‘I Miss You Already’: Pearl Jam’s ‘Smile,’ Then And Now

by Jonathan Cohen

There’s an old adage that being in a band is one of the closest experiences to being married — not only must you learn to navigate around each member’s individual personality quirks in oftentimes sub-optimal conditions, but you have to do so while attempting to be at your creative peak. It’s no wonder bands break up, lose members, gain members, reform, and break up again on a daily basis.

Although Pearl Jam went through four drummers in its first seven-plus years of existence, the Seattle band’s lineup has been stable since drummer Matt Cameron joined in 1998. At its core, Pearl Jam is built on the personal and creative alchemy of guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, who met in Seattle and 1983 and have more or less been playing music together ever since: first in the proto-grunge combo Green River, then Mother Love Bone and, finally, Pearl Jam, which formed in October 1990.

It was Gossard and Ament who found solace in another after Mother Love Bone frontman Andy Wood died of a drug overdose, and began writing the material that would eventually be released on Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” and the all-star one-off self-titled LP from Temple Of The Dog. It was also Gossard and Ament who invited an unknown vocalist from San Diego named Eddie Vedder to come jam in Seattle after the pair were astonished by vocals he’d recorded atop three of their demo tape instrumentals. The rest, as they say, was rock’n’roll history.

Gossard and Ament’s long-lasting partnership remains central to Pearl Jam in 2021, on the heels of the band’s first performances in more than three years. At Pearl Jam’s third set at the Ohana Festival on Oct. 2, it was on full display during a performance of “Smile” from the 1996 album “No Code.” As Vedder remarked from the stage, “They have been hanging out and collaborating and being great friends — they never went to lover status — but they’ve been together for almost 38 years. Let it be known that loyalty could get you far.”

The audio from that show debuts today on nugs.net; Pearl Jam’s one and only complete performance of “No Code” from Moline, Ill., in October 2014 is also now available on SVOD.

“Smile” is notable in the Pearl Jam catalog for the fact that Gossard and Ament switch instruments when performing it live. Ament wrote the music for the track in the mid-‘90s, and Vedder later added lyrics inspired by a note that Dennis Flemion of Chicago band The Frogs had left tucked inside one of his notebooks. The refrain “I miss you already / I miss you always” is one of the most poignant on “No Code,” and only serves to reinforce the importance of love and friendship, be it in a band or in a relationship.

As Ament told me for the 2011 book “Pearl Jam 20,” he brought the kernel of “Smile” to the “No Code” sessions alongside a handful of other ideas he thought were far more interesting. But as often happens in Pearl Jam, Ament was pleasantly surprised when his bandmates gravitated toward his “two-parter Neil Young nod of the cap” and pushed for its inclusion on the album.

For whatever reason, “Smile” was the last song from “No Code” to be performed live on the 1996 tour in support of the album (“I’m Open” wasn’t debuted on stage until 2006), and to date it has been played the fifth-fewest times (86) of the record’s 13 tracks. But that scarcity makes it an enduring fan favorite. Live, “Smile” is grittier and a bit faster than its recorded counterpart, and includes a repeated, truncated version of the main riff to replace the fadeout on the album. On stage, Ament gets the opportunity for a whammy bar-enhanced guitar solo, and Vedder’s harmonica playing is also a highlight, as it is rarely seen during Pearl Jam shows and conjures an almost campfire vibe.

At Ohana, “Smile” was not actually on the printed setlist and was instead called as a perfect audible between a cover of Brandi Carlile’s “Again Today” (with guest vocals from Carlile herself) and “Porch,” which closed the main set. It’s another potent reminder of the camaraderie from which Pearl Jam was born and continues to power the band past its 30th anniversary.

Start a trial to listen to the Ohana audio and watch the Moline, IL “No Code” show.

We Closed Our Eyes and Said Goodbye

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

LISTEN NOW: Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA, May 17, 2005

By Erik Flannigan

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN, March 20, 2008

Bruce Springsteen called Danny Federici “one of the pillars of [the] sound” of the E Street Band. Clarence Clemons’ spotlighted saxophone solos in “Born to Run” and “Badlands” may be more iconic, but take away Danny’s glockenspiel on the high end, organ on the low, and both songs lose precious layers of their musical magic. 

Great players have a signature sound, and Federici’s organ, glockenspiel, and accordion parts carried his mark. I remember listening to Tunnel of Love for the first time in 1987, fully aware it was a Bruce solo recording with minimal involvement from the E Street Band. But when “Two Faces” came on, there was no doubt who was playing the organ solo.

The start of the Magic tour in 2007 marked 32 years of the core E Street Band line-up of Bittan, Clemons, Federici, Tallent, Van Zandt, and Weinberg, then augmented by Patti Scialfa, Nils Lofgren and Soozie Tyrell. As the first US leg wound to a close in November, it was announced that Danny would take a temporary leave of absence to receive treatment for melanoma. Charlie Giordano from the Sessions Band capably filled in, starting with the European leg that ended the year.

When the next US leg started back up in the spring of 2008, the chances of a full recovery by Federici had diminished. But when the tour rolled into Indianapolis, Danny summoned the energy to play with his bandmates one last time. A month later, he passed away in a New York City hospital room, at only 58 years of age. 

