By Ryan Javier
Photos by Jesse Garcia and Ryan Javier
DALLAS – Let’s take a step back in time, back to the 1990’s. The Berlin Wall had just collapsed, the Cold War was over and the U.S.S.R. was kaput. In the music world, grunge and alt rock reigned supreme and, in the eyes of most teens, were widely considered to be “pop” music. Leading the charge were Seattle rockers, Pearl Jam, and nearly every kid on the block had a (cassette) copy of Ten (arguably one the greatest albums of the late 20th century) and its superb follow-up: Five Against One.
If you long for the days when flannel was cool and everyone wore Jnco jeans, then have no fear. We, at TTL are proud to present: Pearl Gem. They are not only one the preeminent acts in the country, they are also the quintessential Pearl Jam tribute band. TTL reporters were fortunate enough to catch up to Pearl Gem during their performance at the 2015 Jack FM CBSradioDFW Throwback Festival at Gexa Energy Pavilion.
As if pre-planned by the band, midway through Pearl Gem’s set, rain came pouring down. It was of little consequence to Pearl Gem, however, who played right on through, never missing a beat- which only served to champion the notion that it was all part of the act. The rain added an element of hyper-realism to the whole show and although it may have helped transport the venue back to 1990’s Seattle, it was Pearl Gem themselves that single-handily took the audience back. Their stellar performance at Gexa, which featured Pearl Jam classics and fan favorites, was utterly amazing. With seemingly no effort at all, Pearl Gem was able to expertly channel the sound as well as encapsulate the spirit of Eddie and the gang in such an endearing way; it was truly a site to behold.
Dubbed the “Ultimate Pearl Jam Tribute Band” (and rightly so), Pearl Gem looks, moves, plays and sounds so much like Pearl Jam, it’s unreal. The members of Pearl Gem are both extremely talented musicians and skilled actors who are masters of their craft. These guys are the real deal.
The band is based out of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and consists of Jepe Van Treese as Jeff Ament, Kevin Rucker as Mike McCready, Matthew Crain as Matt Cameron and Dave Abbruzesse, Barak Seguin as Eddie Vedder and Chris McIuan as Stone Gossard.
In the wake of Pearl Gem’s incredible and unforgettable set at Gexa, Kevin Rucker (KR) was kind enough to answer a few questions from TTL’s Ryan Javier (TTL) on behalf of the band.
TTL: You guys were incredible! Tell me about your set list for the Gexa show. How did you guys come to choose those particular songs?
KR: Well, that was a tough one. We have over 40 Pearl Jam songs in our catalog and narrowing it down to 35 minutes was not an easy task. A few of the guys said, I want to play this or that and we all decided that it was pertinent we play the hits, so we looked at top charting songs and selected Betterman, Alive, Even Flow, and snuck in Dissident. We also wanted to pay off the true Pearl Jammers (Pearl Jam Ten Club Members) so we threw in Rearview Mirror, Go and Why Go and put them in places where we hoped these songs might grow on the mainstream crowd.
TTL: Pearl Gem as only been around for a few years, but you all obviously have been playing music a lot longer. Tell me about how the band formed and a little bit about yourselves and why you do what you do. Why choose Pearl Jam?
KR: The band was actually started by our now friend, John Hudiburgh who had an ad on Craigslist I replied to for a guitar audition. They were looking to start a Pearl Jam Tribute, needed vocals, bass and guitars. Tributes were getting hot in the DFW area and there was no PJ Tribute. I was a huge Pearl Jam fan, so when I saw the ad, I was immediately interested. I went for the audition and was selected. Long story short, John and Phil had to bail out. We had just found our Singer, Barak Seguin, who ended up only having one or two practices with that current lineup. I asked John if I could take it and run with it since him and Phil had some things come up that were taking priority, he said sure man! I ran several ads on FB. One of the first replies I got was from Chris McIuan, our Stone Gossard, he came over, we jammed a bit, got along great; he was a great player. I said you’re in if you want to be, we had found our Stone! Then things slowed way down, it took us over 3 years to find the right bass player and drummer. We decided to record in the studio and get a few tracks down and put them out in hopes of sharing them around and finding someone. Chris laid down the bass and we hired a drummer to play on the tracks. We finally landed a Bass Player, Jody English, for the band and he accidentally ran into a guy named Matthew Crain at a tryout for some other band. Jody says this guys a great drummer and his favorite band is Pearl Jam! We already had a show on the books and were about to have to cancel since we did not have a drummer. Matt came in 2 days later, nailed all the songs like he was Dave Abbruzzese! The bands 1st show was March 31, 2012 and the rest is history! We have since lost Jody but his replacement, Jepe Van Treese, had played with us for quite a while during the forming stages, so he just stepped right on back into his place as Jeff Ament. We have all been playing for quite a while, but the Pearl Jam music brought us together like family. This is the reason the majority of us are in the band, its our love for Pearl Jam. The majority of us are also all Ten Club Members and have been following Pearl Jam since day 1.
