Music Review: Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer”

Originally posted 2009-09-21 22:41:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

This most recent Pearl Jam release is aptly titled; in many ways, Backspacer is closer in focus and energy to Ten than any of their more recent efforts.

Most reviews have wasted little time in pointing out that this album holds the band’s record for brevity — 37 minutes from the first guitar strum to the final vocal fade.  This can, of course, be interpreted in one of two ways, the worst case scenario being that the album was hurriedly prepared and produced.

This could not be further from the truth.

Backspacer is a strong, purposeful album comprised of eleven very upbeat, very direct tracks that leave little room for the listener to catch his breath over the record’s half hour span.  For the most part, these tight, three minute tracks are energizing and satisfying, catchier and cooler than anything Eddie Vedder and company have turned out in a long time.

This is, of course, a mixed bag.  After all, short, to-the-point pop rock is fun when done properly — which, by the way, it certainly is here.  Still, the electric soundscapes of 2000’s Binaural and the distortion-drenched protest of 2002’s Riot Act were excellent installments in the Pearl Jam catalog, even if their respective values have been minimized by critics who seemed more concerned with comparing them to early releases like Ten and Vs.

It should be noted that 2006’s Pearl Jam lacked cohesiveness as an album, although several songs on that release are among the best of their career (“World Wide Suicide” or “Marker in the Sand,” anyone?).  This eponymous release is an album of wild energy and abandon, which works particularly well in the first half of the track listing.  That being said, Vedder rips his vocal chords to shreds in his effort to sing without holding any emotion or effort in reserve.  This works well in some places, and yet crackles to pieces in others.

Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" (2009)

On Backspacer, Vedder has somehow been able to amp up his emotions and energy, and yet his vocals stand out as some of the best of any Pearl Jam recording to date.  Some songs, like the opener “Gonna See My Friend,” harken back to the roughly shouted vocals of Pearl Jam.  Most, however, feature Vedder at his best.

The opening track is also notable for a strumming pattern that is evocative of some mid-1950s Chuck Berry-esque riffing — with a decidedly grunge rock twist to it, of course.  “Gonna See My Friend” is a catchy track but certainly does not stand out among the other excellent album starters of their career.

From the first millisecond of “Got Some,” there is suddenly evidence that this might be an excellent album.  Jeff Ament’s collaboration with Vedder is a nice addition to the other outstanding Ament contributions — think: “God’s Dice,” “Ghost,” and “Low Light;”  if you’re really kind, forget “Pilate.”  The best part of “Got Some” is that, by the time it has finished, you haven’t even heard the single yet.

“The Fixer” comes next, a tour-de-force taken on very convincingly by Vedder.  I have vacillated about three or four times a day since I picked up the album on Sunday, and I’m still not certain whether I like “Got Some” or “The Fixer” better.  I suppose I’ll just have to keep listening…

As the album continues, there are other rockers performed at breakneck speed (“Johnny Guitar,” “Supersonic”), as well as considerably slower, more instrospective numbers (“Just Breathe,” “The End”).  These latter tracks were clearly influenced by Vedder’s recent solo project, writing and recording the soundtrack for the Sean Penn film Into the Wild.  The fingerpicking patterns that open these songs are reminiscent of his solo tracks, yet these songs clearly show the progress Vedder has made in such a short time, particularly in terms of structure.

For once, I am forced to agree with Rolling Stone‘s assessment of this album.  Their four star rating is a simple means of stating that Backspacer is an excellent album, but not a masterpiece.  From track 6 to “The End,” the album takes some repeated listening to really be appreciated.  At first, I felt that some of these tracks were too tight and traditional to ever truly stand out.  As I’ve listened, more and more of these songs have stood out, like the soaring “Amongst the Waves” and the excellent “Speed of Sound” (listen to Vedder’s vocals in the first few lines as he momentarily invokes Leonard Cohen).

Backspacer may not be the next Ten, but it is silly to even entertain that desire.  (If you read music reviews in the major magazines, you wouldn’t know it though!)  What this release does offer is an energetic, cohesive Pearl Jam album — and that, for me, has always been more than enough.

