Least to Most: Pearl Jam – “I’m already cut up and half dead”

Ok – I’m halfway through my run down of Pearl Jam’s ten studio albums so this feels like a suitable place to take a knee and have a look at those albums that bear the band’s name but wouldn’t feature in the list: the live and compilation volumes.

For those who have been playing along at home, those studio albums covered thus far:

10. Backspacer
9. Binaural
8. Lightning Bolt
7. Riot Act
6. Pearl Jam

Compilations

Now in terms of ‘Best Of’s and ‘Greatest Hits’ type releases this is going to be a real quick and succinct round up: there’s only one. Rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003) is a two-disc, contractual requirement, set that splits the band’s output into ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ volumes. I’m not too sure what the criteria for each of these is though as I would’ve pegged ‘Given To Fly’ and ‘Breath’ as being every bit as ‘up’ as ‘Corduroy’ but hey ho. As an introduction to Pearl Jam and for a good go-to in the car it’s pretty ideal and, in amongst the more well known songs are a few surprised inclusions while the presence of ‘Man of the Hour’ and ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ make for a solid compilation. It’s perhaps telling though that the vast bulk of this compilation (all but 5 of the 33 ) – . What’s more of note is that in the 15 years since the period this compilation covers there’s been just 3 studio albums  vs the 7 released in the 12 years it covers. Bloody slackers.

Live

Still, while we, as Pearl Jam fans, are in a relatively barren period for new studio material the band has become one the best live acts still regularly hitting the road and manages near-Springsteen length sets of ever-changing set lists. In the nearly three decades that separate their current tour and their first show at Seattle’s Off Ramp on October 22, 1990 their show has evolved from tight, intense performances to marathon like sets that run the gamut of tempos and mood with surprises and deep cuts thrown in among those ‘classic’ songs that were once the only songs they had in their repertoire.

So – does one of the most incredible live acts still in the game have a the appropriate incredible live album? Well, no, not really. Since their decision* to put out ‘Official Bootlegs’ of every show since 2000** there are approximately 18,000 live Pearl Jam albums out there….. not quite but almost. The bootlegs are perhaps the only way to get a real, highs, lows, warts and all document of a Pearl Jam show but unless you want to get lost in among them all there’s no real way to identify what will make one better than the other. For my money you can take you pick from any of the band’s 2006 tour and you’ll be hitting gold – peak performance and sets mixed with then-new material, classics and deep cuts.

However, in terms of the general, non-self released  front there’s still a good choice out there. Live on Two Legs was the band’s first such album and captured them on their 1998 tour in support of Yield – it’s probably the best one out there if you’re looking for a single-disc intro to the band I’d recommend it over the Rearviewmirror greatest hits set: there’s no ‘Alive’ or ‘Jeremy’ but you’ll get ‘Red Mosquito’, ‘Untitled’ and a ripping take on Neil Young’s ‘Fuckin’ Up’.

As part of their PJ20 celebrations, the band tried to recapture the success of their first live disc with another general-release live album – Live On Ten Legs. A little less tightly focused, this one compiles performances from their 2003–2010 world tours and, while the band are still undeniably tight and in charge, there’s a little more of a grab-bag feel to this one. The same could also be said of last year’s Let’s Play Two. Released as a ‘live’ album to coincide with the DVD of the same name, this one feels like a real missed opportunity – the band’s shows at Wrigley Field in 2016 had some really strong setlists but here Danny Clinch (who helmed the DVD) seems to have selected the weaker cuts and has structured it in such a way as to lose any real sense of flow or continuity. Still – there’s a great take on ‘Release’ and any show that opens with ‘Low Light’ gets a thumbs up from me.

Of course, if you want to go the full Live/1975–85  route then Live at the Gorge 05/06 – it’s a seven-disc document of the band’s three shows at the venue in 2005 and 2006. There’s a few repeats, of course, but there’s a lot of solid gold here and plenty of deep cuts.

If you want to get a good feel for Pearl Jam live – it’s got to be Live On Two Legs. However – if you’ve  got a little bit more time then you can’t go wrong with Live at Benaroya Hall. This two-disc set was recorded at the end of 2003 is a predominantly acoustic set (though Mike McCready often forgets that) which captures the band in a beautifully intimate setting and is packed with great takes on the well known, the lesser known and a few then-unreleased takes.

