“Pearl Jam is still Alive and well”
I must start out by saying that the mere suggestion of having the chance to review the new Pearl Jam 20 album had me immediately contemplating a return to my grunge roots. It was all I could do to resist the immediate urge to don my favorite flannel and begin the arduous task of growing my hair back out. Having now repeatedly listened to the massive 29 track double disc album that is the soundtrack for the upcoming Rockumentary by the same name, I can honestly say I am still contemplating said transformation…at least the hair part. Yes, I realize that Pearl Jam has thrived well beyond the early days of grunge when they and Nirvana ruled as dueling kings of the genre, but this album breathes new life into their older and newer material through a mixture of phenomenal live show recordings alongside some demo studio recordings and B sides. The one caveat I will offer to die-hard PJ fans is that you will not find “Jeremy”, “Even Flow” or “Daughter” on this album…..but it doesn’t matter because the material on these discs is so dynamic and broad across the PJ spectrum that you won’t even notice.
Disc one starts out with a live version of “Release Me” recorded in Verona Italy in 2006 where Eddie belts out beautifully sorrowful and pleading tunes about his painful struggles with his father and stepfather as a child. “Alive” is next on the roster and is course the tune that really put Pearl Jam on the musical map back in the early 90’s. The really cool thing about this live version, which was recorded in 1990, is that they had not even become Pearl Jam yet and were performing under the name “Mookie Blaylock”. Regardless, this live version has all passion and power we have come to expect from the now iconic track. Fast forward to a live recording of “Garden” recorded in Albini Bar of Music, Zurich Switzerland in 1992. Upon first listen I was irritated by the fact that there was so much background noise and chatter from the crowd at the venue, but once Eddie Vedder launches thunderously into the chorus the crowd’s attention is commanded and the chatter turns to cheers. Other notables on Disc one include live versions of “Why Go Home?”, “Blood” and stirringly soulful version of “Black”.
While Disc One was the more traditional hard charging side of Pearl Jam we all know and love, Disc Two tends to be a bit more esoteric and chill. To drive this point home first off is the 2000 live recording of “Crown of Thorns” also known as “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”. This is old school pre PJ material originally recorded by Gossard and Ament’s former band “Mother Love Bone”. “Crown of Thorns” most notable appeared on the now benchmark “Singles” sound track. This tune is chilling, yet calming and Mr. Vedder does not disappoint. The acoustic version of “Just Breathe” recorded at 30 Rock on SNL in 2010 showcases Vedder’s continually deep and haunting voice resonates through the lyrics. You can feel the gratitude through the lyrics he sings. Then all of a sudden comfortable with Eddie and the boys, Chris Cornell shows up! Cornell belts out the old “Temple of the Dog” favorite, and one of my personal favorites “Say Hello 2 Heaven” recorded as a demo in 1990. This track is soon followed up by a pleasant yet surprising B side of Pearl Jam, somewhat humorously, covering an “Alice in Chains” original “It Ain’t Like That”. I say humorously because in the middle of the tune, Vedder in his trademark baritone voice says “Hello, this is Abe Vigoda (the actor who played Sal Tessio in the Godfather) and I just want to say that Alice In Chains rocks my world!” Soon thereafter a more serious tone is conveyed when a live version of “Indifference” is soulfully and methodically administered to the audience through Vedder’s heartbreakingly beautiful and wide-ranging growls, whispers, and soaring vocals all in the same song. The “Better Man” intro is primarily audience driven with Vedder joining in belting out the chorus along with the crowd in the latter half of the song. It is clear by the audience reaction they are loving it! The disc is rounded out by a high energy, high voltage rendition of “Rearviewmirror” recorded in 2009 in Universal City, CA. In my mind’s eye, while listening to this track, I can see Pearl Jam pushing on with dogged determination toward a future full of continued epic success and hard-driving melodic music.
Needless to say, the album does not disappoint and in fact reinvigorated all of the positive attributes I have always loved about Pearl Jam. Now if only I could find that time portal back to Lollapalooza ’92 where I witnessed Eddie jump of the back wall of Lakewood Amphitheatre and crowd surfed all the way to his helm at the mike. The live experience this album produces for the die-hard or even moderate PJ fan is almost as good as the real thing.