Love Boat Captain
It’s not often in the world of rock music for an established band to pick up an additional member (or adjunct, in this case) so deep into their career. Bands are either always revolving doors, or members die and are replaced, etc. Apart from the drummer situation, Pearl Jam’s core of Vedder/Ament/McCready/Gossard has been a solid, well-oiled, reliable machine. Similarly, they have for the most part limited their instrumental palette to the primary skills of each member. So the sudden arrival of keyboardist (and by keyboard I mean all manner of keyed instruments) Boom Gaspar on Riot Act was something of a surprise, albeit a good one. The addition of a new sonic color, and a new vehicle for extended soloing, couldn’t help but be an engine of growth for the band in large and small ways, but almost more importantly, it’s forces growth for the audience as well: can they or can they not accept even the subtle changes an organist brings?
The first big test was “Love Boat Captain”, on which Gaspar’s playing is more prominent than on other songs, and for which he received a writing credit alongside Vedder. In some ways the song has been a great success. Fans have embraced the song as an occasional opener and fairly regular early-set staple, due in large part to Vedder’s lyric twist, “Let the show begin…”, which all but guarantees huge roars from the crowd. The song is also a well-constructed, bittersweet and anthemic tribute to the nine persons who lost their lives at Roskilde, “Lost nine friends we’ll never know…” Boom’s playing is absolutely integral to what the song is trying to achieve: the acknowledgment of pain and loss, but also hope and uplift, redemption. The organ easily accomplishes these goals, as its history having been entwined with that of the church, automatically lends its sound to powerful circumstance: funerals, gospel, laments and songs of praise.
So why has this song for me, never quite fulfilled? Ultimately, this is the goal of writing or participating in a blog like More Than Ten, to explore what in the music itself appeals or doesn’t, and why, and then articulate (hopefully). “Love Boat Captain” has always been solidly and squarely in the middle of the pack. I admire the song from a healthy distance, intellectualizing that which doesn’t resonate with me on a gut level. Although I appreciate the song’s crafted builds and releases, there isn’t a moment in the song that shuts my brain up and erases all words but “yeah!”. Perhaps that’s because the song is meant to be pondered, thought about, intensely cerebral, even though it’s borrowed phrase intends to simplify: “all you need is love”. But I feel whenever I listen to the song that I’m supposed to really work out the philosophy, absorb it and incorporate, and I get disappointed that I can’t. I’m ultimately disappointed that, although there are a couple great lines (“trying to shake the cancer off”, “it’s an art to live with pain”), they aren’t ultimately explored in a way that feels substantial enough to me, given the weight and authority the song is trying to command.