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GUEST COLUMN: Pearl Jam tribute ban a delight

In the summer of 1991, the music industry was just beginning to feel the full weight of a whole host of new musicians transforming the country’s idle musical landscape. Bands like Sonic Youth, Jesus Mary Chain, and Nine Inch Nails were bringing a death-defying edge to a very old formula. Big guitars, sublime distortion, and a lyrical bent of humor and dark distrust became the bedrock for this rising wave of new bands. Nirvana became the eventual headpiece for this “brand” of music and opened the door for hundreds of underage and undernourished bands.

In that same summer of 1991, a good friend of mine coerced me along to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago to witness the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining an entire cast of supporting bands. Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam rounded off the list of relatively new groups to the scene. After an uninspiring opening set by the Pumpkins, a confidant and openly defiant Pearl Jam took the stage. It must be said that I’ve attended countless shows in my lifetime and shared dozens of indelible musical moments with family and friends. From Iggy Pop at the UIC Pavilion to Stevie Ray Vaughn at Red Rocks in Colorado, I’ve been blessed by a wide variety of musical experiences. Yet, I came ill-prepared for what I would see and hear at the Aragon that night.

Prowling the stage like uncaged lions, Eddie Vedder and his cadre of conspirators howled their refrains of hope and despair, throwing themselves headlong into the arms of their admiring audience. I have never witnessed, before or since, a more ferocious 30-minute set of music or a more powerful and fearless performance. I left the Aragon that night with a serious sweat and a whole new appreciation for the power of music to redefine what it means to be alive. For all you music lovers, you know those moments come rarely.

With that in mind, I would like to thank the Riverfest Committee of Ottawa for booking Pearl Jam Tribute Chicago for their unforgettable Saturday night performance. There are many tribute bands who profit the name but seldom bring the goods. Pearl Jam Tribute Chicago is not one of those bands. With Ed Wood on vocals and lead guitarist Tim Ores, the band brought the crowd to its feet. And with the locomotive rhythm section of Dana Sutter on bass and Jeremy Lippelt on drums, the band kept them there for their two-hour set. With the same reckless abandon as their namesake, Pearl Jam Tribute Chicago brought the goods, closing with an explosive rendition of “Baba O’Riley” by the Who. I was again reminded, just like that night in 1991, that the greatest rock and roll is not only about anger and rage, but also about joy and redemption.

Rapture, you might say. Sensibilities we could all use a whole lot more of these days. Thanks again to the boys in the band and the gracious crowd who kept them happy to be here.  

PAUL WHEELER, a former member of The Write Team, resides in Ottawa. “The River at Both Ends,” Wheeler’s most recent book of poetry, is available at Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa. He can be reached via

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