Pearl Jam, who are easily among the most grizzled bands to have braved the grunge and post-grunge years, spent a good chunk of 2010 touring on the back of their ninth LP, Backspacer. The quintet decided to ring in their 21st year together as a band with their seventh official live release. Rather than just playing like an exercise in longevity, though, Live on Ten Legs makes for a good overview of the band’s venerable career. Spanning 18 tracks, Live on Ten Legs compiles the best of the band’s live performances from 2003’s Riot Act Tour to the Backspacer Tour that Pearl Jam just wrapped up in late 2010. It’s curious to hear how seamlessly the live tracks segue from one into the next, considering that some were recorded almost seven years apart.
The songs themselves are varied, with eight of their nine albums being represented, along with a handful of B-sides and covers. An energetic cover of “Arms Aloft” by Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros kicks things off on a high note before a passable take of “World Wide Suicide” off of Pearl Jam’s 2006 self-titled LP.
Things get pretty awesome from there as Eddie Vedder and Co. string together three fan favorites: “Animal”, “Got Some”, and “State of Love and Trust”. Despite being sandwiched in between two of their finest tracks, Backspacer‘s “Got Some” hardly sounds out of place. “Animal”, on the other hand, is certainly one of the best cuts on Live on Ten Legs. The rhythm section of Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament chug along as mightily as ever, while Vedder occasionally pauses to allow the fervent fans shout the chorus.
Only three songs off of Pearl Jam’s diamond-certified Ten appear on the live LP, and even then, they’re saved for the tail end of the album. But when the instantly recognizable bassline and guitar harmonics of “Jeremy” finally ring out, the crowd erupts. After indulging themselves with a rowdy cover of PiL’s “Public Image”, the band rip through classics “Spin the Black Circle”, “Porch”, and “Alive” with surprising fervor. Guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are clearly just as on top of their game as they were two decades ago as they lay down searing riff after searing riff. And when things finally draw to an end, it’s with a stirring five-and-a-half minute rendition of fan favorite “Yellow Ledbetter”.
Live on Ten Legs steers clear of greatest-hits territory with good reason. If Pearl Jam has made anything clear, it’s that they have no intention of slowing down anytime. While many of their fellow grunge-mates shuffle members, plot reunion/nostalgia tours, and generally struggle to remain relevant, Pearl Jam has consistently stuck around, churning out new material around every three or four years.
Due to the almost total lack of their big singles, this LP won’t win Pearl Jam too many new fans. Nonetheless, many of the songs stand up very well to their studio-recorded counterparts, and there’s enough here to please both casual and hardcore devotees of the alt-rock gods. Equal parts wistful throwback and raucous romp, Live on Ten Legs is a fun and lively ride through Pearl Jam’s catalog.