Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
|Title:||Pearl Jam: Touring Band 2000 (2000)|
The first full-length Pearl Jam DVD, featuring three hours of live and montage footage from the band's 2000 U.S. and European tours. The main body of the program is 28 songs from various cities on the band's 48-city U.S. tour, filmed by Pearl Jam crew members without directors or producers. An additional fifty minutes of special bonus features includes footage from the European tour, backstage footage, unreleased music and videos, multiple camera angles, and more.
|DVD:||Fullscreen 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, English PCM Stereo; subtitles none; Not closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 30 chapters; Unrated; 125 min.; $24.98; street date 5/1/01.|
|Supplements:||Matt Cam; Europe Montages; Bonus Videos; “Smile”.|
Frankly, the existence of the new Pearl Jam DVD is a surprise. Throughout their career, PJ have been staunchly anti-video; they’ve produced exceedingly few music videos over the span of six studio albums and a live compilation, and their sole excursion into the home video market was 1998’s Single Video Theory. I never saw that collection, but it seemed to be a fairly lackluster affair that simply showed the band as they worked on their then-current Yield album.
Since PJ are the Luddites of the rock world, they had to approach that package in a conservative manner; from what I know, it includes no chapter markings, which makes it a hassle to skip ahead to particular songs. Happily, that’s not the case with Touring Band 2000, the new DVD that amasses 28 songs from their 2000 North American tour. The disc indeed is more user-friendly, and it even includes some neat extras, though the band’s anti-technological stance comes through via the cheap video cameras used to film the production; they create a consistently unattractive image.
I’m getting ahead of myself, however; there’s plenty of time for those issues when I get to the DVD specifics. As for the program itself, it’s a very solid record of PJ’s 2000 shows. I’ve been a pretty big fan of the band since early 1994, when I took advantage of a good offer from Columbia House and hooked myself up with their first two albums, 1991’s Ten and 1993’s Vs. Prior to that, I’d not heard much by PJ. Since I knew they’d become very popular and they sounded like my kind of band, I figured I’d give them a shot; for whatever negatives they may possess, music clubs like CH are a good way to experiment with new acts, and I’ve gotten introduced to many favorites via that route.
Anyway, I indeed liked what I heard, and I’ve been firmly in the PJ camp ever since that time. However, I must acknowledge they’ve never approached the upper echelon of acts for me. I’ll spare you the silly details, but in college, I once established a hierarchy system for musical performers that varied from level one to level seven. Level One was reserved for the absolute pinnacle, which for me meant that only David Bowie sat on that peak; the levels then descended from love to like to “think they’re okay” to dislike to out-and-out hatred. PJ are a very solid Level Three band for me. That means I’ll automatically buy all of their official CD releases, including most - but not necessarily all - singles and I’ll definitely see them when they come to town. For Level Three acts, there’s also the possibility I may travel to see them more than once; that’s never occurred with PJ, but that’s mostly because I’d require good seats to do so, and tickets can be tough to come by when they hit the road.
Actually, that last statement should be amended somewhat, as I’ve never had any trouble getting seats for the band’s local performances. That’s because I’ve belonged to their wonderful Ten Club since 1994, and they make great tickets available for members. I’ve rapidly moved up through the sections. In 1996, I sat in the 25th row, whereas I flew to the fourth row in 1998. By 2000, I’d jumped all the way to the promised land: front row, right in front of guitarist Stone Gossard. Pretty sweet deal for only $10 a year!
My point is simply to indicate that while I’m quite fond of PJ, I can’t call myself a super fan. Nonetheless, I enjoyed their shows and was excited to get this DVD when I heard of it. As I already noted, I also felt rather surprised, since the band never seemed too keen on the possibilities of video. Their concerts have been well represented by musical releases over the years. A series of three European “Dissident” singles provided one entire 1994 show, while Live On Two Legs offered a representation of the 1998 tour.
However, in 2000, PJ topped pretty much everyone. If you saw the band live in either North America or Europe, you’re likely to be able to buy a copy of the show on CD. Almost all of the performances were released on bargain-priced double-disc sets; I believe the infamous show at the Danish Roskilde festival was the only one that went unreleased, and for good reason. Otherwise, the sky’s the limit; if you really want to hear scores of renditions of “Rear View Mirror”, you can go right ahead and do so.
