Vs. & Vitalogy
(Deluxe Edition)

Pearl Jam

To celebrate Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary (PJ 20, as it’s known) Legacy has repackaged the band’s second and third albums — Vs. & Vitalogy — remastered with bonus tracks and a third live disc. Following hot on the heels of Live On Ten Legs and proceeding a summer bash and a Cameron Crowe film about the band, this set is a cool reminder that after their grunge-bearing debut, Pearl Jam were just getting started. They would eventually outgrow and transcend the Seattle scene, becoming a world-class act with more than just ten legs.

Following in the footsteps of Ten, Pearl Jam’s sophomore release certainly had its work cut out. No problem as Vs. lived up to its predecessor by dominating the top spot of the Billboard charts for five weeks, selling almost a million copies in its first week alone. The one-two punch of “Go” (with its start-and-stop intro) and “Animal” is Pearl Jam at its grungiest — really hard, head bangin’ rock by any other definition, draped in flannel instead of leather, equally visceral in its assault. But the real beauty of Pearl Jam, at still a relatively early stage in their career, understood the value of craftsmanship and care when it comes to songwriting and chemistry. Despite the band’s resistance to issue videos or singles from Vs., tracks like “Daughter,” “Rearviewmirror” and “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” have a natural, classic ring that landed them on plenty of radio stations. If anything, the general angst, pointed lyrics and indifferent attitude that comprise Vs. prove that that the members of Pearl Jam weren’t about to soften up in the face of their breakout success.

Vitalogy was, perhaps, an easier beam to balance. At the time, the band was on the warpath with Ticketmaster about pricing. The bottom line was that the band wanted to price their tickets for under $20, but the company wasn’t cooperating. Amidst a corporate stand-off, Vitalogy is charged with emotion and packed with more hard hitting riffs. “Last Exit” is the launching point, but “Spin The Black Circle” is a full-on punk rock odyssey. Strap yourself in kiddies, because the ride gets even wilder. “Tremor Christ” and “Whipping” easily push the faders to red. It wasn't all sticks and stones, however. Aside from the headbangers, Pearl Jam stretched out for their third album and exerted some songwriting muscle with hooky fare like “Nothingman,” “Corduroy,” “Better Man” and “Immortality.” They so easily tie the record together that after a while, even frivolous sidebars like “Bugs” and “Hey Foxymophandelmama, That’s Me” exhibit a sort of maturity that validates Pearl Jam’s longevity. It certainly ain’t the stuff of novices.

The bonuses included in the Deluxe Edition nearly outweigh the two albums. The three extra tracks on Vs. are previously unreleased. “Hold On” is a bare acoustic, “Creedy Stomp” whips up a storm, and Eddie Vedder gets help from Victoria Williams, the songwriter herself, on a spirited romp of “Crazy Mary.” On Vitalogy, there are different takes or mixes of “Better Man,” “Corduroy” and “Nothingman.” The third disc is a live performance from April 12, 1994 — a week after Kurt Cobain’s death — at Boston’s Orpheum Theater. Of course, Pearl Jam had by this time established itself as a hot commodity on the concert circuit, despite their ongoing battle with the powers that be. More importantly, they were no longer just another grunge band — they were a mainstream act respected by Neil Young and The Who. This show is representative of every phase of the group’s career, up until the mid 90s. From ‘Even Flow” to “Daughter” to Young’s “F*ckin’ Up,” no riff is left untried, no amount of energy wasted. One afternoon spent listening to these three discs, and it’s more than obvious why 20 years later, Pearl Jam is still a superstar band going strong with no end in sight.

~ Shawn Perry

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