Odds and Sods

Pearl Jam’s b-sides were the stuff of legend. I remember, when I first got into the band, discussing songs like ‘Footsteps’ and ‘Hard to Imagine’ like they were lost gems. The band’s b-sides and rarities compilation Lost Dogs dropped in 2003 contains is a pretty decent collection of these. There’s the older classics already mentioned along with ‘Wash’ and ‘Alone’ along with newer cuts saved from the studio floor like ‘Down’ and ‘Otherside’. Those newer cuts – ‘Fatal’ is highlighted as producer Tchad Blake’s favourite from the Binaural sessions – serve more like the missing pieces that could have turned luke-warm albums into scorchers while some – ‘Sweet Lew’ and ‘Gremmie Out of Control’ – feel like padding and are really only for completists. As much as I give this one a regular spin, there’s a single disc’s worth of pure gold here amongst some ‘meh’.

But I’m omitting one thing. For the best of all of these – live cuts, studio solidity and rare deep stuff, one compilation is worth investment: Pearl Jam Twenty. Essentially a soundtrack to the Cameron Crowe film of the same name, Pearl Jam Twenty is a great listen. Predominantly a collection of live tunes, it combines more recent recordings with a take on ‘Alive’ from a show in 1990 when the band were still called Mookie Blaylock, a scorching ‘Blood’ from ’95 and early demos for tunes like ‘Nothing as it Seems’ and ‘Given to Fly’ to give a really strong, full-picture document of the band as it rounded off it’s second decade in business and remains on heavy rotation.

*An attempt to provide fans with a lower-priced, higher-quality recording of a show compared to the many bootlegs that were doing the rounds may not sound like the most business-savvy idea but they’ve shifted about 4 million of the things since 2000 – which is about 4 million copies shifted than Riot Act,

**Notable exceptions to the rule include the Roskilde Festival in which nine fans lost their lives.

 

8 thoughts on “Least to Most: Pearl Jam – “I’m already cut up and half dead”

  1. How some of those B-sides got left out of some albums is a mystery to me. I guess everyone makes mistakes, and everyone second guesses themselves from time to time (does that happen more or less when you’re balancing the thoughts and ideas of a full band?). The fact is there are certain tunes on Lost Dogs that are among my favorite Pearl Jam tunes of all time, and I’m glad they saw some kind of public release eventually.

    In terms of Pearl Jam live, there are what they refer to as the “Unofficial Bootleg” series that accompany every tour. They’ve done this for several years now, but I forget when it began. So, you could have a couple hundred Pearl Jam live albums in your collection, but that would be quite an investment. I’ve only had the joy of seeing them live once in the fall of ’09 (Backspacer tour), and I got the live album of that show. I love pulling that out every now and then. Brings the memories right to the surface for me. All the little things, Eddie ranting about the Supersonics leaving Seattle, wishing happy birthday to Bruce Springsteen, and that moment when he says “thank you to everyone for coming from up there” and looked right up at my friend and I which caused us to scream like little girls and a Justin Bieber show (“Eddie looked at us!”). My point being, the best Pearl Jam live album is the one from the show you went to.

    • Yeah – the bootlegs are a goldmine but you gotta dig and know where to dig. I’ve got a dozen or so on the iPod and there’s some real gems in there.
      I’ve got the boot of the show I went to -with an Of The Girl opener – but I think I prefer the Italy shows from ’06 in all honesty. Longer sets and a couple more albums to draw on for material.

      Yes: Lost Dogs has some of their best stuff and it makes you wonder what was going on. I think in the liner notes Stone expresses disbelief that Dead Man never made the cut but I think some of the better Riot Act and Binaural material ended up discarded and sits on here instead

  2. Lost Dogs is a nice one to have and probably the only compilation worth having (vs. Rearview Mirror). Pearl Jam Twenty soundtrack is better than the film, by the sounds of it. I really thought that was a wasted opportunity to give fans a bit more than surface level stuff… perhaps the wrong chap at the helm?

    As for the bootlegs, I have the, eh, displeasure of owning the recording of the gig I attended back in 2001. It’s not very good. Lacking anything resembling energy or spark. Still, the Camden 2003 recording (I think) is gold. Absolutely wonderful.

    • Hm. I enjoyed the film, it’s not necessarily a very deep insight but then if it were it would probably have less of a commercial viability – the extended versions offer a bit more though.

      • It was enjoyable enough… perhaps I just wanted a bit more at that particular time. More on the power struggle and how Eddie took control, etc.

        I can’t remember if I had seen an extended version… so I may well have missed stuff.

  3. Neil Young has a song called “Fuckin Up?” BTW, I know you’re going to do a Spotify list at the end. Any chance we’ll get a “Tony’s Top Ten?” Or Top Five?

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