Why and Where to Listen to Pearl Jam’s New Live on Ten Legs
Listening to Pearl Jam’s Live on Ten Legs, you’d never know that its 18 songs were plucked from performances in multiple countries during a seven-year span. Some of that is thanks to the ears and tech wizardry of engineers John Burton and Bret Eliason, yes. But the real reason LO10L’s 77 minutes, recorded on numerous unspecified nights between 2003 and 2010, sound like one concert—albeit a brief one, by Pearl Jam’s marathon standards—is that the band is as energized now as it was two decades ago. All that’s changed since PJ played its first show in 1990 are its members’ experiences and motivations—political, familial, and presumably spiritual.
The new live record, a complement to the band’s 1998 live release, Live on Two Legs, highlights those evolving driving forces by including songs from Pearl Jam’s 1991 aggressive, dark-edged debut, Ten—massive hits “Jeremy” and “Alive;” “Porch”—and its latest record, the mostly chin-up but reflective Backspacer (“Got Some,” “The Fixer,” “Just Breathe,” “Unthought Known”). Mixed in are telling sonic markers in the road between: “Animal” and “Spin the Black Circle” (raw, punk-influenced declarations), “I Am Mine” and “Nothing as It Seems” (skeptical, learned resolve), “Rearviewmirror” (distanced perspective), and “World Wide Suicide” (Bush-era anger and despair), among them.
Each song is given a little breathing room; a languid Mike McCready lead riff, a dancing, driving Stone Gossard chord, or a tapering jackrabbit bass rhythm courtesy of Jeff Ament, jamming being as much a Pearl Jam trademark as calculated philanthropy. Sure, these tracks were likely hand-picked by the band for their nailed-it notes, Matt Cameron kit work, and Eddie Vedder vocals, but it’s an honest, accurate document of the way they’ve done it since day one. There’s a reason LO10L captures audiences taking over Vedder’s chorus in the beautiful “In Hiding” and searing “Animal”: that’s what happens every night on the road.
Over the years, Pearl Jam has added accomplished covers to its repertoire, almost making songs like “Sonic Reducer” and “Last Kiss” its own. But the two covers here are as surprising as they are well-done: A peppy “Arms Aloft” (Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros) opens the record while “Public Image” (Public Image Ltd) comes about when you’d expect an encore opener in this assembled set. Unless you’re a bootleg maniac or a subscriber to the band’s satellite radio channel, it might be the first time you hear either.
Closing the record, as is tradition at a Pearl Jam concert, is the simultaneously majestic and somber (and lyrically mysterious) sing-along “Yellow Ledbetter,” during which McCready steals your heart with his fingertips. If you’ve heard twenty performances of the song, you know it’s always a little different; this version is unique, too.
Following an intense, jam-filled performance of “Porch” late in the record, Vedder breathlessly tells a roaring crowd, “We’re still here. We ain’t goin’ yet.” Pearl Jam still has much music to create and share, and they unarguably love to do both. That enthusiasm is clearly heard on Live on Ten Legs, a satisfying glance back—for devoted and casual fans alike—at the band confidently marching toward its third decade.
Pearl Jam’s official Live on Ten Legs release party takes place at West Seattle’s rockin’, cocktail-perfectin’ Feedback Lounge tonight at 9pm. Folks from Easy Street Records and the band’s own Ten Club will be on hand with the new record (on CD and amazing-sounding vinyl) and other PJ goodies. Could West Seattle resident Vedder or one of the other guys show up? Says Feedback co-owner Jeff Gilbert: “Wish we could say, but even we don’t know who might turn up.”
Gilbert could tell me how easily the event came about: “Since we’re good friends with band and their incredible staff, it was a couple of phone calls to lock it up.” And how one of Feedback’s signature drinks, perhaps not ironically my favorite on their ever-changing menu, got its name: “Earl Jam is a drink made by [co-owner] Matt Johnson, in tribute of my late grandfather, Earl. Grandpa was big fan of Pearl Jam.” He may have enjoyed walnut-infused bourbon, too.
Expect to hear Pearl Jam all night, see the band’s live DVDs on Feedback’s flat screens, and drool over PJ memorabilia on display in the lounge’s museum-style Rok Box.