Do you remember the first time you heard the song “Alive”? That opening guitar riff that defined a decade and an entire musical movement? How many times did you play that first album, that may just be the very best of the decade? And if you can remember back to 1990 when the band Pearl Jam hit the music world like an atom bomb, did you really think that you or they would be here now…20 years later?
From day one, Eddie, Stone, Mike, Jeff and Matt (the only non-original member) have been blazing their own path. They created music in their own way; they took on causes like Ticketmaster and the issue of bootleg recordings and gave it all back to their fans. Where other bands faltered and flamed out, Pearl Jam kept going, driven by a rabid fan base that still hangs on every note, every riff, and every lyric today.
Twenty is a two disc compilation that gives even the most knowledgeable fan a view into this band not seen before. The first disc, which is the soundtrack for the documentary of the same name made by Cameron Crowe, is thirteen live tracks that encompass two decades of work. Some of the tracks will blow you away, either because of the power and emotion brought through in them or because of the significance of them.
The opening track “Release,” is from the well-documented string of great shows in Italy in 2006. There is a version of “Alive” from the band’s second show ever in Seattle in 1990. Let me repeat this…their SECOND SHOW EVER!!! While the quality of the recording has some issues, there is very little audio going back to the beginning that gives you an idea of the foundation of the band.
The version of “Black” from the MTV Unplugged taping in 1992 just proves once again why Eddie Vedder is an absolute rock star. This is one of two tracks on the first disc that will have goose bumps running up your spine. The second one is the track that closes the disc, “Just Breathe” from Saturday Night Live in March, 2010. Both tracks show a raw, vulnerable side of Vedder that gets overshadowed when he is stage diving and ripping the roof off of arenas with the heavier songs in the band’s catalog.
The other highlights of the first disc are the MotherLoveBone song “Crown of Thorns” from their 10th Anniversary show and a track with Neil Young from the Bridge School Benefit in 2010. However, there are some head scratchers. Given the vast number of live shows and the availability of these different tracks, several of these songs included are confusing, as the version quality isn’t as good as you would expect or the sound quality is lacking.
The second disc, entitled “Rarities & Inspiration,” offers rare demos that will make the diehard Pearl Jam fan giggle like a school girl. The opening track is a demo of the Temple of the Dog hit “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” There is some beautiful acoustic work by Mike McCready and some rehearsal room fun as the band pays homage to Alice in Chains via Abe Vigoda. We go back to Italy ’06 for an amazing version of “Indifference” and the disc ends with the power combination of “Better Man” and “Rearviewmirror.”
Even for the fan that has hundreds of live shows and rare recordings that have circulated over the years, this is a must-have. The small hiccups throughout the two discs are vastly overshadowed by two decades of brilliance and a glimpse inside the band. A new Pearl Jam fan would be better served to start at the beginning and build up to this. You must crawl before you can run young grasshopper. Go back to the beginning. You will surely not be disappointed and will have years of enjoyment to explore.
Written by Victor Alfieri