Who is this Pearl Jam live album for?
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“May I remind you of that scene?
The spirit is our gasoline.”
The scene was likely a European festival gig, middle of the set, Pearl Jam in front of anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 fans, channeling their inner Joe Strummer. This tune, "Arms Aloft," kicks off the band’s latest offering, Live on Ten Legs, 18 songs culled from tours from 2003 to 2010, and, as the liner notes say, is in homage to their first live record, 1998’s Live on Two Legs.
However, if you think Pearl Jam releasing a new live album doesn’t qualify as news, you could be forgiven. It was certainly my first thought.
Beyond the bootleg circles, live albums were incredibly important makers in a band’s chronology. But the landscape has changed so much since 1998. Then, then band’s hardcore fan base certainly had copies of shows on cassette and, still relatively new, CD-R, but the availability of high-quality live material wasn’t anywhere near what we see today.
Live on Two Legs, then, served two very important roles. First, it cemented the band’s already sterling reputation as a live act with on-disc evidence. The performances were passionate, dynamic and immediately essential — the versions of “Daughter,” “Black” and “Do the Evolution,” to name a few, surpassed their recorded counterparts.
Second, it was something of a love letter to the fans who had stuck by the band. Their 1998 tours through North America were the first wide-spread concerts Pearl Jam had undertaken in more than three years. Caught in a legal battle with Ticketmaster, the band explored playing non-Ticketmaster venues in 1995 and ’96, only playing a small handful of shows in smaller markets the latter year. In 1998, they went back to work, their first full-scale effort since 1993-94, and Live on Two Legs served as a snapshot of their efforts.
Since that time, the band has released nearly all their concerts either on CD or digitally, beginning in 2000. They’ve also released a two-disc acoustic show at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, a seven-disc box set of their shows at the Gorge in George, Wash., a number of live DVDs, and select shows marketed for retailers. It begs the question — who is this record for?
It’s certainly not for the devout, who certainly have invested their money in a few of those live mementos since 2003. The easy guess is that this is for the casual fan, the ones who came back to the band following the commercial success of their 2006 self-titled album and carried through 2009’s Backspacer. It certainly explains the tracklisting. While not duplicating any songs from its 1998 predecessor, Live on Ten Legs draws eight of its 18 songs from either Backspacer or the recent reissue of their debut Ten.
The final verdict on this album will depend on your own criteria. If you’re judging the music alone, there’s nothing to quibble with. Every performance selected is fantastic, tight, energetic, all that. “Rearview Mirror,” “Nothing as it Seems” and the closing trio of “Porch,” “Alive” and “Yellow Ledbetter” are especially strong. I might have a personal beef with a couple of songs, but I can’t complain about the quality. Throw this one on during a long car ride, at the gym, or at home, and it shouldn’t disappoint.
But it’s hard to look at this record and not think it redundant. If there’s any area Pearl Jam’s been far ahead of the curve, it’s been in the live music department, offering extensive coverage of their live adventures for more than a decade now. This is a very old-school approach, offering a selection of live songs from a period of time.
Then again, this is a very old-school band. Perhaps they wanted to kick off their twentieth year with a reminder of just that fact.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org