Pearl Jam: Live on Ten Legs

RIYL: Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron and Boom Gaspar

For a band that makes most of its live material available to fans, Pearl Jam releasing a live compilation hardly qualifies as news. In fact, judging by the reaction of some message boarders, Live on Ten Legs qualifies as everything from a giant snoozefest to an 18-track rip off. “Why would I buy this,” asked one poster, “when I already own all the bootlegs?” Well – surprise – most PJ fans, from the casual to the diehard, don’t already own all the bootlegs, in which case Live on Ten Legs, a collection of tracks culled from the band’s 2003-2010 world tours, serves its intended purpose as a companion to 1998’s platinum live release, Live on Two Legs, and a fun way to kick off the band’s 20th anniversary year.

While it seems silly to complain about the album as a whole – if you don’t want it, don’t buy it – it is fair to question the 18-song lineup, newly remastered and remixed by longtime Pearl Jam engineer Brett Eliason. Five songs from the band’s epic debut, Ten, and another four from its most recent release, Backspacer, dominate the proceedings, with 1993’s Vs. being the only other album to contribute more than one song and 1996’s No Code getting completely shut out. Granted, PJ was careful to avoid any overlap from the Live on Two Legs track listing, but it still seems strange to have only five songs representing six of the band’s nine studio albums. Fortunately, the material that did make the cut is top-notch, with Pearl Jam once again demonstrating why they’ve long been considered one of the best live bands around, particularly with the killer quartet of “Spin the Black Circle,” “Porch,” “Alive” and “Yellow Ledbetter” to close the album out.

After 20 years, Pearl Jam knows all too well that you can’t please all the fans all the time. With Live on Ten Legs, the band gives everyone else a taste of what the bootleg junkies have been gobbling up for the past eight years. (Monkeywrench Records 2011)

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Pearl Jam: Backspacer

RIYL: You’re kidding, right? Recommended if you like Pearl Jam

Backspacer is Pearl Jam’s ninth studio album in their 19th year of existence. Seemingly out to prove that they’re neither resting on their laurels or mellowing with age, it’s one of their most energetic and exciting albums to date, filled with pop hooks and a strange sense of optimism that may scare the die-hards.

Pearl Jam haven’t been very pop-friendly since Yield. Binaural was experimental art-rock, while Riot Act was dark, introspective and depressing. Their 2006 self-titled effort was definitely a step towards the mainstream, but it was also very angry and aggressive, a sign of the Bush-led times perhaps. But Bush is gone, and with his departure Pearl Jam must feel that it’s okay to be upbeat once more, and maybe even popular again.

The album opens with a drug-themed triple-pack; “Gonna See My Friend,” “Got Some,” and “The Fixer.” Although dripping in drug references, none of the three are really about getting high. The titular friend in the first track is a buddy that’s helping someone get off drugs, and the ‘some’ in “Got Some” is actually music, being dealt out like the addictive substance that it is. As for “The Fixer,” that appears to be Eddie himself, proclaiming his ability to make you rock out. Through the quick three-minute stomper he lets you know he’s your one-stop cure for what ails you, “When somethings dark / Lemme shed a little light on it. When somethings old / I wanna put a bit of shine on it.”

Eddie must be riding high from all that fixing, because he’s in such a good mood he’s actually written a couple honest-to-God love songs on Backspacer, a first for the band. “Just Breathe” is a quiet ballad about a man who realizes how lucky he is to find the one he loves, while “Amongst the Waves” is a bombastic proclamation of love using surf imagery to convey how love can conquer all. It’s corny, cheesy and about one step removed from a U2 song, but they get away with it thanks to Eddie’s touching lyrics and a powerful closing guitar solo. The musical formula is copied successfully with the following track “Unthought Known,” although this time the lyrics return to typical abstract themes that are more common ground for Vedder. After a brief return to rock with the catchy-as-all-hell “Supersonic,” the CD closes with three more ballads, ending with the exceptionally strong “The End.”

Backspacer is probably Pearl Jam’s best album of the decade, an obvious, but not pandering, attempt to regain some of the mainstream attention they voluntarily gave up over the years. The older fans might balk at the idea of Eddie and company courting a new audience, but whatever man; a stadium full of 40-year-olds is depressing. (Monkeywrench 2009)

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