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Pearl Jam's darkest hour: Seattle band thought about quitting after concert deaths

Friday, September 1, 2000

By GENE STOUT
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER POP MUSIC CRITIC

Pearl Jam considered breaking up after the June 30 Roskilde Festival, at which nine concertgoers were crushed to death during the Seattle band's performance.

"I think the thought crossed all of our minds, but it wouldn't have been a good way to end it all," guitarist Mike McCready said by phone yesterday from a tour stop in Boston, where the group performed two concerts earlier this week.

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McCready  
"We realized we're making viable music. We can't stop. We can't end on a down note."

McCready said Pearl Jam, which formed in 1990 at the height of the Seattle grunge explosion and whose debut album, "Ten," has sold more than 11 million copies, was devastated by what happened at the four-day festival in Denmark.

"It's about the worst thing that can happen to a rock band," McCready said. "People shouldn't have to die at rock concerts."

Fans rushed the stage, crushing to death nine concertgoers and seriously injuring three others. The band appealed to the crowd to move back, but couldn't prevent the massive surge toward the stage. It was one of Europe's worst concert tragedies.

The band halted its performance and the next band, The Cure, canceled its show entirely out of "respect for the dead."

"There are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of those precious lives that were lost," the band said at the time in a statement posted on its Web site.

Inspired by the 1969 Woodstock Festival, the Roskilde Festival made its debut in 1971 and is held annually on a farm in Roskilde, about 25 miles west of Copenhagen.

Pearl Jam, which includes McCready and guitarist Stone Gossard, singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron, has gone to great lengths to prevent injuries at its concerts, where fans usually mosh near the front of the stage. The group has used a customized barrier with padded railings to provide a buffer between the stage and the mosh pit.

Last month, band members voluntarily met with Danish police in Florida so that both sides could gain a better understanding of what went wrong. Both the band and the Danish police described the meetings as informative and productive.

Roskilde Festival organizers recently set up the Roskilde 2000 Tragedy Fund. According to the official Web site at www.roskilde-festival.dk, the fund will support "research and development of health and security measures for large gatherings of young people in connection with cultural events, especially musical events."

Last month, Pearl Jam kicked off a U.S. tour, its first string of performances since Europe. The first leg ends Tuesday in Pittsburgh. The second leg begins Oct. 4 in Montreal, Canada, and finishes up with the band's fourth Seattle benefit concert Nov. 5 at KeyArena.

McCready said the final show in the band's recent three-night stand at Jones Beach on New York's Long Island was one of the best of the tour.

"The night's theme was recovery, as the band absorbed the inspiration it usually provides," wrote New York Times critic Ann Powers in a review of the show.

Vedder asked for the crowd's help in singing along to the cathartic "Jeremy."

"The fans instantly complied, and in such moments, Pearl Jam must have realized the value of its caring, slow-growth strategy."

Despite the tragedy in Denmark, McCready said the band is in an upbeat mood and is looking forward to its Seattle show.

"We're all mentally pretty tough," he said. "I feel very good, very positive. And the fans have been really supportive."

After he returns home during a break in the tour, McCready will perform with his side band, the Rockfords, Sept. 15 at The Showbox.

He recently added another tattoo to his already well-decorated body.

"I have seven now on my arms and pecs," he said. "It makes me look a lot tougher than I really am."

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