Why ‘Dark Matter’ Matters

Perspective and first impressions from album’s pre-launch global theatrical premiere

April 16, 2024
By Guest Contributor, Bernie Tylor (with Dave O’Brien)

Pearl Jam’s Dark Matter “Global Theatrical Experience” offered an intriguing communal setting and format for fans to hear brand new material for the first time, pre-release, simultaneously across the globe.  I’m a super fan with all the usual qualifications.  I have witnessed dozens of shows by Pearl Jam, Brad as well as Eddie Vedder solo gigs, since the band started in numerous locations throughout the U.S. and even an overseas concert.  

Back in the day, I enjoyed submitting concert reviews for the Pearl Jam online “Fanzine” (then a fan blog) and was thrilled when seeing them published. I’ve also bonded with a network of fellow zealots – a special fellowship, and even hatched a handful of close relationships that have endured to this day.  I believe in, and benefit from, the concept of a close-knit PJ community.  Of course, as soon as I learned of the Dark Matter theatrical premiere I knew I was “in.” 

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the band, but things have been heating up of late. The Wishlist Foundation recently launched its inaugural “Candle of Thought” podcast interview series with a bang with Wishlist’s Chrissie Ferguson interviewing Jill Vedder and CEO of EB Research Partnership Michael Hund to talk about progress towards a cure (episode 1).  In addition, the band announced a 2024 tour to support the new album and is scheduled to play live from its warehouse headquarters in Seattle on Sirius-XM/Howard Stern to kick things off.

But on this April 16, only Dark Matter mattered.  I headed over to the Regal movie theater in downtown Silver Spring, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. and met up with an old friend, Dave O’Brien to join me for the event.  He was the best man at my wedding 20 years ago, accomplished guitar player, former cover band mate, and decorated Pearl Jam fan, but life had pulled us apart in recent years.  This event presented an opportunity to reunite and rekindle our friendship.  Sure enough, within minutes our shared love of Pearl Jam pulled us together and it seemed like no time had passed since we last spoke.   

We decided to discuss our immediate impressions about the music in real time as we listened in the theater.  We used our phones to text back and forth and record our thoughts without disturbing others.  Coming in “blind” with open minded expectations, we both considered that, hey, maybe the Dark Matter material would disappoint and fail to achieve the quality of beloved offerings of the past?  While eating popcorn, Dave and I analyzed intros, solos, bridges, drumming, outros, song meanings, lyrics, and more.  As we listened to the songs, some general observations came into focus:  Pearl Jam can still produce great quality music (of this, we never really firmly doubted).  Pearl Jam remembers when music really mattered.  When music wasn’t just about capturing the maximum number of streams on Spotify and Apple Music (which these days for contemporary artists is not exactly a bad thing).  It was exciting to hear brand new music that exalted the way it used to.  But this wasn’t just a nostalgia trip.  The songs all sounded fresh and new.  

Below I present our initial, raw, unfiltered and unpolished impressions of the songs as we heard them, our “hot take” – so to speak – on the new 11 tunes.  These are just stream of consciousness thoughts, without an opportunity to go back and listen to the tracks again, so please forgive the “rough notes” descriptions.  After the album is released and we have the opportunity to hear the songs again and take a deeper dive, perhaps we can offer more polished analysis, but I wanted to document how it felt in the moment to experience the Dark Matter tracks for the first time, along with thousands of other fans across the globe.  

Track 1 – “Scared of Fear”

Good song.  “We used to sing, we used to dance, we used to believe,” good line.  Eddie is bringing the energy!

Track 2 – “React, Respond”

“Don’t react, respond,” good line/concept.  Retro late 70’s feel like the Police.

Lush and vibrant!

Track 3 – “Wreckage”

Good tempo.  Easy going.  Rhythmic.  

“Water will find its way.”  “Going through the wreckage.”  

“Combing through the wreckage.” Tom Petty-esque.  Shades of Bruce Springsteen (the song Atlantic City). 

Good guitar stylings.  

It’s a song that evokes feel-good and wistful, nostalgic vibes.  

In the theater, this was the only time before the conclusion of the viewing we heard one set of hands clap. 

Dave noted: “Combing through the wreckage never sounded so good.”  We both found ourselves buying into the catchiness of the song.  

“Spoils go to the victor, the others left for dead,” heavy line. 

Track 4 – “Dark Matter”

Edgy start.  

Matt Cameron’s drumming is impressive, intense, precise, dead on the beat.  One of us asks though, could Cameron ever lay back a bit and play “in the pocket” (an insider drumming phrase).  His intense precision is impressive, but we’d love to hear the band groove a little bit with more of a Charlie Watts feel.  

Good line: “Everybody else pays.”  

Song feels a little “mish mash” in parts, but still good.  

Ed’s rage vocally is there at the end. He hasn’t lost any edge.  He can still get into high gear like he’s hanging from the rafters in the 90’s.  The 90’s are calling and they want the Mt. Everest certified mic cable back (lol). 

“Still everybody else pays for someone else’s mistake.” Truth!  

Not such “Dark Matter” here. Eddie sounds reflective and offering maybe just a little bit of hope in a tough world. 

