One year and one day after the release of Ten I saw Pearl Jam for the first time at Lollapalooza on Harriet Island in St. Paul, MN. The 1992 Lollapalooza lineup featured bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, Ice T & Body Count, Luscious Jackson, and L7. It's hard to imagine half of those bands were performing on the second stage. Pearl Jam was the second band to take the main stage after Lush. The performance was unforgettable. Stage dives and scaffolding climbs were an every day occurrence for Eddie Vedder and this concert was no exception. An example of Eddie's craziness can be seen in the video below during the Lollapalooza stop at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin the very next day. Bands that took the stage after Pearl Jam only fell short of the energetic PJ show. Headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who'd recently replaced guitarist John Frusciante with Arik Marshall, couldn't match Pearl Jam's performance. Since my first Pearl Jam concert in 1992 I've seen them play several times including the PJ20 twentieth anniversary weekend at Alpine Valley and the unforgettable show at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL July 19, 2013.
The First Three Albums and a Lightning Bolt
Pearl Jam's debut release Ten has sold over 13 million copies since it's release in 1991. It was the album launched the band and helped launch the Grunge era. The track Alive features one of the most memorable guitar openings in recent music history. Alive was played on radio stations from Alternative to Adult Contemporary to bubble gum Pop. Even though Pop stations cut the 5:40 track short by excluding the guitar solo, Alive was still a hit with nearly everyone. It was impossible to get the hook, "Oh I, oh, I'm still alive, Hey, I, oh, I'm still alive, Hey I, oh, I'm still alive" out of one's head. The track Jeremy garnered the most attention from the mainstream media because of the lyrical content (the MTV VMA award winning video didn't hurt either). What media outlet could ignore a true story about a child committing suicide in front of a classroom? I'm willing to bet most non-Pearl Jam fans who liked the song had no idea what the song was about when singing along in the car to, "Jeremy spoke in, Jeremy spoke in, Jeremy spoke in class today." My favorite PJ track of all time is Black. In September 1992 the band refused Sony CEO Tommy Mottola's insistence that the song be released as a single. Black crossed even more boundaries than previous singles even though it was never officially released as a single. Radio stations around the world took it upon themselves to play the track anyway. Black is a Pearl Jam favorite for dedicated fan club members and casual listeners alike.
Ten was reissued March 24, 2009. The reissue included a remastered version of the original album and a remix called Ten Redux. Both the remaster and the remix have less dynamic range than the original CD release, but feature some sonic qualities not heard on the original release.
Tracks to check out: Evenflow, Alive, Black, Jeremy, Porch, Release
HDtracks 24 bit / 88.2 remastered download (unaffiliated) Link
Pearl Jam's sophomore release titled Vs. was the fastest selling album in history as it sold 950,378 copies in its first week of release. This was more than all the other top ten Billboard records combined. This record stood until a controversial combination of a new counting method and Garth Brooks album release coincidentally took place on the same week (Link ). Needless to say I was at Cheapo Records in Minnetonka, MN at midnight October 19, 1993 to purchase the new album. Back then it was impossible to hear a leaked version of any album before the Internet was popular. In addition, I didn't have a turntable that would have enabled me to purchase and listen to the Vs. vinyl edition released one week prior to the CD release. I listened to Vs. the night of its release until I fell asleep with my Discman still spinning on repeat. This album became the soundtrack to my Senior year in high school. The first two tracks, Go and Animal, feature the band's instruments much further in front of Eddie's vocals compared to the previous release Ten. These two tracks absolutely rock. The third track Daughter features a great combination of acoustic guitar, vocals, and great cymbal work at the beginning. The audiophile in me always listens closer around 23 seconds into the track when a cymbal can be heard in the right channel rather than the center mix between channels. It's just a neat little detail that I'm sure most people couldn't care less about, but it's one that I've enjoyed for years. Another interesting item can be heard at the end of Rearviewmirror. This track features very enjoyable drum work and finishes with a flurry sure enough to cause carpal tunnel. At the very end of the track, roughly 4:33, one can hear drums sticks hit a hard surfaced wall. According to author Kim Neely's book Five Against One drummer Dave Abbruzzese threw his sticks because Producer Brendan O'Brien has put too much pressure on his during this track. In addition to throwing his sticks Dave punched a hole in his snare drum and threw it off the side of a cliff. The album was recorded at The Site in Marin County, CA. Based on the location of the studio and topography of the land I can easily visualize the snare flying through the air and landing in the thick vegetation (old school video ). A much softer track is Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town. This track brings back a flood of memories. I can't count the times my friends and I would sing along with this song at parties after graduation and sing along with a friend playing his acoustic guitar. It's a great track regardless of its sentimental value to me. It was covered by Charlotte Martin on her album Reproductions (Link ). The closing track on the original Vs. release was called Indifference. It's a wonderfully spooky track that can put the listener in anther world when listening with the lights off. Eddie's baritone vocal is stunning on this track. Listener can also hear the snare drum vibrating when Jeff Ament's bass hits the deepest notes. It's a raw track that never gets tiring.
