Album Reviews

Pearl Jam – Live On Ten Legs

(Island) UK release date: 17 January 2011

Pearl Jam - Live On Ten Legs

Two decades into their career, Pearl Jam have managed to outlast their “grunge” peers, never once showing signs of stopping for breath. Though the musical movement they helped spark has long since become a punch line or a dog-eared footnote in the history of Generation X, Eddie Vedder and company have survived it, cementing themselves as mainstays of rock ‘n’ roll.

So, Live On Ten Legs – the new live album that documents the band’s relentless touring from 2003’s Riot Act to the Backspacer tour they just wrapped up – does not read like a stale greatest-hits package. Instead, it weighs Pearl Jam’s new material right alongside the classics. And, in PJ’s favour, the new stuff stacks up remarkably well, blending seamlessly with older tracks from Ten or Vitalogy.

Pearl Jam completely changed the bootlegging game, recording every show since 2000’s Binaural tour and making it available to fans, first as CDs in stores, then as mail-order only discs, and finally as MP3 downloads from their website. Their entire live output is available through legitimate channels if you’re fan enough to seek it out; so how can an official live-album release stack up to the huge amounts of organic, long-form material around it?

The answer is simple: For those not willing to dig through hours of live recordings to find the best versions (for instance, at a 2006 show in Paris, the band played every song at breakneck speed in response to the riotous crowd), Live On Ten Legs does the work for you. Compiled here are 18 essential tracks from the past seven years of a band who never rest.

Throughout the album, Vedder sounds invigourated and manically shiftless. He addresses the crowds shyly, toasting “cheers, cheers,” before introducing Nothing As It Seems, or muttering, “This is the song I thought you’d do a sing-along on,” before In Hiding. Vedder is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most enigmatic front men, coming off as reluctant in the spotlight, and drinking bottle after bottle of red on stage, but performing with the aggression of a caged animal.

Mike McCready’s solos (most notably, and not surprisingly, those on Alive and Yellow Ledbetter) push things over the edge to exhilarating effect whilst Stone Gossard remains one of the finest rhythm guitarists in the business. And Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament lock in like old pros, like they’ve been doing this forever. As Live On Ten Legs documents, Pearl Jam approach every performance with the utmost seriousness, wringing everything they have into inciting the crowd.

The transition from the acoustic recent single, Just Breathe, to the heavier fan favourite, Jeremy, is an interesting one. While the new material fits in fine, the band’s back catalogue seems especially revitalised in concert; you can almost see Vedder lifting the microphone to the sky as the audience finishes the line, “he seemed a harmless little fuck”. Spin The Black Circle sounds more angular and punk-rock than ever; Porch starts with a Vedder-only creepiness absent in the 20-year-old recording on Ten. There are even a couple of cover tunes here: the album opens with Joe Strummer‘s Arms Aloft, and the band writhe through a dirty rendition of Public Image Ltd‘s Public Image.

Live On Ten Legs is devoid of the band’s big radio singles for the most part; there’s no Better Man, no Even Flow, no cover of Last Kiss, no Daughter. And maybe that’s better. Despite their huge success, Pearl Jam have developed a cult-like following over the years, and a large portion of their diehard fan base has probably already heard enough live recordings to know basically what to expect. Still, Live On Ten Legs captures 18 brilliant moments in the history of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most consistent bands.

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