Pearl Jam – Vs./Vitalogy: Deluxe Edition

January 01, 1970

(Epic/Legacy)

www.legacyrecordings.com

 

“This is a song about people who don’t have
taste but they like us anyway,” flippantly proclaimed Eddie Vedder, to a
capacity crowd of nearly 3,000 adoring fans at Boston’s Orpheum Theater on April 12, 1994, before
kicking into “Not For You”, perhaps the greatest song ever written
about fly-by-night fans.

 

It was a pivotal moment of the last show of a
three-night stand at the Orpheum, the live recording of which has been hotly
sought-after by Pearl Jam fans for nearly two decades and now made available as
the bonus disc of Vs./Vitalogy: Deluxe
Edition
(Epic/Legacy), an outstanding
three-disc box set chronicling what are arguably the three most important years
in the history of the band.  Vedder’s
tone that evening was a reflection of the tail end of a long, weary emotional
marathon race for credibility – Pearl Jam having been swept up in a whirlwind
of hope, hype and hypocrisy following the massive success of debut album Ten, released in the fall of 1991 just
as the atom bomb of grunge was beginning to see its commercial potential billow
in a mushroom cloud of mainstream success.

 

Pearl Jam formed in 1990 from the ashes of Mother
Love Bone (who had superseded Alice In Chains as the genre-busting living
bridge between the budding Seattle music scene and the hair metal movement it
helped to melt into a pool of Aquanet residue), and with Ten their crossover appeal was immediately apparent, especially
within the ranks of the Bon Jovi set who couldn’t quite get down with the likes
of Tad and The Melvins. Back-to-back-to-back radio and MTV hits “Alive”,
“Evenflow” and “Jeremy” quickly pushed their viability as grunge’s
official pop idols through the roof.

 

However, Pearl Jam was out to prove they were
nobody’s fleeting substitute for the Bulletboys or Trixter, and when they
returned in 1993 with their second album, they turned a completely blind eye
and deaf ear to the trappings of the very fame that brought them to the top of
the music industry mountain at the tail end of the Bush Sr. regime. Firstly, they
refused to make any videos for the LP originally entitled Five Against One but renamed Vs.,
both titles indicative of the confrontational attitude they harbored. And then
you have the artwork featured on the album cover, which was the total
antithesis of the hi-fiving optimism of Ten:
two varying black-and-white portraits of a fenced-in sheep, which bassist Jeff
Ament has been quoted as saying was highly symbolic as to how they were feeling
at the time, “like slaves.”

 

As for the music, while much of the material on Vs. did adopt a similar tone to that of Ten, their sound took on a more AOR
feel, indicative of the masterful production skills of Brendan O’Brien as well
as the prolific company they were keeping, opening up for Keith Richards and
his X-Pensive Winos and jamming with Neil Young on the MTV Video Music Awards.
(Pearl Jam was also fond of covering Young in concert, along with The Who.) Plus,
the subject matter changed, as the band began getting more political with their
lyrics, musing on the traumas of child abuse (“Daughter”), the perils
of seeking political refuge (“Dissident”), agoraphobia (“Elderly
Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town”), racism (“W.M.A.”),
and quite possibly the most spot-on dis towards studio gangstas this side of
Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Part II” (“Glorified G”). Vs. also contains some of the group’s
hardest rocking songs, namely the one-two opening combination of “Go”
and “Animal”, the uncompromising screamadelica of “Blood”
and the chugging “Rearviewmirror”, to this day a pinnacle of the PJ
live experience. Yet ultimately the record wanders quietly off into the sunset
through the meditative, moody pulchritude of album closer “Indifference”.

 

The expanded edition of Vs. included in this collection contains three bonus tracks: an
acoustic version of the beloved studio outtake “Hold On”; a previously
unreleased instrumental showcase for the underrated skills of lead guitarist
Mike McCready, “Cready Stomp”; and the band’s version of Victoria
Williams’ “Crazy Mary” (with Williams herself on guitar and backing
vocals), also released on the 1993 benefit album Sweet Relief, created in
tribute to the Multiple Sclerosis-stricken singer-songwriter.

 

***

 

If Vs. was the sound of Pearl Jam rejecting
the trappings of fame, 1994’s Vitalogy,
meanwhile, was an exercise in the denunciation of any preconceived notions of
their band as a predictable creative entity; here, they unabashedly chose art over
commerce. Written and recorded intermittently during the group’s massive,
Ticketmaster-defying world tour, and once again with O’Brien at the controls, this
crucial album carries a loose, experimental feel rife with the tension and
turmoil reflected backstage at the time, evident in the unceremonious firing of
their third and best drummer, Dave Abbruzzese, shortly after they put the LP to
bed. But with or without the drama, Vitalogy remains to this day, quite arguably, PJ’s fussy, fearless masterpiece.

