By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Here's how I see it, and it took me a couple of discs to figure it out: This isn't about beating the bootleggers, no matter how Eddie and Epic will try to pawn that off as their mission statement. If anything, it's a tribute to bootlegs, right down to the "Trademark of Quality" logo (an old boot staple) that appears on the inner sleeve of all 25 discs. But it's not really that, either.
It hit me during the second disc of show No. 13, recorded in Katowice, Poland. These 25 discs are simply -- and not so subtly, the more you listen to them -- a gift from the band to the band, a sloppy, smelly celebration of Pearl Jam and how cool it is to be a member of Pearl Jam and getting to hang out with other people that are also members of Pearl Jam.
This is about Eddie Vedder performing in front of audiences -- such as the one in Katowice -- that treats every mundane between-song story he manages to stumble and mumble through as though it's a cross between one of Aesop's fables and the Bible. Michael Jackson has South America; Pearl Jam has Europe.
Seriously, you think they'd actually try to pull this 25-disc shit in America, where people just wanna hear "Jeremy" and "that old '50s song" (you may know it as "Last Kiss"), relive their frat-boy glories from the early '90s for a moment? No freakin' way. The Europeans greet every song -- even the ones off No Code, ferchrissakes -- with wide-open arms. Even the most dedicated American PJ fan couldn't fight the urge to grab a beer during "Red Mosquito."
Have you ever noticed -- and probably not -- that "Sometimes" sounds like something from a musical? Like something Barbra Streisand ought to be performing?
I just skipped ahead to the Hamburg, Germany show -- No. 23, if you're keeping track, and the set believed to be the best of the bunch. And, well, it is, getting "Even Flow" outta the way early, skipping "Jeremy" and "Alive" altogether, and sticking to the songs they sound like they actually care about playing. Which, for the most part, seem to be other people's songs: Disc 2 has Victoria Williams' "Crazy Mary" (making its only appearance on tour), Arthur Alexander's "Soldier of Love," and finally, the Who's "Baba O'Riley."
Of course, if they hadn't actually covered a Who song after flirting with the idea for more than two days' worth of music, it'd be like watching Boogie Nights and not seeing Dirk display the Diggler.
"Speaking as a child of the mind." I think that's what Eddie just said, and I've no idea what it means -- doubt he does, but it, like, sounds good. Christ, I've spent the last 36 hours or so absorbed in Pearl Jam, and I still have no idea why: What makes this band so special to warrant such behavior on their part (or, for that matter, ours)? The discs reveal an arrogance previously only hinted at (cf. the band's refusal to make videos). The performances range from excellent to piss-poor; the covers are interesting at best (the La's) and obvious at worst (the Who, Neil Young -- as though attaching these names to their own will elevate their oft-mundane brand of arena-rock); and the banter in between is so pat and rehearsed (how many times can Eddie mention he surfs, and how tedious does it become when he keeps referring to the band members as pieces of machinery?). Every now and then, I do find myself falling in love with a song I've never before paid attention to ("Grievance" off the 6/4/00 Manchester disc sweats out of the stereo, and I've even found a version of "Given to Fly" I can endorse without crossing my fingers), and last night, I must admit I stopped reading to listen to that same Manchester show in its entirety; that night sounds kinda magical, or maybe that was the pot talking. For the first time during this whole process, I hear now why you like "Corduroy" -- it's five songs in one, a little beautiful and a little brutal. It's Pearl Jam in miniature.
Having spent so much time with this band in the past two days, I've switched my opinion a dozen times: I've been angered, amused, dazzled, disinterested, tuned out, turned on, bewitched, bothered and bewildered. And, yeah, bored. Songs I love on one disc I can't stand on another; songs I hate on one disc I crave on another (for some reason, I love to hear "Jeremy" on every OTHER disc). For years, I've been bothered by PJ, perhaps because way back when, I chose sides: Kurt vs. Eddie, and all that. I recall seeing the band at small club a decade ago, when PJ played in front of dozens on a weekday night. I remember thinking even then, "They belong in an arena," and I didn't mean it in a nice way; they were bombastic, ham-fisted, heavy-handed . . . and boring, classic-rock radio come to life and done to death. A few years later, I saw the band at an arena on a college campus and was even more conflicted: Theirs was not a crowd I wanted to be associated with. Theirs was alternative rock for the homogenous audience; they didn't play music, but instead fit a format. What's astonishing about PJ now is how little they've actually evolved since then. These live discs resurrect a memory I have of those two early shows -- Eddie's mumbled-grumbled asides, the power that gives way to pomp, the guitars that fill an arena but leave me feeling a little empty inside. For one moment, I truly loved Pearl Jam:Vs. sounded like revenge. Everything since then has seemed, for whatever reason, less important: I've moved on, moved backwards (even now, I anxiously await my Amazon.com order with a CD of Simon and Garfunkel'sBookends, which I've never upgraded from my mom's vinyl), moved forward (which reminds me: Gimme some of dat new Fatboy Slim when it gets here, willya?).