Album Reviews

Pearl Jam – Live At Benaroya Hall

(BMG) UK release date: 26 July 2004

Pearl Jam - Live At Benaroya Hall Aside from the fact that my father-in-law turned down the volume while I was busy in the kitchen, on the strength of this release I might have concluded that Pearl Jam had lost all their appeal. Not, obviously, to the audience at this live benefit performance in home town Seattle, whose mindless adulatory hooplahing sounds like the Republican National Convention – though I suppose this is in a sense appropriate for grunge.

Grunge was the voice of delinquent youth, and it was spawned largely in Seattle, a kind of frontier of affluent America, the jumping-off point of the contiguous States, a second-division city with premier aspirations, and not far from the brutal excesses of not wholly tamed Nature. Rawness was attractive to grungers. Grunge can be subversive and witty, brash and loud, and it is supremely self-indulgent. It says, “You brought me into the world. Now deal with it!” It is indecorous for grungers to advance in years, to abandon eternal adolescence; the shared experience of precisely this ageing process may help to explain the nearly perfect interplay of Pearl Jam and their audience at Seattle’s normally staid Benaroya concert hall.

For aficionados of the authentic Pearl Jam idiom of the early ’90s, there is little of interest – only three songs figure from their first three albums 10, Vs, and Vitalogy. The first half of CD1 is given over to some very lacklustre stuff, drawn chiefly from the “easy listening” (for fans growing older?) Binaural of 2000. Only with Immortality (from Vitalogy), with its persistent references to the past (Crosby, Stills and Nash, among others) but distinctive signature, is one’s appetite whetted for more. And the next two tracks, from the definitive 1996 album No Code – Off He Goes and Around The Bend – translate the promise of remembered pleasure into reality. CD1 concludes with a manic performance of Lukin.

On CD2 also, in Black, the only track from Pearl Jam’s first album 10, Eddie Vedder is at his spoiled, simpering best – and it’s a plaintive song, finished off with an affecting guitar solo by Mike McCready – unfortunately cut short here by more ee-awing from the irritatingly enthusiastic audience. Also from the early ’90s, Pearl Jam’s rendition of Victoria Williams‘ Crazy Mary has hitherto been available on the Sweet Relief Williams benefit compilation of various artists’ work.

At the time of the concert it must have been satisfying to hear some new works, but most of these have subsequently appeared on the double album Lost Dogs – a collection of B-sides, outtakes and rarities – in studio recordings that are mixed better and lack the ever intrusive contributions of the audience. The concert included the first live performance of Pearl Jam’s Golden Globe nominated song Man of the Hour, written for the film Big Fish, but available as a single now for some time. The Ramones‘ I Believe In Miracles and Johnny Cash‘s 25 Minutes To Go are examples of misjudgement in the selection of material to re-work. Their take on Bob Dylan‘s Masters Of War is more successful, highly-charged and personal, deliberately rough when on first hearing one might have thought it merely sloppy. It is strikingly close to the early ’90s Pearl Jam sound – witness the track that follows, Black.

So, “Nothing’s changed but the surrounding bulls**t” (Off He Goes). There are a few good reasons to invest in this double album, but only a few.

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