 

Elaborately
packaged as a facsimile of an old medical book from the 1920s, it was an even
further step away from the commercial appeal of Ten, making Vs. seem
positively
mainstream by comparison. While the group’s penchant for penning hard
driving guitar rock was as ubiquitous as ever on the likes of the
punk-soaked
ode to vinyl addiction “Spin The Black Circle”, the aforementioned
“Not for You” and “Corduroy” (a longtime fan favorite that
deals with the trappings of becoming a public spectacle), the more
daring cuts
were what really set this particular record apart from the rest of the
PJ
catalog, not to mention the growing number of clones – Stone Temple
Pilots,
Candlebox, etc. –  who were glomming onto
the band’s sound at the time, giving the band all the more reason to
rage against the machine, so to speak. There was the Tom Waits-esque
spoken word
freak-out “Bugs”; the King Crimson-echoing “Tremor Christ”;
and of course, the lengthy Dadaist sound collage “Hey Foxymophandlemama,
That’s Me”, which incorporated looped vocals of actual inpatients at an
undisclosed psychiatric ward.  But
strangely enough, amidst the madness rests one of Pearl Jam’s most
accessible
tunes in “Betterman”, a song about domestic violence loosely based on
Vedder’s observations of his mother’s relationship with his stepfather. To this day, there isn’t anything in
the Pearl Jam canon that comes remotely close to the originality and immediacy
of this challenging flash of grizzled greatness. The expanded edition of Vitalogy also features a trio of bonus
cuts: an alternate guitar-and-organ version of the single “Betterman”;
a previously unreleased take on “Corduroy”; and the demo of
“Nothingman,” taken from the original DAT tape.

 

***

 

Which now
leads us back to the top of this diatribe, and to Disc 3, that monumental live
album from the Orpheum in Boston.
For a tour as heavily bootlegged as Pearl Jam’s tour of 1993-1995, there were
certainly a lot of potential choices for which show to include in this box. You
had the November 30, 1993 show at the Aladdin Theatre in Las
Vegas that saw a reunion set of bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist
Stone Gossard’s first band and Seattle demigods Green River. Another candidate was the killer radio
broadcast of the April 3, 1994 show at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA, parts of
which were released overseas as B-sides to the multi-part “Dissident”
single. And what Pearl Jam fan could forget the January 8, 1995 studio
performance, part of the group’s “Self-Pollution Radio” show that also featured
sets from Soundgarden and the short-lived Seattle supergroup Mad Season. (That
is available, in fact, as a cassette included with the Limited Edition
Collector’s Box Set of the Vs./Vitalogy reissues,
but it would have made a worthy addition to the deluxe edition at hand as a
fourth component.)

 

Yet the
final verdict for inclusion came down in favor of this mythologized April 12,
1994 show at the Orpheum, a gig that holds a historical place in the hearts of
PJ fans the world over. The reason is partly due to its mind-blowing set list,
which was drawn up specifically by members of the band’s crew. It contains such
anomalies as the deep Ten nugget
“Oceans” serving as show opener, a visceral run through Neil Young
and Crazy Horse’s “Fuckin’ Up” and a super-rare onstage rendition of funky
“Even Flow” B-side “Dirty Frank”. The April 12 date is also
significant for the fact that just four days earlier, the body of Kurt Cobain
had been found at the Nirvana frontman’s Seattle
home. This evening Pearl Jam unveiled a ballad from the as-yet-unreleased Vitalogy titled “Immortality”,
performed with markedly different lyrics and powered by such raw emotion as to
add fuel to the theory that the song was written by Vedder in direct response
to Cobain’s suicide, a tragic event weighing heavily on the singer during those
last two weeks on the road in support of Vs.,
in spite of the fact that the two were always pegged as rivals on the Seattle
rock scene.

 

Yet in
lieu of the grim specter of death that hung above the alternative nation’s head
at the time of this concert, it didn’t stop Pearl Jam from paying homage to the
living all the same, particularly longtime Jet City allies Mudhoney, whose
presence factors significantly during the show. In addition to frontman Mark
Arm coming out onstage to perform Pearl Jam’s fiery cover of the Dead Boys’
“Sonic Reducer”, Vedder also sings part of “Suck You Dry”
(a Mudhoney single from 1993’s Piece of
Cake
) during the extended interlude of “Daughter”. Elsewhere, he gives
props to fellow alterna-icons Jane’s Addiction towards the end of
“Rats” by quoting “Pigs In Zen” and “Idiots Rule”.
“Aw, you’ve got taste,” Vedder says to the audience, after quizzing them about
their knowledge of such underground ‘90s bands as Zeke and The Frogs. “Never
would’ve known that meeting you at a Pearl Jam show.”

 

The Vs./Vitalogy era was a crucial one in
the history of Pearl Jam precisely because of the poetic turning point it
represents. The musicians made a very conscious and very public decision to
follow their own path to rock stardom, choosing their own destiny on how to
collectively captain their own ship and barring any undue influence from the corporate
music-industrial complex – be it Ticketmaster, FM radio or even their own
record company.

 

This pair
of bonafide modern rock milestones and the tour that came between them stood –
still stands – for a time when the line was drawn in the sand like so much magic
marker on Eddie Vedder’s arm, when Pearl Jam was intent on following the career
trajectory of such heroes as Neil Young and Pete Townshend and not the whims of their SoundScan numbers
and flannel shirt sales at Macy’s. They were stating, very pointedly,
“Fuck you, this is not for you!” And had Kurt Cobain taken the same
sociopolitical stance in the face of a voraciously fickle public instead of
usurping his fears, fright and frustration through the plunger of the needle
and the damage done, he might still be with us today.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Animal”,
“Glorified G”, “Rearviewmirror”, “Indifference”,
“Spin The Black Circle”, “Not For You”,
“Corduroy”, “Immortality”, “Oceans (live)”,
“Sonic Reducer (live)”, “Fuckin’ Up (live)”, “Dirty
Frank (live)” RON HART

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