Veteran Seattle rock heroes Pearl Jam have always been fan-friendly, especially when it comes to selling their concerts. Either they do it themselves or allow fan clubs to sell bootlegs of them to the public, whether they were fantastic, sloppy, or somewhere in between.
Looking for a unique way to highlight their 2005-2006 World Tour, Pearl Jam have now decided to officially release a seven-disc long box set of three of the most demanded concerts by their fans, all of which are from the same venue, The Gorge Ampitheatre in George, Washington. Judging by the CD sampler of the box set and the online streaming of the shows, it's easy to understand why the band would want their true fans to have these three epic performances together in one package.
The first three discs feature the September 1, 2005 show at The Gorge. This performance stands out not only because it officially kicked off their 2005-2006 World Tour, but because of the long acoustic set that begins the show. Standouts include the Jeff Ament-penned "Low Light," a slow, folky tune with lovely group vocals, and beloved oldies such as the Victoria Williams cover "Crazy Mary" and "Black," where the audience can be almost as loud as the band as they sing out the lyrics.
The electric set started with a slightly sped up version of "Given To Fly," and all throughout the rest of the show is a mix of old favorites like "Evenflow," "Alive," "Corduroy," and "State of Love and Trust," along with never played tunes like "Undone" and rarely played ones like "Sad." And then comes the three encores, which include a rare performance of Mother Love Bone's "Crown of Thorns," Tom Petty's classic "I Won't Back Down," "Last Kiss," and finally, The Who's "Baba O'Riley," which was done in pure raw, hard rock fashion.
CDs four and five have the July 22, 2006 performance and the last two have the July 23, 2006 show, which was the last one of their American leg of the tour before heading overseas. Both shows are equally amazing, long and exhausting, but what else would you expect from a band with a catalog as big and strong as Pearl Jam? Yes, there are some songs that are repeated from show to show ("Yellow Ledbetter" and "Given to Fly" in particular), but there are exactly 100 songs on this box set, and there's more than enough songs from Pearl Jam's back catalog to make the long-time fans happy (myself included).
The second show (July 22, 2006) starts off with the Ten b-side "Wash," followed by a slew of songs from the old and the new, including "Severed Hand," "Worldwide Suicide," and four more from last year's highly praised Pearl Jam disc. Other memorable performances from this show include a medley of "Daughter" and Dead Moon's "It's OK." The rarity "Dirty Frank," — which hadn't been played since 1994 — is followed by the often covered Neil Young anthem "Rockin' In The Free World" and show closer "Yellow Ledbetter."
Show number three (July 23, 2006) has another Neil Young cover often played over the years, "F*kin' Up," which sounds even heavier than the original, and a Hendrix cover, "Little Wing." Long-time fans will love the inclusion of "Rats," "Jeremy," "Garden" and "Animal" from this show, along with two songs that were made for a medley: "Betterman" and English Beat's "Save It For Later." The band doesn't even have to dramatically change the chords during the transition to the latter, as Eddie seamlessly adds the lyrics of "Save It" to the end of "Betterman."
Pearl Jam can still rock hard and for long periods of time, never showing signs of their age and nearly seventeen years of existence. The band is in peak form here. Their versatility is incomparable, and their energy on stage radiates toward the hometown audience, which seems to be enjoying nearly all seven-and-a-half hours of the three Gorge shows combined.
Finally, as for why these series of shows were chosen in particular for a box set, guitarist Mike McCready said in a recent interview that these were "above par" performances that really highlighted their 2005-2006 World Tour. In addition, McCready said the Gorge Ampitheatre, an outdoor venue, was the most beautiful setting he's ever played at, with the Columbia River as a backrop and a colorful sunset to play in view of. Hence, the gorgeous cover (and the set itself).
Until the DVD set comes out (one can only hope), this CD set will certainly do, and will satisfy anyone who has ever taken interest in Pearl Jam, who once again prove why they were and still are one of the best rock bands of our generation.
Pearl Jam's Live At The Gorge 05/06 CD Box Set is in stores this week. If you'd like to preview nine songs from the box set, check out the E-card.