Tom MorelloOctober 21, 2011
Neo-Folk©2011New West Records
Listen to this album and millions more. First month free.
Save The Hammer For The Man7:01
World Wide Rebel Songs9:11
223 total

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October 21, 2011
©2011New West Records
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Most hardcore Pearl Jam fans would bristle at the thought of tagging their heroes a jam band. (“What? You mean like Dave Matthews Band?”) Yet key aspects of the group’s evolution over the last two decades support this seemingly blasphemous notion: a marathon tour schedule that circles the globe year after year, a cultish fanbase willing to travel far and wide for concerts and, most importantly, embracing the live document as a central component to the music-making process.

Obviously, Pearl Jam still releases studio albums--unquestionably potent ones, in fact. 2009’s Backspacer is laced with scratchy guitars and strident earnestness, including the “The Fixer,” a real throwdown, and deep cuts “Johnny Guitar” and “Unthought Known.” But that was little over two years ago. In that time, the band has dropped a slew of official bootlegs in digital outlets, in addition to all the unofficial bootlegs fans trade via cyberspace. The irony buried in these qualifications is that just about every classic rocker in the early ’70s -- not just The Grateful Dead, but The Who, Led Zeppelin and Neil Young & Crazy Horse as well -- was a jam band. Thus, Pearl Jam haven’t gone hippie, so to speak; they’ve just updated the basic means of how rock was created, shared and obsessed-over during its bell-bottomed heyday.

This leads us to this Google Play Exclusive: Toronto 9.11.11, performed at the Air Canada Centre. Clearly, this isn’t just another night on the road for Pearl Jam. On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy this profoundly American rock band performs in symbolic exile, covers Mother Love Bone’s epic “Chloe Dancer / Crown Of Thorns” in its entirety (a first), lets loose two multi-song encores and ends the night with a nearly 13-minute thrashing of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Moreover, “Uncle Neil” himself assumes guitar duties partway through his raging anthem. It’s an unannounced cameo that not only adds a layer of fuzzy distortion, but also helps heighten the gnarled reality permeating lines such as, “There’s a lot of people sayin' we'd be better off dead./ Don't feel like Satan, but I am to them./ So I try to forget it, any way I can.”

Interestingly enough, the concert’s opening could not feel more different. If “Rockin’ in the Free World” serves as a rowdy act of political exorcism, then the opening stretch of “Long Road,” “Do the Evolution” and “Once” represents a moody, and at times desperate, meditation on the spiritual alienation and psychic torment the last ten years have unleashed. Intentional or not, they’re themes that pop up throughout the sprawling show: “Nothing As It Seems,” “Grievance” and, most definitely, “Alive.”

In terms of ensemble interplay, Pearl Jam aren’t as radical as The Dead, or even Danny Whitten-era Crazy Horse, when exploring improvisation in the live setting. Nevertheless, Toronto 9.11.11 is a solid testament to the band’s flexible, if subtle, ability to reshape their material on the fly, a skill that makes itself most apparent on the older tunes. It’s still a “f*cking rock concert,” to quote young Eddie Vedder in the “Even Flow” video, but on the expanded version of “Black,” Pearl Jam’s growing interest in acoustic-flavored folk rock grounds the ghostly ballad in an earthiness that its initial renderings never possessed. As for the tunes that were folk-centric to begin with, they’ve only grown more confident and determined. “Daughter,” which sits more or less at the concert’s halfway point, just might be the most uplifting moment here. The droning strum that underpins the song very clearly sends the audience into a flight of collective ecstasy.
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