I’ve received much indignation regarding my scathing review of “I’m Still Here” (which is great, keep it coming). So what about “Evacuation”, one of the most feared/loathed Pearl Jam songs at live shows, the Pearl Jam song PJ fanatics love to hate? Well now it’s my turn to be righteously indignant: “Evacuation” is a great song. I try to put myself in other listeners’ shoes, but I still can’t figure out why all the hate. But I’ll try to play devil’s advocate:

1. Fatigue. After an 11th hour tracklisting change that replaced “Insignificance” with “Gods’ Dice” in the Binaural two-spot, the resulting opening 3 tunes to the album were all terse, under-3 minute rockers with similar energy. As the third track in that salvo, “Evacuation” was perhaps bound to be the third wheel, with listeners saying “Enough already!” But while track order can definitely be a factor in how one enjoys or doesn’t enjoy a song in context with its album, you’d think that the song by itself, or part of varied live sets, would eventually woo people to its charms. It hasn’t yet.  When the band finally bust it out for the first time on the 2003 tour in Columbus, I was probably one of the few for whom its appearance made the bootleg impossible to resist.

2. It’s weird. For a short song, “Evacuation” pulls together several musical sections that differ in tone, tempo, and signature. Matt Cameron’s love for odd rhythm and meter is on full display here, belying his talent and ability for multiple percussion styles, from heavy metal to straight-up jazz. A musician’s musician, the inventive twists and turns he wrote into “Evacuation” can be disorienting.  For me, it sounds like a cross between Cameron’s former band, Soundgarden, and the Police.  Really, what could be better than that?

3. I can’t think of a third reason not to love “Evacuation”.  Someone out there in internetland will have to pony up and explain themselves.  I’m looking forward to it.


~ by Michael on May 6, 2007.

14 Responses to “Evacuation”

  1. I also don’t really understand the hate for EVACUATION and the Matt Cameron tunes in general. He’s not only a great musician, he’s a really creative one.

    I think that it comes down to the name. People do not enjoy singing along to a chorus that says, “EEEVVAACUUUUAAAAAATION.” Ed has always had a habit of putting multi-syllabic words in odd places in songs. Usually, because of his delivery when he sings, it isn’t very noticeable. No one has a problem with “accumulating” in BREATH, but here the word “evacuation” really stands out.

  2. I just have to say that you may be in for a bit of a slam by bringing up the Police; however, that’s not a bad way of describing the style of the song. I think Matt C. composes interesting songs with each one better than the last. I always appreciate an interesting beat (can’t wait for the Sleight of Hand review).

  3. I don’t think you can talk about “Evacuation” and not bring up Ed’s vocals. ESPECIALLY in the live setting. It just doesn’t work. I personally enjoy the song, but I think a significant amount of backlash is caused by Ed’s strained delivery of the song. That’s what I would guess anyway.

    The beat might have something to do with it too. It always takes an extra five or six listens for me to get into a Matt C. tune, whether it be Evacuation, In the Moonlight, or Unemployable…He’s just got a different style that takes some getting used to.

  4. GSpece & Susan–I did intend to bring up the line delivery of “Evacuation”, but somehow missed it. The melody live, without the layered harmonies, is a bit odd–probably akin to how Vedder’s voice fits into “Pilate”. It’s an non-traditional melody wedged into an already non-traditional song. It doesn’t bother me, but I can definitely appreciate how it bothers others. On record, I love how the harmonics make the line sound pretty much like the siren he sings of in the first line, and also not unlike Chris Cornell.

  5. I think that it is too strong to say that the vocals “don’t work.” Unlike a lot of Pearl Jam songs, this one is much better on record than live, but I don’t have a problem with it live.

    I think, though, that the fans have spoken. We aren’t going to see it live again.

  6. I think this song would have gotten more respect if it was placed either later in Binarual’s track listing or on Riot Act. I think it fits the latter of the two, the three way punch of songs on Binaural doesn’t work as well as the first three on Vitalogy and Avocado. I think it’s a pretty sweet song, the bridge is the best with Matt’s background vox. The song “is” better studio though.

  7. I hate this song. It is the only PJ song that i actually hate. I dislike Wishlist immensly, but i accept if you are in the right mood for it it is enjoyable – but i truly cannot get my head around what part of this sing people like – no part of it does anything for me.

  8. I disagree with bigwaverrider holeheartedly. This is PJ at it’s best. The fact that so many fans dislike this song really makes me ponder the pj community sometimes. I am not an elite bastard who praises every rare song, but cmon people, this thing is pure brilliance. Can’t you hear the guitar talking to you, warining you of the evacuation that is inevitably coming next, through the vocals of a tortured Vedder. I’d like to see any other lead singer attempt to sing this.

  9. It’s definitely a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it kind of song. Not much room for the middle ground.

  10. I think that Evacuation is one of their weak songs. Why they didn’t put Education or Sad instead?

  11. Well, both of those were in the running of course. Education was slated to be last, after “Parting Ways” even. I think they wanted to have a Matt Cameron song on there, and “In the Moonlight” would prove even more difficult to pull off live.

  12. I agree wholeheartedly, this is one my all time favourite Pearl Jam songs; I too question why other people seem to harbour such vicious disliske for it.

    The first time I heard Binaural, this was the first song I “connected” with and it drew me into the rest of the record.

    I’d be interested to hear the favourite Pearl Jam songs of people who can’t stand this song, maybe it would help me understand their position more.

    I think Ed performs the vocals extremely well, it’s a damn hard song to sing, and Matt’s songwriting contribution is perhaps his strongest to date. I can’t help but feel the band has shelved this song since 2003 after hearing of so much moaning and bitching about this most undeserved target, which is a crying shame.

  13. I have to agree with those who like this song. Early on in my experience with Binaural, I was like most other PJ fans and I disliked Evacuation, though it was really just mild dislike. Over time, though, especially as my musical tastes varied and expanded, I began to really appreciate and even grew to like the song.

    For me, the only thing that prevents this from being among the best of the band’s catalogue is the chorus. It’s not bad, just too straightfoward for a song that effortlessy crosses into more experimental and varied territories in the other sections. Cameron has a great talent for writing interesting music and it shows in this song.

  14. Brett–my only theory re: the chorus is that it mimics a siren fairly well.

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