Saturday, 4 January 2014

Pearl Jam - Best Live Shows

Like I said a while back, everything you could ever want of live Pearl Jam is easily available on the net. The downside to that is wading through it all and trying to figure out where to start and where to go after that. To help out I've produced this list of my favourite Pearl Jam shows and links to where you can get them. Since they've been around for a while there are some differences between 'eras' so I've tried to cover them all.

Rotterdam '93 (the Ten era)

I've previously mentioned the wonderful JWB Soundboard Remasters series, which features remastered versions of 14 great pre-2000 shows (all of the other pre-2000 shows link to these remasters since they sound better than the versions I orginally discovered). For some reason the band had a love affair with the Netherlands in the Ten era, invariably playing great shows there, and often professing their love for the country and desire to relocate there. By the time the band returned for their second run of European shows they had added some new songs to the setlist that would go on to appear on Vs., and replaced the Beatles' I've Got a Feeling (official version on the Japanese version of Ten) with covers like Fuckin' Up and Sonic Reducer that continue to feature today. Of course, if you'd rather hear the part of the tour, the Soundboard Remasters has five of those shows too.

Atlanta '94 (the Vs/Vitalogy era)

This is probably my all time favourite Pearl Jam show. It probably helps that I first got a copy of this way back in the mid-90s. The show is on the Vs tour, but the band play three songs that would end up on Vitalogy (Whipping, Betterman and Satan's Bed). For hardcore fans the highlight of this show is an ultra rare complete performance of WMA, sometimes things like this provide a good demonstration of why the song is a rarity, but in this case the performance is fantastic. The remainder of the set are songs that still feature regularly on setlists now, but the performances are all phenomenal and the audio quality is perfect. If you only want to download one Pearl Jam show, this is the one I'd recommend.

Berlin '96 (the No Code era)

Waaaaay back in the day I used to go to a record store in the nearest big town which was about the only place it was possible to get bootlegs (this was before downloading from the internet). It was always a bit hit and miss, but that probably made it more exciting when I got hold of really great recordings. And this one was fantastic. No Code might not be everyone's favourite Pearl Jam record, but it stands out to me as a time when they experimented a bit and, generally, it worked. As always this set mixes in some older stuff. Now, when every show is officially released, the setlist probably doesn't look as interesting. But back when it was hard to find shows that hit the sweet spot of fantastic sound quality (this was broadcast on German radio) and amazing performance, this was a widely lauded show.

Melbourne '98 (the Yield era)

Another show I owned as an actual bootleg, this was broadcast over the radio (my version still has some of the radio commentary, but I think the version linked to has it removed), so it is pretty widely bootlegged.

Seattle '00 (the Binaural era)

This was the final show of the Binaural tour, the first one where the band released official bootlegs for every show. The audio quality of the shows from the European leg isn't great, but by the US leg they had largely sorted it out. This show was also noteworthy because it was the first time the band played such a long show that they were forced to release it on three CDs. The set itself is solid, and features some songs that were relatively rare at the time, but are more commonly played now (or it might just be that any time they get played we have access to a soundboard quality recording).

Boston/Mansfield '03 (the Riot Act era)

For mine, this is the worst Pearl Jam era. But just like Neil Young in 1986/87, there's something interesting about seeing how a band copes when they are doing things tough, and in Pearl Jam's case, it wasn't even that bad, just an album that wasn't very good. This was the third show in the Boston area and the band had promised to try to play every song in their catalogue over the course of the shows. To help out in that regard, this show (the final one in the three show run) features an acoustic set prior to Sleater Kinney's opening set. On top of this, the band plays a normal length main set, meaning this is another very long show. There are plenty of rarities (although, like all the shows it was played at, Arc is not part of the official bootleg).

Gems & Rhinestones (Australia '09 tour compilation - the Backspacer era)

I've only listened to the Backspacer tour shows I went to, so while I'm sure there are some great ones out there, I'm not in a position to recommend one. Instead, I'd recommend starting off with the Gems & Rhinestones compilation, which culls the best material from the Australia/NZ tour to form a set designed to sound something like a normal show. This tends to go more for rarity value than quality in a couple of cases, but in the main this is a really great way to hear what the Backspacer era sounded like.

If you're wondering why there isn't anything from the Riot Act tour, it's because I mainly listen to the Gorge boxset. Finally, for anyone who just wants the previous Australian shows, they're all available at Rearviewmirror (who also have compilations covering the Australian Riot Act tour and the Australian Pearl Jam tour) and We Got Shit.

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