Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hail, Hail: Pearl Jam returns

Pity all of you who missed Pearl Jam's live webcast from David Letterman's set.

The band is clearly revitalized, and if you missed the performance -- which could have easily been mistaken for a recording from their initial heyday -- it's obvious from their new self-titled record.

As usual, Pearl Jam start off the album with an ass-kicker, the raucous "Life Wasted," which works much better than their previous two studio openers. And Vedder almost alludes to the more introspective, less-accessible time he spent on those two (Binaural and Riot Act), "I have faced it... a life wasted... And I'm never going back there again."

"World Wide Suicide," the album's first single, is second on the playlist, and is just as punchy and lyrically present. Vedder laments the loss of life in Iraq: "Medals on a wooden mantle; next to a handsome face; that the president took for granted; writing checks that others pay."

The song culminates in a vocal buildup worthy of 1993's Vs.

Pearl Jam stays strong and reminiscent of the band's early years through "Marker in the Sand," which stays uptempo and keeps with the societally-relevant lyrics: "Now you got both sides... claiming killing in God's name... but God is nowhere... to be found, conveniently."

The pace slows up considerably with "Parachutes," an almost folksy return to roots in John Lennon. But unlike other slower Pearl Jam tracks, "Parachutes" is less depressing than wistful, and it's a beautiful break from the raw energy of the album's opening five tracks.

Bringing in Pearl Jam's "third act" is "Wasted Reprise," which with it's opening blast of church organ almost spooked me out of my chair. In an penitent but powerful tone, Vedder re-emphasizes the point he made in his opening number: "I have faced it. A life wasted. I am never going back again."

Strong and poignant from start to finish, Pearl Jam takes a brief break in relevance with "Big Wave," in which Vedder explains that his love of surfing was determined by evolution.

Perhaps coincidentally, protest albums happen to be something of a hot-button topic in the news, and after hearing Tucker Carlson whine about Neil Young's latest anti-Bush disc, it's great to hear a musician who can protest while simultaneously making a heartfelt appeal to humanity -- which, on his best days, has always been Eddie Vedder's forte.

To those who have "missed" the "old" Pearl Jam, come forth and be converted. Pearl Jam is both a step forward and a triumphant return to roots. Hail, hail.


Postscript: It occured to me after I posted this that I hardly said a word about the band's live webcast. It was incredible. They opened the set with "World Wide Suicide," played through a few tracks off the new album, then moved into No Code's "Present Tense," one of the greatest Pearl Jam songs you've never heard.

After that, it was a trip through memory lane, puncuated by a vital performance of "Do the Evolution," which featured a clever twist of lyrics -- "I am a thief, I am a liar, I am the president that sings in the choir." Next up was "Why Go," and an electrifying finale with "Porch."

If you missed it, and you're a Pearl Jam fan, go cry yourself to sleep, right now.

UPDATE: So, you were a jackass and missed the live webcast? Well, Dave and Company are going to run an encore. Check it out by clicking HERE.

UPDATE 2 (Because I am a Pearl Jam geek):

Some insights into the new record:

ANOTHER UPDATE: Via the Ten Club, I found another video presentation of the new Pearl Jam record -- The AOL Sessions. Great video quality, and the set includes two great, obscure B-sides: "Hard to Imagine," a Ten B-side, and "Sad," a B-side from Binaural that's as good or better than the all songs that actually made the cut. Check it out.