pearl Jam.

In 2014, at a gig in Colorado on the anniversary of that first show, Eddie Vedder recalled: "That was our first gig. We're proud of that. We're proud to still be together. We're proud to be in a long relationship."

Pearl Jam formed after the tragic dissolution of the band Mother Love Bone, a Seattle group that everyone thought were going to be huge - until singer Andrew Wood died from a heroin overdose, aged just 24 years old.

But out of this tragedy came one of the biggest alternative rock bands in the US. And it all kicked off on a slow, chilly, autumnal night in Seattle.

Mother Love Bone's Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had hooked up with guitarist Mike McCready and together with drummer Dave Krusen and newly-recruited singer Vedder, they were set to air some new songs publicly for the first time.

"They just said, ‘We’re going to go down to this club and play’," Krusen told the Seattle Times in 2017. "“We were still learning the songs. It was nerve-wracking. They just wanted to set up and play, get on stage and see how it felt.”

Some people weren't impressed. Lance Mercer, a photographer who had worked with Mother Love Bone recalled walking out of the show: “Seeing Jeff and Stone onstage was really difficult, because I felt Andy was the one who deserved to be there, not Eddie.”

The night featured a bill full of local Seattle talent, including Inspector Luv And The Ride Me Babies (who later morphed into the band Green Apple Quick Step) and a little-known grunge act called Bathtub Gin.

Dave Krusen recalled that the venue started off only a quarter full: “By the time we were done, it had filled up a little. I thought it was great - the energy was there, and I was really blown away with Eddie."

Pearl Jam performing at the Off Ramp Cafe, Seattle om 26 February 1991. According to fan lore, this gig saw the cast of cult grunge film Singles meet each other for the first time
Pearl Jam performing at the Off Ramp Cafe, Seattle om 26 February 1991. According to fan lore, this gig saw the cast of cult grunge film Singles meet each other for the first time. Picture: Alison Braun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

But what did the embryonic Pearl Jam play that night to less than 300 people?

There were tracks that would later appear on the band's 1991 debut album Ten, including Release, Once, Black and the favourites Alive and Even Flow, which Pearl Jam have since gone on to play live another 836 times, according to the band's meticulously well-detailed website.

Pearl Jam at the Off Ramp Cafe, Seattle, 22 October 1990 setlist

Release
Alone
Alive
Once
Even Flow
Black
Breath

Encore
Just A Girl

Pearl Jam in 1992, shortly after the release of their debut album Ten
Pearl Jam in 1992, shortly after the release of their debut album Ten. Picture: Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images

The road to Pearl Jam was a long and complicated one. The nucleus of the group comes from a Seattle band called Green River, who formed in 1984 around future Mudhoney members Mark Arm and Steve Turner, future Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and Seattle drummer Alex Vincent.

Green River were later joined by guitarist Stone Gossard, and released their first EP, Come On Down, in 1985. By the time it came out, however, Turner had already quit. A second EP, Dry As A Bone, was issued on the legendary Seattle label Sub Pop in 1987, but divisions within the band saw Ament and Gossard's desire to become a major label band come into conflict with Mark Arm's indie ethics. By the time Green River's only album, Rehab Doll, came out in the summer of 1988, the band had split.

Gossard and Ament came into contact with Andrew Wood, who had fronted the Washington state band Malfunkshun. Together with latter-day Green River guitarist Bruce Fairweather and drummer Greg Gilmore, they formed Mother Love Bone.

Wood's charismatic onstage personality made Mother Love Bone one of the hottest bands to come out of Seattle at the time. By the Spring of 1989, they'd signed to major label Mercury and issued their debut EP Shine.

But with their debut album Apple scheduled for release in March of 1990, tragedy struck Mother Love Bone. On 19 March, Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin and died, aged just 24. The rest of the band were devastated.

In the months after Wood's death, Stone Gossard began practicing with a Seattle guitarist called Mike McCready and the pair eventually looped in Jeff Ament. The trio recorded a demo tape that came to the attention of Eddie Vedder, out in California. The others were impressed - and Vedder was auditioned. He was accepted and the new band were formed with the addition of drummer Dave Krusen.

This brand new group called themselves Mookie Blaylock, after a Texan basketball player whose name they liked. And it was under this moniker that they took to the stage at the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle on 22 October 1990.

And what happened to the Off Ramp Cafe? It's now known as El Corazon - but unfortunately it remains closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. You can help this historic venue stay in business here.