Pearl Jam Set List – May 15, 2010 – Live at the XL Center, Hartford, CT

Originally posted 2010-05-16 00:44:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE for the complete concert review!

By Chris Moore:

PHENOMENAL show.  The link to the full review is above — enjoy!

Pearl Jam Set List: Saturday, 5/15/2010

1. Unthought Known
2. Corduroy
3. Do the Evolution
4. Got Some
5. Severed Hand
6. Dissident
7. Low Light
8. Amongst the Waves
9. Even Flow
10. Nothingman
11. Johnny Guitar
12. I Got Id
13. Jeremy
14. Daughter
15. Satan’s Bed
16. Lukin’
17. Gonna See My Friend

18. Just Breathe
19. Speed of Sound
20. State of Love Trust
21. Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love
22. Porch

23. The Fixer
24. Crazy Mary
25. Alive
26. Indifference
27. All Along the Watchtower

“Thin Air” by Pearl Jam – Chords, Tabs, and How to Play

Originally posted 2009-02-28 20:57:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Thin Air”
Pearl Jam

Intro: E

E                                          C                  E
There’s a light… when my baby’s in my arms;
There’s a light… when the window shades are drawn.
Hesitate… when I feel I may do harm to her…
[Wash it off…] ’cause this feeling we can share.

E       C                                      D – A             E
And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

Byzantine… is reflected in our pond;
There’s a cloud… but the water remains calm.
Reaching in… the sun’s fingers clutch the dawn to pass;
Even out… it’s a precious thing to bear…

And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

E   F             C              G
It’s not in my past to presume…
G             D                            A
Love can keep on moving, in both directions.
F               C               G
How to be happy and true…
G       D                           A
Is the quest we’re taking on together…

E
Taking on… on, on, on…
Taking on… on, on, on on, on.

There’s a light… when my baby’s in my arms…

And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

E        C                                               A – E
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart…

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **

A Weekend Review Special Edition – Pearl Jam Live in Concert: Sat., May 15, 2010 at the XL Center

Originally posted 2010-05-16 13:50:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE to view the set list!

By Chris Moore:

It is far too easy to sit down the day after a concert experience and glorify the memory of the past night.

What follows is, to the best of my ability, devoid of exaggeration.

Band of Horses opened the night with a solid forty-five minute set.  I enjoyed listening to their songs; it was all Band-style rock and vocals, if a little less rough-shod than Robertson, Helm, and company would have preferred.  Ben Bridwell and his band sufficiently caught my interest for their new album, Infinite Arms, which will be released this coming Tuesday.

This all being acknowledged, they are no Pearl Jam.

The majority of ticket-holders apparently agreed, as more than three quarters of the seats went unfilled until about ten minutes before the headliners came onstage.  By the time Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder took the stage, nearly every seat in the house was filled, including the majority of seats to the side of and behind the stage.

And when a band can fill seats with people willing to stare at their backs for most of the concert, that’s saying something.

Even from my vantage point at Vedder’s nine o’clock high up in the second to last row of the XL (nee Civic) Center in Hartford, CT, the show was a phenomenal experience, although it didn’t begin that way.  For some reason, the sound was softer and muddier than it should have been for the first several songs.

I had a nightmarish vision of having to listen to thousands of half-drunken Pearl Jam fans sing the hits while one of the greatest rock bands of all time labored away below me, in my vision but outside my hearing.  For the first four songs or so, this fear was realized as I had to struggle to hear Vedder’s baritone amidst shouting fans who clearly knew the words every bit as well as he did — and wanted to lend their vocals.  Even McCready and Gossard’s guitar work was buried, only Ament’s bass and Cameron’s stellar drumming standing out clearly the entire evening.  In between songs, Vedder sounded like he was speaking into a drive-thru speaker in a foreign language.

Then, like someone flipped a switch, Vedder’s voice suddenly came through loud and clear and the instruments all fell into place into the mix.  From this point on, the concert was pure energy and utter perfection.