It would have been impractical to create a similar enterprise in the video vein, and Touring Band 2000 creates a solid encapsulation of PJ for that year. The program compiles 28 different songs performed at a variety of venues. A few shows are represented more than once, but for the most part, the video skips from town to town with each song. Surprisingly, the editing makes this work; transitions are accomplished cleanly, and often the only way I could tell that we were in a new city stemmed from the different clothes worn by the band. (Of course, the subtitles that announced each town also gave me a clue.)
Overall, I was very impressed with the manner in which this video was compiled. Although the picture quality left a lot to be desired, the program itself was very succinctly and efficiently presented. The focus remained on the band members themselves. Crowd shots appeared only when really appropriate - such as a singalong - and artsy material was kept to the bare minimum; some stylization appeared during “RearViewMirror”, but otherwise it was a simple and effective program that neatly fit the spirit of the concerts.
Speaking of crowd shots, it must be noted that owners of TB2000 will get a special treat: an obscenely brief glimpse of me. I came tantalizingly close to making the cut on Eurythmics’ Peacetour DVD; I also sat in the front row at that concert, but the camera never quite panned far enough to stage right to capture me. Although only one song appears from the Washington, DC show - which actually took place in Columbia, Maryland, for you nitpickers out there - and few crowd shots appeared, at the eight minute and 54 second point, there’s a brief glimpse in my direction, and indeed, I can just barely be seen at the left end of the front row. At least I think it’s me; the low resolution of the video makes it tough to tell. Still, I’m reasonably sure I made it into the digital realm, even if I do look awfully fuzzy.
Even if I wasn’t to be found on the DVD, the Pearl Jam performances are solid enough to warrant your attention. PJ have never been the most visual band. Singer Eddie Vedder would seem to be the most likely party to present a captivating presence, but he usually sticks pretty close to the center of the stage and doesn’t bop around too much. Oh, at times he’ll do a few movements, and he even managed a Roger Daltrey-esque bounce during “RearViewMirror”, but these moments are exceptions. Still, Eddie displays such intensity while he croons that it doesn’t really matter. The rest of the band don’t do much other than play either, but the performances seem surprisingly captivating nonetheless.
The lack of visual spark is both a plus and a minus during TB2000. On one hand, it adds a consistency to the program that makes it consistently interesting. I never found any lulls in the show and it moved a long at a nice pace. I’m not wild about all of the songs on the DVD, but none of them bothered me particularly. It’s a very solid show that captured the intensity and highs of PJ live.
However, the lack of any particular visual spark during most of the songs meant that a certain sameness set in and little stood out from the pack. Only one tune really seemed memorable from a visual standpoint: the performance of Yield’s “Given to Fly” from St. Louis. During that song, Eddie brought the woman who provided sign language interpretations for the crowd on stage, and her presence was a captivating one; she danced and signed in a smooth manner and was a lot of fun to watch. As Eddie went to get her, he noted that she was more interesting to watch than any band members, and he was right.
Still, despite some of the visual monotony, TB2000 provides a stimulating affair. I expect it’s best digested in chunks, though, as even Eddie himself seems to feel. Inside the DVD’s case we find liner notes he penned in February 2001, and he indicated that he tended to view the program in thirds: the start through “Daughter”; “Untitled” through “RearViewMirror”; and the six encore tunes on their own. It’s not a bad gameplan, though you may find a different set-up that you prefer.
Those looking for a perfect representation of Pearl Jam’s history will probably be disappointed, though I thought the 28 tunes spread nicely across their decade of work. The band’s first - and most successful - album, 1991’s Ten, only offers two songs, “Evenflow” and “Jeremy”. PJ indicated that they wouldn’t play “Alive” anymore after the summer 2000 tragedy during their performance at the Danish Roskilde festival, and fan fave “Black” also failed to make the cut. 1993’s Vs. provided five tunes, while 1994’s Vitalogy added an additional four numbers. The big dip occurred with 1996’s No Code which only gets one song, and the album’s shortest piece at that: “Lukin” barely lasts a minute! Despite a few solid tracks, I’ve always thought No Code was the band’s weakest record, and this may be their acknowledgement of that possibility, though it still seems odd; it’s not like they don’t perform any of the other songs from the release.
