The Mighty Pearl Jam have been celebrating their twentieth anniversary in a big way this year. Where some bands are content to do a celebratory jaunt of the touring circuit or simply put out a best of, Pearl Jam have not just stepped up to the plate as far as the festivities are concerned, they have in fact torn up and re-written the book on one-up-man-ship. So far this year, they have given us reissues of their first three albums accompanied by rare bootleg concerts, a live album (Live on Ten Legs), headlined their own destination-weekend-festival-thing which saw them playing sets above such rock heavy-weights as The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age and their buddies from way back in Seattle; Mudhoney. As if that wasn't enough, they've topped it off with a two hour long Cameron Crowe directed documentary (available on DVD and Blu-ray from their website at the end of October in a 3 disc special edition with 4 hours of exclusive extras; yes, FOUR HOURS), an accompanying book, and this, the soundtrack to the film, also compiled by Cameron Crowe. And like the mugs they all are, the fans of Pearl Jam have lapped all this up somehow or another, probably by neglecting their wives and girlfriends, selling their children and re-mortgaging their homes.
Disc one of this soundtrack album is a selection of cuts actually taken from the film. You get the brilliant show opener Release from 2006's well documented Italian tour, followed by a recording of Alive - perhaps Pearl Jam's greatest hit - from only their second ever show. There are a few really early crowd recordings which, although the sound quality may be a little ropey have a great deal of significance and historical value in tracing the growth of this band. They also show us that Pearl Jam defined their own sound early on and stuck to it. Later, there is a performance of Crown of Thorns, a Mother Love Bone cover from the band's 10th anniversary show and a frighteningly intense rendition of Black from Pearl Jam's appearance on MTV unplugged. Both of these performances demonstrate the passion and power to move that Pearl Jam possess in spades.
Disc two, labelled 'rarities and inspiration' delves a little further into the vast archives, with early demos and jams, including a rehearsal room run through of a couple of Alice in Chains riffs. It concludes with yet more brilliantly passionate live performances, such as the gut-wrenching Indifference and a rare outing of the controversial Bu$hleaguer which ends in a chorus of boos from the crowd. We end on a high though, with the crowd pleasing one-two attack of Better Man and Rear View Mirror.
Even with the massive amounts of live Pearl Jam material already in circulation, Pearl Jam's Twenty soundtrack is very much a worthwhile purchase for the Pearl Jam faithful. If you could level any criticism at this collection, you could say that it does perhaps lean too heavily on material from Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy, and that the four songs pulled from the already widely available 2006 Italian tour could have been dropped for something a little rarer, but overall, this is a brilliant addition to Pearl Jam's back catalogue, let alone its twentieth anniversary releases. Other bands: take note, this is how you celebrate an anniversary. Pearl Jam fans: I hope your bank balances can stretch this far. If not, I'll see you all down at the homeless shelter.