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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My Musical Journey

Growing up during my grammar school days, music was always just something that filled the background of everyday life for me. My parents had a pretty nice stereo in the living room (the kind that no one ever uses) and they'd play Eric Clapton or Fleetwood Mac records. As the years came and went, I started to pay attention more and acquired a taste for different types of music. I went through the usual phases that everyone did through the 80's. Early on, it was The Police, Tears for Fears and Hall and Oates that I would play regularly. When Van Halen released "1984" (in 1983) I took notice but wasn't completely hooked just yet. I had some other favorites like Aerosmith, ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin to educate me on classic rock.

I remember when my dad bought his first cd player and the first cd he purchased was Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet". I believe the year was 1985 and it probably cost him close to a thousand dollars, with extremely limited features.

When I was about 12, I got a very nice stereo with a cd player and my first cd was Def Leppard's "Hysteria". The first cd I purchased on my own was the soundtrack to Top Gun. The theme song with the guitar sounded really good on my stereo, and that's the best excuse I have for that purchase. Later on, I got into some real rock like Guns N Roses when they debuted "Appetite For Destruction." In 1989, Aerosmith released "Pump" which shot them into the spotlight with "Love in an Elevator" and "Janie's Got A Gun" and still remains one of my must-own albums. My sister's boyfriend at the time knew how much I loved those songs and got me that album along with Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels" which was popular.

When Van Halen released "OU812", their second album with Sammy Hagar, I quickly started my love for all things Hagar. I bought "Standing Hampton" which is his strongest solo album pre-Van Halen. In 1991, the album that literally rocked my world arrived. Titled "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", Van Halen's cd was a pure masterpiece. I saw them on tour for that album, as well as another show to support the live album they recorded on the original album tour. That was it for me, I was hooked. No other band had that kind of affect on me, at least not until Pearl Jam released their debut "Ten".

Now, originally this post was just going to be about Pearl Jam and how much I love them. However, I thought it would be fun to take my readers down memory lane; mainly for the purpose of reviving some old cd's that are at the bottom of the pile these days.

**IF YOU HATE PEARL JAM, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER**
(What follows this notice is my declaration of love for Pearl Jam so you won't enjoy it)

When they first arrived, I heard "Alive" and "Evenflow" on the radio and saw the videos on MTV and they were good but I didn't catch on until I saw them on MTV Unplugged. After that, I immediately ran to the store to buy "Ten" and played it every day without fail. To this day, I don't know exactly what it is about Pearl Jam that captured me but their music means a great deal to me. My life was never filled with the kind of angst that Eddie described in songs like "Alive" or "Black" but it feels so easily accessible still. They performed "Animal" from their sophmore cd "Vs." on the MTV Awards in 1993 just before the cd was released. That song lit a fire under my ass and still does to this very day. Very few songs get me fired up like "Animal" and I've been very fortunate to have seen it played live each time I've gone to a Pearl Jam show.

In 1995, they released "Vitalogy" which had a much different, darker sound than their first two albums. That album spawned the crowd pleaser "Betterman", a song written about "the bastard who married my mama" as Eddie has introduced it in concert. This is the song that Eddie usually asks the crowd to sing, and everyone usually participates.

Not long after "Vitalogy", they released "No Code" which most critics would label as an "experimental" album. Two of my favorite songs of all time, not just from PJ, are from that album and they are "Off He Goes" and "Present Tense". Their next album "Yield" is the one that I think brought them back to "Ten" status. That album is among my top 3 of theirs and songs like "Given To Fly" and "Wishlist" remind me of why I love this band so much.

Next up was "Binaural" which referred to a recording technique which involved recording the space around the instruments rather than the instruments alone. The word binaural means "of or pertaining to both ears" or "used by both ears". The opening track, "Breakerfall" is heavily reminiscent of The Who and a few others are as well. Their first single from the album "Nothing As It Seems" had a very distinct intro with some Neil Young style in the guitar work. Overall this album seemed like a giant step forward musically for the band. "Riot Act" followed that album soon after and opened with "I Am Mine", which plays out like a haunting slow dirge (think Irish drinking song) with an optimistic vibe. It's intro is much like "Nothing", mentioned above, in the sense of an intro that quickly sucks you into the song and sets the tone.

Their latest offering which was released in May of 2006, is their eighth studio album (self-titled but known as "Avocado" for its album cover). The first single, "Worldwide Suicide" shows off Eddie's political side and gives you a good taste of what this album has to offer.
It is one of their most rocking albums to date, and one of their most critically accepted. Of course, anyone who loves Pearl Jam knows that they throw in a few slow songs to showcase Ed's soft side. "Gone" is a prime example of that, even though the song does go into high tempo in parts. They end the album with what has become one of my very favorites of theirs, "Inside Job" which was written by guitarist Mike McCready along with Eddie Vedder.

If you count their live album "Live On Two Legs", their double-cd rarities collection "Lost Dogs", and their "Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits" albums, they have released eleven albums in a little over fifteen years. It's easy to say that they don't make their fans wait very long for a new offering.

Of course there's also the official bootlegs they sold in retail stores and online. Back in the day when they were still making a name for themselves, I dabbled in bootleg purchases and got a few gems along the way. Some had remarkable sound quality, others sounded like the recorder got covered with a towel or something. When I found out that Pearl Jam were releasing official soundboard recordings of the entire Binaural Tour, both European and US legs, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I always thought it would be great to have a recording to each of the shows I had been to so I could think back to that night and remember what was going on as each song played. To this day, when I hear the crowd sing the opening to "Betterman" from the 6/1/2003 show @ Shoreline (the day before my birthday), I vividly remember the rush that swept through me while looking over the crowd, singing in unison.

Just thinking about all the music they've made and how each album carried me through a period of my life, I'm getting excited all over again in anticipation for their next release. If you haven't heard much of Pearl Jam or quit paying attention when they stopped making music videos following "Jeremy", give them another chance. I'm willing to bet that after years of perfecting their sound, you may be impressed all over again. On my right sidebar is the links to both Amazon and Best Buy where you can purchase all of their albums. I get no profit from referring you, they're just two of my favorite online sites to shop for music.

**BUYING TIPS**
If you are going to purchase any of their official live recordings, buy the following:

10/22/00 - Las Vegas, Nevada
This album marks the 10th anniversary of their very first show performing together and provides a great deal of storytelling by Eddie Vedder. The setlist includes "Crown of Thorns" which was a song performed by the band Mother Love Bone. Jeff Ament (bassist) and Stone Gossard (guitars) emerged from that band after the death of Andrew Wood to form Pearl Jam.
07/11/03 - Mansfield, MA
This show came from the Riot Act tour and includes an acoustic set they performed before the concert that night. It is a three disc set with a terrific set list.

Seattle, Washington, November 6, 2000
This was the final show from their Binaural tour of 2000 and boasts a very impressive setlist, covering material from their entire catalog up to that night.

Those titles in bold were copied directly from Amazon so use them to search for those albums for purchasing. The key to buying live material is finding a well-rounded setlist and I think these three shows are a great example of that strategy.

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