Confessions of a Pearl Jam addict

Confessions of a Pearl Jam addict

Hello, my name is Ryan… and I’m an addict.

My friends and I have a theory that a person’s taste in music matures, and then atrophies, during high school. We believe this explains why so many people still think hair bands are a good idea.

For me, that period encompasses the years 1992 through 1996, the middle of “grunge.” In 1993 and 1994, Pearl Jam released a pair of classic albums, “Versus” and “Vitalogy.” “Versus” spawned the rock radio staple “Daughter,” while “Vitalogy” gave us the classic “Better Man” and earned the band a Grammy for the song “Spin the Black Circle.”

As part of the band’s 20th anniversary festivities, both albums are being re-released in “Legacy,” “Deluxe” and for Pearl Jam junkies like myself, “Super Deluxe” editions. Each album has been remastered and features a trio of bonus tracks. The “Deluxe” and “Super Deluxe” editions also add on a CD recorded during the band’s legendary performance from April 12, 1994, at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre.

The remastered version of “Versus” and “Vitalogy” are a mixed bag. The albums were mixed to near-perfection at the time of their original release, so a full remix was not really necessary. The remasters here add a bit of muscle to the mix, but as with most remasters, there is a downside. In this case, while the songs themselves had an added kick, the vocals are muddied deeper into the background.

The bonus tracks added to both albums aren’t as revelatory as they could have been. The acoustic demo of “Hold On,” a song which appeared in full electric version on 2003’s “Lost Dogs,” here sounds like something from Bon Jovi’s back catalog. I love the song, but I just have this overwhelming urge to sing “Dead or Alive” after listening to it. “Cready Stomp” is an awesome instrumental that would have been a good addition to the original “Versus” if singer Eddie Vedder had ever gotten around to writing lyrics for it. “Crazy Mary,” a staple of the band’s live shows for many years, was specifically written for the band by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams for the tribute album “Sweet Relief.”     The alternate versions of “Better Man,” “Corduroy” and “Nothingman” tacked onto the end of “Vitalogy” are interesting but ultimately unnecessary.

The standout of the package is the inclusion of “Live at the Orpheum,” which showcases the band at its peak. This was the band’s third night in Boston, having previously played at the Boston Gardens, and was recorded before a crowd of about 2,700 people. Kurt Cobain had been found dead a few days prior to the show and the band was nearing the end of an emotional tour that would eventually culminate in the firing of drummer Dave Abruzzese.

In an interview with the website,, longtime crew member Tim “Skully” Quinlan gave some insight into the night’s unique setlist.

“I remember that show and yes it was a crew set list show. If I remember right it was Karrie Keyes’ idea. I think she convinced Ed [Vedder] to let ‘us’ [the road crew] make a setlist up. I think we all added our two-cents worth (our favorite songs) but Karrie came up with the order. I can’t remember what songs I asked for probably “Footsteps” or “Immortality.”

The crew’s setlist was filled with rare songs, covers and tracks from the then-unreleased “Vitalogy.” Opening with the song “Oceans,” the band eases into the show slowly, but by the third song in the set, things begin to get a little weird. “Sonic Reducer,” a cover of the Dead Boys punk classic, features Mark Arm from opening band Mudhoney (and Pearl Jam precursor Green River) sharing vocals with Vedder in an intense performance. The band’s cover of Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up” later in the set can only be described as “face-melting.”

“Hard to Imagine,” a song recorded for both “Versus” and “Vitalogy” that went unreleased until the 1998 soundtrack to the movie “Chicago Cab” and later on Pearl Jam’s 2003 collection “Lost Dogs” is heard in early, ragged glory as a bonus download for people who ordered the deluxe and super deluxe editions through the band’s website. Also included in the mix are a pair of b-sides, “Alone,” from the “Go” single, and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s inspired “Dirty Frank” from the “Even Flow” single.

The show also featured early performances from “Vitalogy” including “Not For You,” “Immortality,” “Tremor Christ” and “Better Man,” a song which actually dated back to Vedder’s pre-Pearl Jam band, Bad Radio. Played just days after Cobain’s death, “Immortality,” still a work in progress, comes across as plaintive and desperate.

Finally, the show ends on a quiet note with “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” Again commenting on the night’s performance, Quinlan said, “Back then no show was just another show…”

The “Legacy” and “Deluxe” editions of “Versus” and “Vitalogy” are available in stores now, and the “Super Deluxe” edition can be purchased at