Review Summary: Pearl Jam produces its first live album with a fantastic setlist, but sometimes favoring a professional manner over the energy of their earlier years.
The year was 1998 and grunge was more or less dead, buried and rotting. Kurt Cobain was long dead, Alice In Chains had fallen apart due to Layne's drug addictions and isolation, and Soundgarden was no more. Pearl Jam remained but they were not willing to bear the torch of the "alternative" or "grunge" music scene and therefore, quickly moved out of the spotlight around the Vitalogy
era. However, over the 7 years or so, they produced 3 excellent records and 2 great ones, continuing to experiment and search for new musical directions.
Still, imagine you're a teen in 1998 and grand tales of Pearl Jam's live performances have reached you. Around you, boy bands are emerging faster than white blood cells can react, generic post-grunge and lyrically-challenged nu-metal swamp the airwaves from the depths of a lesser sexy Mordor. Luckily, Pearl Jam heard the cries of the teenage angst and were happy to give their fans an album of live material, a concept almost nonexistent in the 90s. Perhaps Eddie was impacted by The Who's Live at Leeds
and McCready, Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same
(minus the movie).
What follows is a great setlist, incorporating live performances from a variety of shows on the Yield
tour and showing off songs from all five albums. They open in the best way possible, with a slow build-up to "Corduroy." Eddie's singing may start off nasal, as if he's trying to summon Neil Young, but it all comes around in the end and McCready lets his guitar go wild. It's truly a 1-2-3 punch with the criminally overlooked "Given To Fly" and "Hail, Hail" following. This attack is followed by some softer Vs
material, "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman...," which for the latter, Eddie drones, "This is the longest title in the Pearl Jam catalogue." "Daughter" becomes a surprisingly dull jamming session, with Eddie throwing in lyrics from "W.M.A" and Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin' In The Free World." Okay, Pearl Jam, why must you tease us so? Either be more adventurous with your jamming, instead of bumbling along, or just give us the full version of those two songs. McCready's occasional wailing guitar is the only thing that keeps the song lively enough.
"MFC," a hidden gem, brings forth the melody and a surprisingly head-banging chorus, a song Eddie would later talk about as when he fell in love with a car in Italy. Most of the album finds it energy in the newer gems, such as the country-style of "Red Mosquito," the fantastic "Off He Goes" and the raspy-and-almost-dance-y "Do the Evolution." It's utterly surprising how "Nothingman," "Better Man," and even "Even Flow" can feel, dare I say, dull. There is a lack of energy that they had in their early years, pushing professionalism and tightness over spontaniety and energy. It may be due to members getting into their thirties. Perhaps it's Eddie's lack of interaction with his audience besides "Here's the next song." May I also suggest, the slumming Matt Cameron puts on drums. Matt Cameron is not, in any way, a bad drummer, as anyone could see through his work with Soundgarden, especially the jaw-dropping "Jesus Christ Pose." Pearl Jam has had its share of drummers, each bringing their own style. Matt Cameron, who joined Pearl Jam for this tour, brings enough to the table on Yield
and No Code
material on Two Legs
but its plain-Joe stuff when it comes to playing material from their first three albums. Dave Abbruzzee brought a hard-hitting and cymbal-sprinkling style to Vs
and Jack Irons brought a funk and tribal drumming for his part. Matt Cameron, however, seems to just hold back and keep things tight-knit, which is fine, but it gives little to show what Pearl Jam is truly made of, which the 2000 bootlegs would eventually show.
They end the show (or at least, the album, since it's a mix of shows), with a cover of their hero Neil Young's "***in' Up." Funny enough, Eddie manages to *** up the first verse. Irony? Intention? No matter, the song allows McCready to let his guitar skills impress and awe, and we're shown an early taste of how Pearl Jam can make a cover even better than the original.
All in all, this is a good album to show off the band's musical ability and one incredible song list. The band would gain more spontaniety with the 2000 world tour and would have a refreshing spark of energy come their self-titled album in 2006. Until then, here's Live On Two Legs
. And that's not too bad.