Indianapolis 3/20/08 is both a celebration of and a goodbye to Phantom Dan Federici. He performs on eight songs in the show, and the emotion is palpable each moment he is on stage.

The set gets off to a roaring start with a ripping version of “Night” into “Radio Nowhere.” Later, a sharp “Prove It All Night” carries through to “Gypsy Biker,” for my money the most fully realized song from Magic on the concert stage. Both Soozie Tyrell and Stevie Van Zandt contribute sublime backing vocals, and the drama of lyrics and music coalesce like a long-lost River outtake, heightened by the crescendo of guitar solos that end the song.

The tour debut of “Rendezvous” is an appreciated addition, sounding spry and fresh, and Soozie has another lovely vocal turn on a terrific “Because the Night.” The show has hit its stride, and “She’s the One” is the next to impress. The Born to Run classic has had its share of meaningful resurrections, notably on the Tunnel of Love Express tour in 1988 and here as a Magic tour staple in a pacey, faithful arrangement.

After an always-entertaining “Livin’ in the Future,” we go back to the past. Bruce welcomes Danny to the stage, who resumes his position, stage right, in a graceful handoff from Giordano. An optimistic “The Promised Land” comes first, then Bruce yells, “turn him up!” as Danny weaves the swampy “Spirit in the Night” organ prelude on his own. Perhaps it’s just hindsight, but the gravity of the occasion feels present in the band’s somewhat measured reading of “Spirit.” And who could blame them?

“We can’t let him get away without playing this one,” Springsteen announces ahead of “Sandy.” “We’ll start, just Danny and me.” Sweet accordion swirls around guitar, and the Shore scene comes to life. The deeper meaning of the night comes fully to the fore when Springsteen sings, “For I may never see you again.” A graceful performance of bittersweet beauty.

https://youtu.be/MdjpFDTCqvc

Federici exits (“He’ll be back!”) and the set returns to focused form through the ominous “Devil’s Arcade,” “The Rising,” “Last to Die” (another River outtake that never was), and a cathartic “Long Walk Home,” before closing with a rousing “Badlands.”

Phantom Dan rejoins for a five-song encore that opens with “Backstreets” dedicated to Danny. Like the aforementioned “Born to Run” and “Badlands,” Federici’s organ part is central to the tonal pathos of the song, which Springsteen sings with tender conviction in a truly compelling reading. 

“Kitty’s Back” saunters in from the alley to display the virtuosity of the E Street Band and the depth of its roots back to the early ‘70s. Danny gets a fitting turn in the solo spotlight, but the performance isn’t solely about him—it is a celebration of the extraordinary band he was a crucial part of. As retro as “Kitty’s Back” is, it sure sounds vital in 2008, in what is one of the best performances of the song in the post-Reunion era. 

Glockenspiel rings clear as a bell in a passionate “Born to Run,” ended neatly by Van Zandt’s, five-note descending coda before Bruce rolls exuberantly into “Dancing in the Dark.” For the final song of the night, “American Land,” all three E Street keyboard players share the stage, with Roy and Charlie accordion-dueling up front, and Phantom Dan holding it down from his keyboard perch, his traditional station for so many years.

Sadly, E Street would go on to lose another great, with the Big Man passing just a few years later in 2011. Which only makes the Indianapolis reunion of Danny Federici and his blood brothers all the more meaningful. 

The White Stripes Live in Toledo, 2001

The White Stripes

LISTEN NOW: The Bottle Rocket, Toledo, OH – April 1st,2001

By Ben Blackwell

What’s so wrong with being sent to Toledo anyway?

The White Stripes performance at the Bottle Rocket in 2001 (their fourth and final performance in Glass City) highlights the first recorded performance of “I Think I Smell A Rat.” The Sisyphean task of appropriately tagging “first-ever performance” of a band’s songs is a lake of fire that I cautiously dip my toes into. As shows earlier that month in Athens, OH and Louisvile possibly featured the song, the fact that no one appears to have captured proof of either leaves the truth lost to the mists of history. But April 20th in Toledo is likely the slowest tempo “I Think I Smell A Rat” was ever performed by Jack and Meg. Whereas the speed would be kicked up noticeably in future performances, the measured approach here feels almost…confrontational. The take on “Dead Leaves” is similarly restrained. A rare exploration of “Death Letter” as a set opener wildly leans into an aggressively delightful distorted ending to “Little Bird” while a charmed misremembering of the lyrics in “Your Southern Can Is Mine” reels with childish warmth.

A crowd small (and audible) enough to hear their specific song requests (the obscure vinyl-only “Handsprings!” or “Hotel Yorba” which hadn’t even been released yet) would not remain that way much longer. The tongue-in-cheek “deepest sympathies” to dear friends (and local blues-punk heroes) Henry and June is followed a few songs later with a more sincere thank you shout-out to the group.  The ad-libbed “that’s me!” dropped in after “Jackson” in “Astro”, vocal gibberish resembling the phrase “Third Man” in “Screwdriver” …all these are sweet little chesnuts in this wonderful setlist from the briefest of transitional periods…mixing in, with guile, songs from the impending “White Blood Cells” with choice cuts from the band’s previous efforts. 

All that said, over twenty years later and Jack White has not played Toledo under any guise since.