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Pearl Jam Live on Ten Legs Review

Live. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Huge crowds, quality performances and emotionally charged selections.

Greg Moffitt 2011

Given that alternative rock giants Pearl Jam have released hundreds of concert recordings in their official bootleg series, this live compilation seems a fairly unimaginative way to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary. Hardcore fans can, of course, simply ignore it, but they’re exactly the people who might’ve hoped for something more. As an introduction to Pearl Jam’s on-stage prowess, however, this is a tidy effort.

The spiritual successor, and something of a companion piece, to 1998’s Live on Two Legs, Live on Ten Legs was recorded around the globe between 2003 and 2010, offering 18 freshly remixed and re-mastered tracks spanning the band’s entire career. Eschewing the greatest hits package formula, the emphasis and omission in the song selection tells its own story: five Ten-era tunes, four from their most recent outing Backspacer, nothing from the unpopular No Code and a track or two from the rest. All of which indicates that even if they tacitly – perhaps subconsciously – now acknowledge that their 1991 debut Ten remains their best album, this is a band moving forward in the firm belief that their greatest work may still lie ahead of them.

Kicking off with a rousing cover of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros’ Arms Aloft, Live on Ten Legs achieves an odd coherence given its cut-and-paste nature. It’s easy to forget the fact that some of these recordings are separated by seven years, and by the time Jeremy rolls around three quarters of the way through, the atmosphere of a single, emotionally-charged event has just about been established. The crowds are uniformly huge – no intimate one-on-one exchanges here – and although the most rapturous responses are reserved for Ten’s heartfelt vignettes, the band injects every performance with a unique fervour. This is unlikely ever to be regarded as a great live album, but it’s about as slick a stitched-together affair as you’ll hear.

Pearl Jam took a lot of flak in the early days. Despite their enormous success – some would say because of it – sections of the media lambasted their lack of grunge credentials. Seattle scene contemporaries such as Nirvana, Mudhoney and Alice in Chains certainly exuded an air of danger, which Pearl Jam just didn’t share. But that’s probably why they survived where so many others did not, and in Live on Ten Legs we have another quiet celebration of what this band has always been about: music.

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