Shut Up, Jeremy!

Two rock critics tackle all 25 live Pearl Jam albums, and for what? Nothing, man

Holy fuck! They just covered "Timeless Melody" by The La's. Kind of a bar-band version, but still...The La's. You'd think with the records and bands that they love, that they revere, that they do their best to become, that Pearl Jam would be much better. I mean, look at the covers they do: "Fuckin Up" and "Rockin' in the Free World," by Neil Young, "I Got You," by Split Enz, "Baba O'Riley," by The Who, The La's song, Arthur Alexander's "Soldier of Love." Shouldn't their own songs be better? Shouldn't we expect them to be?

Or maybe I'm just confused.

By the way, I just called my pop and apologized to him for wasting my college education.

So far, fave disc is No. 9--no fucking "Even Flow," which by this point I know better than my own last name (OK, I mean the music, since I can't make out half the lyrics, ALL of which sound like, "Eslmn gikihoit sdnoih nk jhikhg nmhi yijs lk ogknk hkkn even flow"). The one thing I've taken out of this experience, aside from an aneurysm and a mild stroke (which occured during the San Sebastian performance of "State of Love and Trust," from theSingles soundtrack), is how brilliant/mundane PJ really is. I always suspected Eddie V. and his backup band wrote two songs (Loud-Fast and Soft-Slow), with an occasional blending of the two ("Given to Fly" comes to mind, perhaps because it, like all PJ songs, is playing on my hi-fi), but this experience has proven it to me, and then some. I mean, I can no longer tell the diff between ANY of the songs off the first record, and from the sound of things on some of these discs, neither can they (how can Eddie V. forget the lyrics to "Even Flow?" Especially since he's been making them up for years?). Give me a full set of "Do the Evolution," "go," "Breakerfall," "animal," "Corduroy," "Whipping," and I'm in--catharsis, without the poor-poor-me pathos.

I wonder, though: Could I take 25 (OK, 13) live four-sided two-fers in a row by a band I love--say, the Replacements or The Who or Costello or Randy Newman or Sly and the Family Stone or AC/DC or the Jam or X? Doubt it. Being a fan doesn't mean you need be obsessive; it means you explore your options, safe and secure in the knowledge that you can return to your favorites when everything else proves, at least for the moment, a little disappointing. At the end of the day, yeah, I might listen to "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" or "Unsatisfied" or "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," but that's only because I spent the whole afternoon trying on a whole bunch of other shit to see if it fit. I want to hear different things every day, not the same thing all day. I have my favorites, but the beauty of rock and roll is that they can be replaced at any moment.

There's something sick and cynical about the release of 25 live albums, which sell for anywhere between $12 (Amazon) to $17 (Borders). They know the diehards are gonna buy every single one; they're Eddie-whipped. And even if they buy three, four, five, PJ rakes in a tidy sum--especially since the discs are packaged like giveaway product, in cheap cardboard. God forbid they weed through the dross (and there's plenty, even if you're a fan) and pick out the best "Fuckin Up" or best "rearviewmirror" instead of subjecting the fans to this greedy game of Russian roulette (God forbid some kid blow his allowance on the Landgraaf disc, with its aggressively shitty version of "Even Flow"). I understand the desire to head off the bootleggers--somewhere in my collection of boots, I even have a double-disc PJ show from 1994, bought for the Who covers (dunno why)--but wouldn't a, oh, triple-disc best-of-Europe collection have done the same thing? Then they could have stuck the dross on a Web site, allowed fans the chance to preview selected cuts, then made the MP3s available for 99 cents a download. Seems more practical--and more fan-friendly, despite the gesture of making these available in bulk. Or how about selling all 25 in a marked-down bargain-priced box, at the very least: You want them all? Give us $150, and you can have all 50 discs. The band makes a nice profit, the fans get the whole set (with, ya know, multiple versions of the same songs), and the bootleggers are stopped dead in the greedy little tracks. Who's greedy now, Eddie?

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.

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