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.


~ by Michael on July 28, 2007.

8 Responses to “Love Boat Captain”

  1. I’m not a huge fan of LBC. It’s pretty good. I would of liked to hear the 8+ minute demo version written in Hawaii, but that will never happen.

    I really nave nothing to comment about C13’s write up, but I will add this little antidote. I must admit, I am not overly enthused with PJ’s last two albums and I haven’t had the urge to listen to a live bootleg in years. I had ‘Live at the Gorge’ for weeks now, and haven’t listened to a single song… until last night. I started with Little Wing, which led into Crazy Mary. Crazy Mary…Crazy Mary.. fuckin Crazy Mary. Boom Gaspar..Wow, Mike McCready..Wow. That one version reminded me why I have dedicated so much of my personal time to this band, and why PJ is and always will be my favorite band to grace the planet.

  2. I’m still waiting for an epiphany with “Love Boat Captain.” I think it may come someday, but similar to the thoughts posted above, I am just not a huge fan of the song. I don’t think it is as epic as it woulda/coulda/shoulda been, even though I’m fine with the final product. The construction of the song is confusing to me. In those moments where before the band would have blown things wide open, LBC (and its composer) is content to toe the line and never let the song become an “anthem”. That’s fine with me if that’s the way it was meant to be. I just think this is a song that could have been more. I’ve been to two shows that were opened with “Love Boat Captain,” and for how indifferent I am to the song, it works pretty well as a show opener. Although I find its appearance anywhere else in a given setlist to be, for lack of a better word, a drag.

  3. I wasn’t gonna say this but since Boom was discussed in the write-up…. I can’t stand when people chant “Boooooooooom” after certain songs. Don’t these people realize they are booing the band in actuality, rather than applauding Boom? Ed always feels dumb and has to throw out his name so the casual fan gets the point. In Uniondale, were the fans booing after Bushleaguer or just praising Boom? One will never know. 😉

  4. There’s so much great music to listen to out there that it’s amazing that Pearl Jam’s music still has the effect on me that it does. I still have the same kind of “Wow” moments that BYM describes so well. Believe it or not, I had one with LBC. This song has gone from one that I disliked quite a bit to one that I like very much. Initially, echoes of the cheesy 70’s TV show made this song almost unlistenable, and the lyric

    “Take the reigns and steer us towards the clear,… here,”

    was really hard to listen to. Was this Love Boat a horse-drawn barge? Hearing this song live made all the difference.

    1. The music is gorgeous. From the organ intro to Matt Cameron’s drumming to the characteristic repeated guitar flourishes, this song is just beautiful.

    2. This has become one of my favorite vocal performances by Eddie. I love the dynamic variation from the low rumble that opens the song to the full-throated soaring repeated “love, love….”

    3. Finally, it contains one of my favorite verses that Eddie has ever written:

    “And the young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today,…
    The wisdom that the old can’t give away
    Constant recoil…
    Sometimes life
    Don’t leave you alone.”

    That, right there, is the story of my life.

    That said, I like the song a lot these days, and I look forward to hearing it, but if you asked me which are my favorite Pearl Jam songs, I still wouldn’t name LBC.

    • I LOVE that verse as well. (I actually love this song….but I love all PJ songs so I’m not the best critic. 🙂

  5. Another great response Susan. The verse you mentioned in #3 is my favorite part of the song. I really like the outro too, probably because I love the Beatles.

  6. Sometimes life don’t leave you alone.

    How true is that line?

  7. You are so right SoJ.

    A couple of friends who are PJ fans and I just downloaded the Copenhagen show. The show is a complete mess. I’ve heard the whole band was crying throughout. Eddie threatens to break into sobs during almost every song, and this is most apparent on LBC. Listening to this show unfold is just a wrenching experience, especially when listening with other people. I’m not sure that I would have listened to it at all if I weren’t with other fans. This may be the worst performance of LBC they’ve ever done, but it was unforgettable, with the audience handclaps giving the song a real comunal feel. Eddie managed to choke out the “constant recoil” verse, but by that time my friends and I were all in tears, and we hardly heard a thing until the audience joins in with the “love…love….” chant at the end. Definitely a show that only fans would appreciate.

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