March 29, 2011 Pearl Jam reissued both the Vs. album and the Vitalogy album. Like the Ten remaster Vs. has less dynamic range than the original CD release, but features some sonic qualities not heard on the original CD. More important is the inclusion of Pearl Jam's cover of Victoria Williams' Crazy Mary. This track is the last song on the reissue / remastered version available at HDtrack in 24 bit / 96 kHz high resolution. Victoria's backing vocals and acoustic guitar can be heard on the track.
Tracks to check out: Go, Animal, Daughter, Reviewmirror, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Indifference, Crazy Mary
HDtracks 24 bit / 96 remastered download (unaffiliated) Link
Released on CD December 6, 1994, two weeks after its release on vinyl, Vitalogy became the second fastest selling album in history by with 877,000 discs sold in the first week. At that time Pearl Jam had the number one and two positions for fastest selling albums ever. As a Freshman in college Votalogy's darker tone fit perfectly with the greater stresses college created, as opposed to high school. The long cold Minnesota winter in which the album was released was apropos as well. The entire album, with the exception of Better Man, is pretty dark. Recorded during a dark time in Pearl Jam's history likely had a major effect on the record. The opening track Last Exit kicks into gear with a stellar drum beat followed by an equally great guitar riff. It's a great track to turn up and enjoy 2:54 of rock and roll. The band created an ode to vinyl with the track Spin The Black Circle. Pearl Jam received its only Grammy award ever for this track winning the Best Hard Rock Performance category. Two undeniably awesome songs from Vitalogy are Corduroy and Better Man. In fact these two tracks rank among my favorites from any of Pearl Jam's ten releases. The slow guitar build up in Corduroy followed by the main guitar riff that explodes into the rest of the track is enough to energize music lover. Similarly, Better Man begins with a slow intro followed by a little guitar, vocal, and keyboard. Upon first listen one could be fooled into thinking Better Man is a ballad. However, at 1:55 a slow drum build up occurs followed by the guitar and the track takes off. It's catchy chorus and guitar riff have propelled Better Man to one of Pearl Jam's most famous tracks. It's hard to believe Eddie Vedder wrote the track in high school and the band refused to put in on the Vs. album because it was too "accessible". Better Man has become one of the neatest racks to hear live because of the crowd's participation. At the Target Center in Minneapolis on June 30, 1998 the band started playing Better Man to a sold out crowd. Eddie Vedder started singing the first verse and let the crowd take over. In a comical concert moment the crowd launched into what everyone thought were the right lyrics. Eddie stopped playing and said, "That's good but see that's the second verse." "Gotcha." It's a concert moment I'll never forget (Link ).
March 29, 2011 the Vitalogy remaster was released with the Vs. remaster. Like the Ten and Vs. remasters Vitalogy less dynamic range than the original CD release, but features some sonic qualities not heard on the original CD. The bonus tracks on the Vitalogy remaster will likely please Pearl Jam fans but may not interest casual listeners. I like the bonus version of Better Man with guitar and organ only and the alternate take of Corduroy, but others may pass over these for the official versions.
Tracks to check out: Last Exit, Spin The Black Circle, Not For You, Nothingman, Corduroy, Better Man, Immortality
HDtracks 24 bit / 96 remastered download (unaffiliated) Link
October 15, 2013 Pearl Jam released its newest album Lightning Bolt. The first two singles couldn't be further apart musically. Mind Your Manners is as close to Punk as PJ has come over the years. I had to listen more than a few times to like this track. Now I can't live without it. Sirens was the second single released. It has a Pop sound to it that many less-than-diehard PJ fans really like. It's a good song nonetheless. I really like opening tracks Getaway, Swallowed Whole, Sleeping By Myself, and Future Days. The track Sleeping By Myself is a PJ cover from the mellow Eddie Vedder solo project Ukulele Songs while Getaway leads into Mind Your Manners beautifully with its slight Pop / Punk mix. I heard a few of these tracks at the Wrigley Field show over the Summer but at the time I was lukewarm about them as they were too new. Based on my first ten times through Lightning Bolt it's better than the last few PJ albums. The album has been out for two days so I've yet to crate any lasting memories with the next soundtrack of my life.
Tracks to check out: Getaway, Mind Your Manners, Sirens, Swallowed Whole, Sleeping By Myself (PJ), Sleeping By Myself (EV), Future Days
The album is available in vinyl and its downloadable directly from Pearl jam in MP3, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV. All files are 16 bit / 44.1 kHz (unaffiliated) Link .
As soon as I saw the first three Pearl Jam albums released in high resolution on HDtracks I knew I had to write an article. There was just no way I could write about other releases such as the entire early Van Halen catalog in high resolution and skip this monumental PJ occasion. My love for Pearl Jam's music is something I try to spread whenever I can. Considering the band's huge popularity in the 1990's and continued success today I'm always surprised when CA readers haven't heard a single track by the band. I hope this article introduces Pearl Jam to readers who missed the band back in the day and reintroduces the band to those whose interest in PJ's music may have diminished over the years.
In addition to Pearl Jam's music I highly recommend the Cameron Crowe Directed documentary Pearl Jam Twenty.