Album Reviews

Pearl Jam "Live on Ten Legs"

Brian Ahnmark
When Pearl Jam announced plans to release the compilation album Live on Ten Legs, the natural reaction was to ask... um... why? Forget the fact that this band already has a platinum live record, 1998's Live on Two Legs, under its belt. In the early 2000s, Pearl Jam released an “official bootleg” series of all of its shows.

As in all of them. As in 72 concerts from 2000-2001 alone, ultimately amassing more than 100 live recordings.

So why, with literally hundreds of live albums to your name, release a compilation?

Well, when you're the greatest live band in the history of rock music, you get to call your own shots.

Live on Ten Legs is the first champagne cork of Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary celebration. Deluxe reissues of Vs. and Vitalogy are on the horizon, as is a top-secret Pearl Jam festival rumored to be hosted somewhere “in the middle of the country.”

No other rock band has ever matched the Pearl Jam live equation: A vast and diverse catalog, an astonishing mastery of said catalog, and an ageless, immortal, frenzied presentation of the aforementioned catalog. It's all contained within these 18 tracks: hits new and old (“The Fixer” and “Alive”), misses (“I Am Mine” and “Unthought Known”), covers (“Arms Aloft” by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, “Public Image” by Public Image Ltd) and dark horses (“In Hiding” and “State of Love and Trust”). And although an 18-song collection only represents a typical Set I of a Pearl Jam concert (the band routinely tears through 30 songs per show), this is a tidy condensed representation of the unpredictable avalanche that is Pearl Jam live.

Recorded over an eight-year span from 2003-2010, it's telling that the liner notes do not include dates or locations of the performances – a fitting testament to the band's vitality, as none of these renditions feel stale or aged. At center stage, as always, is Eddie Vedder's inimitable howl, which has held up improbably well. There are some weak vocal moments, sure. But that's to be expected after 20 years of, you know, singing Pearl Jam songs. And any time Eddie shows signs of strain, such as on “Animal” and “In Hiding,” an army of 20,000-strong rallies to his aid.

While it's impossible to truly capture and replicate the communal experience of a Pearl Jam show, moments such as these at least trigger similar goosebumps.

As always, the band breathes fire. Drummer Matt Cameron, the hyperactive engine, delivers on his penchant for kicking tempos into overdrive; bassist Jeff Ament carves the bedrock, stepping into the spotlight to steer a spirited take on “Jeremy”; Mike McCready is at his most tasteful and controlled, particularly during a tortured interpretation of forgotten single “Nothing As It Seems” and a surprisingly taut “Yellow Ledbetter”; and the invaluable Stone Gossard bulldozes his way through the riffs that defined the soundtrack of a generation.

Live on Ten Legs includes material from eight of Pearl Jam's nine studio albums (inexplicably neglecting the underrated No Code). Pearl Jam lifers are sure to appreciate the inclusion of newer material such as “World Wide Suicide” and “Got Some,” while the band also caters to the tastes of the old-school crowd with a heavy dose of Ten tunes.

Of course, there is no substitute for attending a Pearl Jam concert in person. But it never hurts to have a little love letter like this to tide you over until the band comes back to town.