This was a concert to compete with the best concert experiences of my lifetime (and admittedly limited experience).  There was all the instrumental prowess of Bob Dylan’s band with an ability to translate studio tracks to live performances that rivals — and perhaps surpasses — that of bands like America and Wilco.  The set list was among the most well-balanced I’ve seen, up there with Brian Wilson’s recent concerts which regularly and beautifully draw from throughout his storied career.  My only complaint concerning the set list — and I am most certainly going to be alone on this one — is its dismissal of Binaural (2000) and Riot Act (2002), which boast some of my favorite tracks in their catalog.

In the course of more than two hours of pure rock fury, the band played the first seven tracks of last year’s Backspacer, folding these new songs into their repetoire like they’ve been playing them for a decade.  I’m at a loss to name just one that stood out — I think “Got Some” first because I love it, but “The Fixer” was heart-pounding, catchy madness, and by the time “Johnny Guitar” rolled out, it was like Vedder and company had been unleashed.  In the first encore, they played a breath-taking version of the ninth track, “Speed of Sound,” noting that they hadn’t really played it before, at least not to their liking.  Gossard’s acoustic work was just right, and I can honestly assert that this was better than the album version.

This is not to say that the veteran Pearl Jam fans went unappeased, as Ten (1991), Vs. (1993), and Vitalogy (1994) were all well-represented.  Hits like “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and “Jeremy” were received as full-audience sing-a-longs, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear my favorite deep track on Ten, “Porch,” in all its angry glory.  “Daughter” and, less predictably, “Dissident” were played, but it wasn’t until their transcendent take on “Indifference” that I was blown away.  This was their second to last performance of the evening, with the lights up and the audience clapping for the entire song.  I’m proud to say I was one of the few that didn’t taper off in the middle, and even though I questioned if I was supposed to stop and my arms were screaming for me to relax, I wouldn’t have for the world.

Although Vitalogy is among my least favorite albums in the Pearl Jam catalog, it certainly has some of the best material they have ever released.  When they kicked off “Corduroy,” the crowd responded with the same sort of energetic approval I’ve rarely seen, the same as when Dylan finally reaches for a harmonica these days.  I was again pleasantly surprised to hear them roll into my favorite Vitalogy deep track, “Satan’s Bed.”  There’s something poignant about the in-your-face defiance of typical American indicators of success and image in this song, heard most clearly in the vocals and instrumental stop on the line “I’ll never suck Satan’s dick.”  Before “Nothingman,” Vedder dedicated the song to a young couple holding hands that he had seen on a street corner before the show, noting how profound that sort of affection is, as though it’s all they need in the world for all their days to come.  He referred to “Nothingman” as a cautionary tale to those who would forgo or forget the importance of love.

Another of my favorites, Yield (1998) alum “Do the Evolution,” was played, but it was admittedly overshadowed by their beautiful delivery of “Low Light,” one of my girlfriend Nicole’s favorites (her night was complete, as she had been hoping for “Johnny Guitar” and this one).

The night all wrapped up with a second encore closing cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” a la Hendrix, a song and an arrangement that Dylan uses often in his own encores to this day.

The music was brilliantly performed, the energy in the filled-to-capacity XL Center was unsurpassed, and even from the nosebleeds, it was clear that this was a concert that I will always remember as one of the best I’ve ever seen.  That I almost considered saving the money and not going to see Pearl Jam is beyond embarrassing; two decades later, they are one of the most impressive live bands going, most likely due the the fact that they are truly a band.  As much as Vedder’s personality and stage presence drives their image, each member of the band contributes to the writing of the songs and has an integral part of their sound.

As if to remind us of the fact that he prefers to share the spotlight, Vedder rode out the instrumental portion of “Porch” by using the reflection from his electric guitar, held above his head, to shine a beacon on each and every portion of the stadium, momentarily blinding each fan with brilliance — a literal gesture, and a fitting metaphor for the evening.