Pearl Jam, ‘PJ20′ – Album Review
Released in celebration of Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary, Cameron Crowe's documentary 'PJ20' tracks the evolution of the grunge survivors from their early 'MTV Buzz Bin' days to their current status as one of the most beloved and hardest-working bands in rock.
So it's no surprised that the soundtrack, featuring live tracks and rare cuts, tosses in everything from booming arena rockers to new songs that showcase the band's penchant for Neil Young-esque jams. Who knew in 1992 that Pearl Jam would someday grow up to play classic rock?
Featuring liner notes by Crowe and rare photos, the 2-disc 'PJ20' soundtrack will be catnip to Pearl Jam complete-ists. No mere best of, the 29 tracks included favor rare demos and blistering live performances culled from various points in the band's career.
The hits that are included come in rare forms, like the performance of 'Alive' from the band's third ever show in Seattle way back in 1990. Hearing a young Eddie Vedder tackle the famous chorus from that track amid fuzzy guitars is a real treat for fans and a perfect time capsule of the bygone grunge rock era.
Guitarist Mike McCready gets his due in a series of solo tracks, including a tight acoustic instrumental take on the band's Led Zeppelin-esque single 'Given to Fly.' (The 1991 Vedder/McCready demo 'Acoustic 1' is a lovely back-and-forth between the singer and guitarist that shows that the pair were simpatico from the start.) Meanwhile, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament are spotlighted on demos for 'Nothing As it Seems' (featuring Ament on lead vocal) and 'Need to Know.'
But as hardcore fans know, the live tracks are where Pearl Jam really shines. While various live Pearl Jam albums have been previously released through official and unofficial channels, you'd be hard-pressed to find a set covering such a wide range of shows and time periods. A moving version of 'Black' from Pearl Jam's 1992 'MTV Unplugged' appearance pairs well with a blistering, almost punk rock take on 'Blood' from a 1995 show in New Zealand.
Vedder's political side is showcased on the anti-corporate screed 'Not for You' from a 1995 show in Milan and a 2003 version of 'Bu$hleaguer.' There's even a holiday track in the form of a live version of 'Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)' from the B-sides collection 'Lost Dogs.' And, of course, Neil Young shows up to duet on a cover of 'Walk With Me' of his recent 'Le Noise' album. (What, you thought he'd sit this one out?)
The most moving moments on the soundtrack come from opposite ends of the band's long history. A live version of the Mother Love Bone track 'Crown of Thorns' (reviewed here) from Pearl Jam's 10th anniversary show nods to the group's origins (Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard started out with Mother Love Bone) and pays tribute to late MLB frontman Andrew Wood. (Another tribute comes in the form of a demo for the Chris Cornell-penned 'Say Hello 2 Heaven,' a track featured on the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden collaboration Temple of the Dog.)
Flash forward to 2010, and a live version of 'Better Man' performed at Madison Square Garden. As soon as Vedder begins the first verse, the audience immediately chimes in for a mass singalong. It's moments like these that, whether you're a diehard or a casual fan, make it hard to deny the impact that Pearl Jam has had on rock throughout their twenty years as a band.