Anyway, 1998’s Yield bounces back with four tunes, while 2000’s Binaural takes the prize with seven songs on the DVD. Obviously that makes sense since Binaural was PJ’s most recent album during the tour. In addition, a few other tunes crop up on the DVD. “Untitled” bowed on 1999’s Live On Two Legs concert document of the 1998 tour, while “Leatherman” appeared as the B-side of Yield’s “Given To Fly”. Both “Long Road” and “I Got Shit” showed up on a 1995 single called Mirrorball, while the show-closing “Rocking In the Free World” covers the 1990 Neil Young tune. In addition, another cover plays over the end credits. We hear PJ staple “Leaving Here”, first recorded by Motown songwriter Eddie Holland, but later covered by the High Numbers, a band who’d become slightly better known as the Who. It’s a great tune and I’m glad to have it here.
Heck, I’m simply glad to have any form of live Pearl Jam video at all. Their stance on this kind of project made it seem unlikely, but since the DVD’s right in front of me, I guess it must be true. Touring Band 2000 is a very solid encapsulation of the band at the turn of the century, as it provides a well-edited and devised program which solidly sums up the band’s performances.
Pearl Jam: Touring Band appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As I noted in the main body of the review, this was a low-budget affair, and that fact came through clearly as I watched the DVD. The picture consistently looked quite crude and flawed, though the program as a whole remained surprisingly watchable.
Sharpness generally seemed fairly adequate, though the low resolution of the source material meant that most shots displayed modest softness. Close-ups usually appeared acceptably crisp, though even those were still somewhat fuzzy. Wider shots featured greater softness, and distant takes of the band were the haziest of the bunch. As is typical of videotaped material, moiré effects and jagged edges are a concern, and a serious one. Again, the low resolution was the culprit, as this meant we’d see lots of jaggies and shimmering throughout the program. Actual tape flaws weren’t a concern, but I did witness a lot of video noise and artifacts, which lent the presentation a very grainy appearance.
Colors seemed consistently drab and runny. A variety of colored lights were used throughout the show, and they always appeared heavy and thick. Darker tones presented particular problems, as they became too strong and tended to wash out the action. Black levels were flat and muddy, and shadow detail usually appeared excessively opaque.
From an objective standpoint, the picture quality of Touring Band 2000 was a disaster. This was an ugly, problem-ridden image from start to finish. However, I must note that once I’d watched a song or two, I really didn’t mind the flaws. The production is well-staged enough to overcome the concerns. I also found the defects less bothersome than they might have been due to PJ’s rough-hewn tone and the fact that these weren’t fake flaws. I hate it when videos add artificial problems to go for a certain “look”. That wasn’t the case here; TB2000 looked crummy in an honest manner.
Do I wish the DVD presented a cleaner, sharper image? Yes and no. While a clearer presentation would certainly be a lot more pleasant to view, I don’t know if it’d really add anything to the experience. In a bizarre way, the problematic nature of the video almost enhances the performances. I hate to state that because too many people justify ugly picture or flawed sound with declarations of indie credibility, but in this case, it worked. You’re duly warned that TB2000 looked like death for the most part, but I must say that I usually didn’t mind.
Happily, the audio quality of the DVD didn’t cause any additional reviewer’s angst on my part. TB2000 offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM Stereo mixes; only the 5.1 track was fully examined for this review, but I also checked out the PCM mix on occasion and heard no concerns. The Dolby audio presented an appropriately forward-biased soundfield through which I heard excellent stereo definition. The dual guitars mainly benefited from the separation, as Mike’s output stayed on the left and Stone’s playing stuck to the right. Eddie’s vocals emanated solidly from the center, and both bass and drums also floated close to the middle, but the overall presentation seemed clean and effective.
