Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 20, 2004)
For one of the best bargains in rock, look no further than Pearl Jam’s 10 Club. For a measly $15 a year, fans can join and get priority access to tickets for PJ concerts. Memberships also gets us sporadically-mailed newsletter and an annual Christmas single, but those aren’t the reason I belong – it’s all about the tickets, baby!
10 Club membership was a good deal for the first three PJ tours I attended, even though we were allowed to purchase one pair of tickets for one show. Since these seats were always good and the process required little fuss, it was worth the minor membership expenditure.
However, for the band’s 2003 tour, membership really began to present its privileges. For that trek, 10 Clubbers could buy a pair of tickets to any and all of the originally announced concerts. (Added-on performances like a second night in Philadelphia fell outside of this window.)
This encouraged other fans and me to take in multiple nights. Seating was based on seniority in the club; those who’d been with the 10 Club the longest got the best seats. I’ve been with them since 1994, which gives me a pretty low – and good – number; it doesn’t guarantee me great seats, but it ensures very good ones.
With that in mind, I attended seven shows on the 2003 tour. That’s not many for me when compared to the 20 times I saw Springsteen in 2003 – along with 11 Bruce concerts in 2002 – but since I’d only seen PJ three times total prior to that year, it marked a big leap.
And it paid off nicely, thanks to the 10 Club. I usually ended up in the first four rows and never sat farther back than the 10th row. That occurred for the July 9th show at Madison Square Garden, a performance that saw an enormous 10 Club presence; originally it was announced as the last concert of the tour, which added to the natural demand one finds in New York. (PJ eventually did another half-dozen or so shows after that one; the tour finally finished a couple of weeks later in Mexico City.)
Fans also thought the July 9th show – the second of two at MSG – would be a real barnburner. As it happened, the concert was good but not the better of the pair. It turns out the prior night presented the real winner, a more than two and a half hour extravaganza that showed PJ at the height of their powers.
And that’s the one we find on this new DVD logically entitled Pearl Jam: Live at the Garden. The 30-song setlist mixes old and new and famous and obscure to create a lively show. From 2002’s Riot Act, we find eight songs: “Love Boat Captain”, “Save You”, “Green Disease”, “Cropduster”, “I Am Mine”, “You Are”, “1/2 Full”, and “Thumbing My Way”. 2000’s Binaural produces only “Grievance”, while 1998’s Yield offers “Wishlist”, “Low Light”, “Faithfull” and “Do the Evolution”.
As we head to 1996’s No Code, we get “In My Tree” and “Lukin”. 1994’s Vitalogy presents “Last Exit”, “Spin the Black Circle”, and “Better Man”. Off of 1993’s Vs we find “Rearviewmirror”, “Indifference” and “Daughter”, while 1991’s Ten features “Even Flow” and “Black”.
The rest of the material comes from various odds and ends. “Gimme Some Truth” covers the 1971 John Lennon song, though Eddie alters it slightly to mention George W. Bush. PJ also cover the Who via 1971’s “Baba O’Riley”. As far as I can tell, PJ never did their own studio renditions of those numbers.
However, they did record a studio take of another cover, the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer”, which first appeared on the 1992 Christmas single. The 2000 Christmas single produced “Crown of Thorns”, which covered a track by Mother Love Bone, the precursor to Pearl Jam. “Breath” comes from the soundtrack to the movie Singles, while “Crazy Mary” originally showed up on a benefit album called Sweet Relief. Finally, concert staple “Yellow Ledbetter” initially saw life as the B-side to the “Jeremy” single.
That creates a nice mix of material, virtually all of which receives solid performances. PJ can be pretty sloppy live at times, a factor that actually makes them somewhat more endearing at times. They generally seem pretty tight here, though, and they offer good renditions of the various tunes. Frankly, I could live without the never-ending versions of tracks like “Daughter” or “Rearviewmirror”, though they seem less plodding at home than at the arena. They tend to really drag the show in the actual venue, whereas I guess the distractions and comfort level of my home theater help make them more palatable.
Overall, spirits and emotions seem high. Actually, all seven of the shows I saw in 2003 offered PJ in good form, which is why this one never stood out to me that much. Yeah, it was the best of the punch, but not by an enormous margin. All of the concerts seemed vibrant and energetic. MSG just notched those factors up a little and displayed the band with a little more commitment than normal.
Granted, those of us in the crowd helped! As Eddie alludes, at one point during the encores, the floor started to seriously bounce, which isn’t a normal occurrence at MSG. I remember this, and it freaked me out at the time. But no one got hurt, the building survived, and it remains a cool moment.
Pearl Jam’s only prior concert DVD went the compilation route. It presented songs from a mix of shows and didn’t feature more than one or two from any particular performance. That worked fine, but I’m happy they decided to document one specific show for Garden. The compilation format might mean that we get the very best versions of the various songs, but I prefer the coherence and immediacy of a DVD that features one entire concert, presented in its natural order.
As with Touring Band 2000, one could call Garden an amateur effort. Those in the PJ organization shot it on consumer grade DV cameras. (2000 was filmed in a similar way, though they used superior quality equipment this time.)
However, it would be a mistake to confuse “amateur effort” for “amateurish”. Indeed, Garden seemed better shot and executed than many professional efforts. The camerawork was calm and focused on appropriate elements of the show. We got no self-consciously funky angles, as the photographers stayed with the main action.
The editing also seemed remarkably restrained compared to most modern efforts. You find no obnoxious quick cutting or silly effects to mar the presentation. Instead, Garden accurately and concisely captured the performance at hand. Even the disc break comes at a good spot. The first DVD ends at the conclusion of the main set, while the second platter includes all the encores.
I doubt that anything in Live at the Garden will change the mind of a Pearl Jam hater, but fans will clearly eat up this solid show. The evening found the band in good form as they plowed through many different facets of their large back catalog. It’s a strong presentation of a fine concert.