Track 5 – “Won’t Tell”

“Pulled the book off the shelf.”  Vedder’s vocals haven’t lost anything with the years.  In fact, it feels like he’s able to pull together all the vocal techniques he’s developed and refined over the years and use them to express emotions with beautiful nuance and complexity.

 “You can find me here waiting for the message to come,” good line.  

The song parts are spaced apart and pieced together nicely.  The band is putting feeling back in the “music” of today that has been missing for some time.  Emotion.  This isn’t just music programmed on a laptop featuring the latest artist to get lots of streams.  At this point the album is way better than I thought it would be. 

Track 6 – “Upper Hand”

It occurs to Dave that Pearl Jam “remembers when music mattered.” 

“The distance to the end,” good line.  

Shades of “Black” and “Leadbetter.”  And Beatles-esque.  The plaintive guitar solo evokes “Let It Be.” 

Thumbs up on that tune.  

Track 7 – “Waiting for Stevie”

“You can be loved by everyone and not feel loved,” Oh that hits.  Good line. 

Eddie’s voice carries well and reverberates just before the bridge, with that flighty guttural range he displayed more often in his younger days. 

“Not what you’re not,” good line.  

McCready still knows blues guitar and can bring the fire.  

Track 8 – “Running”

Good atmospherics in the very beginning.  Followed quickly by a big change in tempo.  Intro starts mellow, then BAM!  Now we are into Ramones-sounding.  Eddie drops an f-bomb (was wondering when Ed would get that in a lyric).  He knows how to use profanity so that it means something.  Not just an overused exclamation.  This song is reminiscent of “World Wide Suicide.” 

“You got me running,” good line.  

Eddie is impressive on the outro.  Yelling sounds intense and “real.”  

Track 9 – “Something Special”

A feel good, toe-tapper tune.  This could get radio play – subtly pop-like.  

Instead of “Can’t find another man” maybe you “don’t need a man at all.” (lol). Good theme.  

Track 10 – “Got to Give” 

Again they begin with an ethereal, soft and pretty intro but don’t stay with it.  Wish they would build on some of these melodic, atmospheric, and beautiful moments and stretch them out into a whole section or a whole song.  Instead they change it up fast to up tempo, aggressive sounds.  

“I’ll be the last one standing,” good line. 

Great bridge — do more of that Pearl Jam!  

“I can’t stand it, it’s not a way to live,” good line – and, he extra emotes on that part.  

Liking the outro.  

“Something has got to give,” good line.  

Feels classic.  

Darn good tune – continued encouragement about the quality of songs. 

Track 11 – “Setting Sun” 

“To fix a love gone wrong,” good line.  Their comfort zone is hitting it hard.  They reflexively go back to it in so many songs.  But wish they would explore the more melodic stuff more, as mentioned before. We see glimpses of it in the songs and they are beautiful. Want them to draw those parts out more.  Like this one.  

Eddie bass / baritone notes are good in this one. Potential for a campfire song perhaps on acoustic, sprinkled with edginess.   Maybe a high school dance type of anthem.

Easy going.  Solid song. 

“Am I the only one hanging on,” good line.  

Reminds me of when I cared more about music. Totally fits Ed’s voice and he’s/the band’s not rushing it. 

Stone rhythm parts are nice, acoustic.  They are gelling.  “Prayers” and “Kingdome come” are repeated – powerful.  No song yet on the album at this point has dragged on.   

Drumming is better on this one than some of the previous songs.  

These seem like they are “relationship” songs in the mix on Dark Matter.  

“When you get what you don’t want,” good line.  

Catchy – like if with someone who associated Pearl Jam with intensity and anger they’d say “really, this is Pearl Jam?” and nestle into listening. 

“If you’re feeling the leaving I can’t make you stay,” good line.  

Has a “Hard Sun” vibe.

The Audience

We looked around when the lights came on, there were about 25 of the ‘Faithful’ folks seated at the showing.  Except for one brief hand clapping during the set, the venue was largely silent; to quote a line from the album, we were “swallowed up by the sound”… the sound of being in our own heads, introspective, and fixated on the tunes and graphics on the screen, it seemed. 

When Dave and I walked away at the end, strolling along the dimly lit movie theater dark carpet hallway toward the exit, when asked her thoughts about the screening and her experience, a woman next to us declared, “That was f-cking awesome! When I heard them today, in the Regal theater setting, EVERY song was incredible.” 

She was increasingly animated as she revealed her verdict.  Then, she lifted her fingers in a peace sign, said goodnight.  

Dave and I could not agree more.

Dark Matter became ‘light matter’ for a comforting, fulfilling and entertaining two hours to hear Pearl Jam … at its next-phase (or next-stage) best.

A career communications professional in the DC-area, I have been a longtime freelance writer of concert and music performance reviews for publications covering a wide range of artists – from Pearl Jam, to the Psychedelic Furs, to Ben Harper, and many more in between.  I’ve been hooked on Pearl Jam since the band’s debut.  A proud father and husband, I enjoy contributing to causes and nonprofits that help make the world a better place.