Shut Up, Jeremy!

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

This is about Eddie Vedder's performing in front of audiences--such as the one in Katowice--that treats every mundane between-song story he manages to stumble and mumble through as though it's a cross between one of Aesop's fables and the Bible. Michael Jackson has South America; Pearl Jam has Europe.

Seriously, you think they'd actually try to pull this 25-disc shit in America, where people just wanna hear "Jeremy" and "that old '50s song" (you may know it as "Last Kiss"), relive their frat-boy glories from the early '90s for a moment? No freakin' way. The Europeans greet every song--even the ones off No Code, ferchrissakes--with wide open arms. Even the most dedicated American PJ fan couldn't fight the urge to grab a beer during "Red Mosquito."

Have you ever noticed--and probably not--that "Sometimes" sounds like something from a musical? Like something Barbra Streisand ought to be performing?

I just skipped ahead to the Hamburg, Germany show--No. 23, if you're keeping track, and the set believed to be the best of the bunch. And, well, it is, getting "Even Flow" outta the way early, skipping "Jeremy" and "Alive" altogether, and sticking to the songs they sound like they actually care about playing. Which, for the most part, seems to be other people's songs: Disc 2 has Victoria Williams' "Crazy Mary" (making its only appearance on tour), Arthur Alexander's "Soldier of Love," and finally, The Who's "Baba O'Riley."

Of course, if they hadn't actually covered a Who song after flirting with the idea for more than two days worth of music, it'd be like watching Boogie Nights and not seeing Dirk display the Diggler.

"Speaking as a child of the mind." I think that's what Eddie just said, and I've no idea what it means--doubt he does, but it, like, sounds good. Christ, I've spent the last 36 hours or so absorbed in Pearl Jam, and I have no idea why: What makes this band so special to warrant such behavior on their part (or, for that matter, ours)? The discs reveal an arrogance previously only hinted at (i.e. the band's refusal to make videos). The performances range from excellent to piss-poor; the covers are interesting at best (the La's) and obvious at worst (The Who, Neil Young--as though attaching these names to their own will elevate their oft-mundane brand of arena-rock); and the banter in between is so pat and rehearsed (how many times can Eddie mention he surfs, and how tedious does it become when he keeps referring to the band members as pieces of machinery?). Every now and then, I do find myself falling in love with a song I've never before paid attention to ("Grievance" off the 6/4/00 Manchester disc sweats out of the stereo, and I've even found a version of "Given to Fly" I can endorse without crossing my fingers), and last night, I must admit that I stopped reading to listen to that same Manchester show in its entirety; that night sounds kinda magical, or maybe that was the pot talking. For the first time during this whole process, I hear why you like "Corduroy"--it's five songs in one, a little beautiful and a little brutal. It's Pearl Jam in miniature.

Having spent so much time with this band in the past two days, I've switched my opinion a dozen times: I've been angered, amused, dazzled, disinterested, tuned out, turned on, bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. And, yeah, bored. Songs I love on one disc I can't stand on another; songs I hate on one disc I crave on another (for some reason, I love to hear "Jeremy" on every OTHER disc). For years, I've been bothered by PJ, perhaps because way back when, I chose sides: Kurt vs. Eddie, and all that. I recall seeing the band at Trees a decade ago, when PJ played in front of dozens on a weekday night. I remember thinking even then, "They belong in an arena," and I didn't mean it in a nice way; they were bombastic, ham-fisted, heavy-handed...and boring. Classic-rock radio come to life and done to death. A few years later, I saw the band at Moody Coliseum on the SMU campus and was even more conflicted: Theirs was not a crowd with whom I wanted to be associated. Theirs was alternative rock for the homogenous audience; they didn't play music, but instead fit a format. What's astonishing about PJ is how little they've actually evolved since then. These live discs resurrect a memory I have of those two early shows--Eddie's mumbled-grumbled asides, the power that gives way to pomp, the guitars that fill an arena but leave me feeling a little empty inside. For one moment, I truly loved Pearl Jam:Vs. sounded like revenge. Everything since then has seemed, for whatever reason, less important: I've moved on, moved backward (I anxiously await my Amazon.com order with a CD of Simon and Garfunkel'sBookends, which I've never upgraded from my mom's vinyl), moved forward (which reminds me: Gimme some of dat new Fatboy Slim when it gets here, willya?).

Fact is, I love music too much to spend another second with these discs (I've made it through nine in their entirety, two by skipping around, and two more with the sound pretty much turned all the way down). I don't wanna hate a band that doesn't deserve to be so loathed (save it for Creed), and I don't want to waste another moment of my life listening to "Alive" and "Black"--songs I hated long before I heard them 13 times each in two days (and that's just listening to The Edge). Hell, I have a 17-disc Beatles bootlegged boxed set waiting for me. What have I done?

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