TTL: You guys don’t just look the part, but you guys perform and move just like PJ! Thank you! How difficult (or easy) was it for you guys to fall into the personas of Pearl Gem?
KR: We’ve worked real hard from beginning to do our best to look like each of our respective members. Barak has several of the same shirts like Eddie wore back in the day, the Doc Martins ect. Barak’s been watching Eddie forever. When he steps onto the stage, he doesn’t just act like Eddie, we truly believe he becomes some version of Eddie in his mind and then just pulls it off effortlessly. Chris just has that Stone look and feel down on stage, i do not know if it came natural or if he watched a bunch of videos of Stone to emulate his performance. Barak headed up what the band was to look and act like, it was up to us to get there. I will never forget him telling us, we will not just stand there on stage and play our instruments, be your guy! Lol. Anyway, Matthew is in the same boat as a lifelong PJ fan as I mentioned before but his favorite drummer is Dave Abbruzzese, so he carries the same style and has such an amazing performance so similar to Dave’s. We hear a lot of comments about how fun it is to watch Matt play from our fans, we could not agree more. PG Insider – Matt has one of Dave Abbruzzese’s ride cymbals from the VS Tour currently in his kit! Jepe does an amazing job at being Jeff Ament, to me it just looks like it comes natural to him. As far as myself, Ive been watching Mike for a long, long time, it came pretty natural, I’ve always liked to run around a lot like Mike but I really need to point at more people during the show .. Mike points at everyone like he knows them! Hahaha!
TTL: How do you prepare for live show? What’s your pre-show routine?
KR: When we are playing a lot, we schedule one rehearsal in before a show, if we haven’t played recently, we will run as many as 3 or 4 rehearsals prior to a show. We don’t really have a pre-show routine, we kind of all just do our own thing.
TTL: You guys have done quite a few shows since forming in 2012. What’s been your most memorable performance so far?
KR: This is probably the toughest question so far. I don’t think we can pick a favorite. We have played some really, really cool shows from American Airlines Center in Victory Park for the Dallas Stars to playing for the great Pearl Jam Fan Organization “The Wishlist Foundation” in the House of Blues Foundation Room. In Dallas about 4 Hours before Pearl Jam played down the street at American Airlines Center to playing at Gexa for Jack FM. I will say that playing in the rain this year for the crowd we had, made us all kind of feel like we were playing a show in Seattle back in the 90’s. That crowd was off the hook!
TTL: What’s your favorite song to perform live?
KR: Rearview Mirror or Jeremy, the endings of both are just solid rocking jams!
TTL: For someone that has never seen you guys live… Describe your show and why one should attend.
KR: We try to provide the Ultimate Pearl Jam Concert Experience, if you like Pearl Jam, we have a feeling you won’t be disappointed! From the corduroy jackets, combat boots, flannel shirts, and crazy hats, to the amazing sound that Pearl Jam created during the grunge revolution, Pearl Gem energetically brings it back to stage in a captivating performance. All of the favorite Pearl Jam songs are masterfully replicated such as; Jeremy, Black, Betterman, Evenflow and Alive, to name a few, through a band that spares no expense to make its audience feel like they stepped into a time warp to 1992. Pearl Gem’s Eddie Vedder is a mirror image of the emotive singer, who delivers the distinctive and powerful vocal parallel through an explosive and energetic performance that includes all of Eddie’s aerial antics. Pearl Gem’s Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament play their roles respectively and do it with meticulous detail featuring the complete look and sound through all of the expected Les Pauls, Fender Strats and Precision bass guitars. The band also features an amazing drummer who duplicates the moves of Pearl Jam best, Dave Abbruzzese. Make no mistake, Pearl Gem will put you on a time machine right back to The 90’s!
TTL: What do you guys think of the Into the Wild soundtrack? If you like it, are there any songs that you would consider adding to your repertoire?
KR: Barak and Matt are probably the biggest fans of Ed’s solo stuff. We will not play any of the songs as a band but you never know when Barak may do a solo performance during or before one of our shows that include some Into the Wild material. We usually have a few different surprises for each of our shows such as playing Hunger Strike here and there or a new deep cut. We never have the exact same set list for any of our shows.
TTL: Is there a Pearl Jam deep cut or rarity that you guys would love to play, but haven’t or don’t, and if so why?
KR: Yes, there are quite a few. I think Alone and Wash are right up at the top of that list along with Lukin, I got Id and Wishlist. We would really like to play Wishlist for our wonderful friends at the Wishlist Foundation, but it just hasn’t happened yet. We keep adding songs year in and year out, one of these days I hope they will all make their way onto our master list.
TTL: If someone wanted to book your band, how would they go about that?
KR: For our contact and booking info people can visit our website.
TTL: And finally, are there any charities or organizations that you would like to plug?