“Let’s play a little Soundgarden…”: hear a recording of Pearl Jam’s first ever UK show

Pearl Jam in 1992
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Next month, Pearl Jam will arrive on British shores for a huge show at north London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the sort of mammoth venue that has long been custom for Eddie Vedder’s crew. It is a far cry from where they played their first ever UK gig back at the beginning of 1992. Whilst it’s assumed by many that Pearl Jam’s first performance on British soil took place at London’s Borderline, they had actually played a small club in Southend-on-Sea the night before.

That’s right, Southend-on-Sea, Essex. The home of the world’s longest pleasure pier (a mile and a third, pier fact fans), the home of the end credits to Minder (on the world’s longest pleasure pier), the home of Adventure Island (formerly Peter Pan’s Playground), where Depeche Mode played their earliest shows and where the face of Wilko Johnson can be seen on the pub sign hanging on the now-closed Railway Hotel, and where Oasis filmed their classic concert film Live By The Sea. I mean, when you read all that, it’s like, ‘Of course Pearl Jam wanted their first ever UK show to be in Southend!’ (can you tell that this writer lives in Southend?)

The gig took place at the Esplanade on the 3rd February, 1992, almost six months after the release of Pearl Jam's era-defining debut Ten. Presumably, it was booked long enough in advance that Ten hadn’t yet taken off but by the time the group arrived for their British bow on the stretch of coast where the Thames turns into the North Sea, everyone in the crowd knew the words to every song. As you can hear in the live bootleg below, recorded by someone in the crowd, they are taken aback at just how much their music has travelled, Vedder telling the crowd that he finds it “weird” people know the lyrics.

For someone who was still in the stages of getting used to being a well-known frontman, Vedder was in a chatty moon. At one point, an audience member requests the group play the Vedder-featuring Temple Of The Dog cut Hunger Strike and he pipes up. “Mr Cornell, are you here,” he jokes, searching the crowd for his vocal partner on the song. “If Chris is here, we’ll play it.” There’s another nod to Cornell later in the set when the band break into the riff from Soundgarden’s Outshined. The set is, understandably, mostly pulled from Ten but there are airings for State Of Love And Trust and Breath, which Pearl Jam recorded for the Singles soundtrack, as well as an early version of Leash, which would feature on their second record Vs.

It must have been some night for the 300 audience members in attendance – Pearl Jam would never a venue that intimate again. And even if they wanted to, they could never play at the Esplanade again – it was knocked down after a fire in 2018 and a fancy new apartment block was built on the site. There is a swish restaurant on the ground floor, though, so maybe Pearl Jam could come down for dinner and revisit the scene of their first UK show. My treat. Hear a recording from the gig below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.