Surround usage was limited to crowd noise and general reinforcement of the forward channels, and that seemed fine with me. Some DVDs provide more active rear channels - with the Roy Orbison Black and White Night program standing as the best of that bunch - but I don’t really mind videos that take the more realistic approach, so I felt the soundfield of TB2000 worked nicely.
Audio quality seemed excellent. All aspects of the music appeared clear and crisp. During “Long Road” I thought that Eddie’s vocals featured a little too much echo, but that problem quickly dissipated and his lines became appropriately direct and clean. Guitars supplied solid crunch and sting, and the drumming was deep and distinct. Low-end response generally seemed quite good; I always could use a little more for musical programs, but Jeff’s bass appeared warm and rich. Ultimately, TB2000 provided a very solid and listenable experience.
After the absolutely bare-bones approach of Single Video Theory - which apparently didn’t even include menus - the modest extras of Touring Band 2000 are a nice surprise. Probably the most vaunted of these is the Matt Cam which provides a single, locked-down camera angle that sticks solely to drummer Matt Cameron. This isn’t an alternate angle feature; instead, you can select three different songs from the “Bonus Features” menu. There you’ll find “Evacuation”, “Evenflow” and “In My Tree” from 1996’s No Code; the latter doesn’t appear during the main program. The audio is only available as PCM stereo, and this is a special “percussion heavy” mix of the songs. Frankly, they didn’t sound that different to me, and the “Matt Cam” is a somewhat useless novelty. It’s a neat idea and it could be fun if you like to study drumming, but I don’t think I’ll bother to examine these three tunes too frequently.
The band’s European trek is commemorated via three Europe Montages. Each of these offers a short, edited piece that focuses on a few different topics. Backed by a live version of “Yellow Ledbetter”, “The Fans” lasts six minutes and shows lots of crowd images from the tour, while “The Band” goes for three and a half minutes and collects scads of shots of PJ themselves. Lastly, “The Cities” runs five minutes and gives us shots of the various burgs visited during the European tour. In the background through the latter two pieces, we hear some previously unreleased instrumentals recorded during the Binaural sessions: “Thunderclap," "Foldback," and "Harmony”. These pseudo-music videos aren’t anything special, but they’re a decent little addition. Another mini-video accompanies the live version of No Code’s Smile. Here we get a wild collection of band shots from the US tour during this three minute and 55 second program. Frankly, I wish some of the songs from which the excerpts occurred had made the full DVD, as a lot of this stuff looked like fun. There’s Eddie ramming into speakers, Mike smashing his guitar, and a variety of other frantic activities. In any case, it was a fun piece that at least made the band look less dour for a few minutes.
Although PJ have made very few music videos, two of them appear here. “Oceans” comes from Ten and is a fairly bland clip. For the most part it looked like a beach-oriented black and white travelogue, with some snippets of the band interspersed. Much better was the well-known animated piece for Yield’s “Do the Evolution”. Directed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, this video is a rip-roaring ride through history and it’s a fascinating little clip that’s easily the best addition to this DVD.
Lastly, though the disc comes in a snapper, there’s a cardboard fold-out in the middle that provides some photos and liner notes from Eddie Vedder. These are quite interesting and shed a little light on his opinions of the project. Ultimately, this wasn’t a terrific collection of extras, but it seemed like a nice group considering the usual bare-bones treatment received by music DVDs.
As a longtime Pearl Jam fan, I expected to like Touring Band 2000, and I did. The DVD provides a nice mix of their material and they sound great throughout the program. Although the tunes come from a wide variety of concerts, they’re edited together cleanly; the transitions are smooth and nearly-unnoticeable for the most part. The camerawork was simple but effective, and I thought the essentials of a PJ concert were transmitted well.
While picture quality was simply terrible, it didn’t really seem to harm the performance, which still came through nicely, and the high quality audio made up for the problematic visuals to a degree. A few decent extras round out a pleasing music package. Solid Pearl Jam fans should be quite happy with Touring Band 2000, while less-intense partisans should also give it a look; once you get past the ugly visuals, you’ll find a rich and satisfying show.
|Equipment:||Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.|
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