Best of Ten, Live: Reviewing the Top Live Performances of Each Song
It doesn’t quite seem possible, and yet here we are in 2021 and Pearl Jam’s “Ten” is hitting a huge milestone. All these years, and songs, and concerts, and memories: This is where it all began. For some of us it was the album that we discovered in 1991 that changed our lives seemingly overnight. For others, it was an album they found later in life either by chance or simply because they had yet to be born when it was released.
For some fans, “Ten” is the iconic masterpiece that will never be topped. For others it is one of the greats among several from this band that somehow continues to do no wrong (that would be me). And yet for others, and let’s be honest there are quite a few fans who fall into this group, it is overplayed and has been done to death. But no matter your opinion of the album now, after all of these years, “Ten” is, well, “Ten”. 11 songs without a filler to be found, and a strikingly musical and well put together debut album. It’s anthemic, powerful, emotional, vulnerable, melodic, angst-ridden and somber. It lashes out and internalizes. It’s a debut album from a band who within months would be doing everything they could to rein in the absolute beast that had been unleashed. It was a moment in time that will never happen again for the band. It is unique.
How a band could be firing on all cylinders this early in their career is stunning. Bands would kill to have this number of great songs in an entire career. And then there are the songs that ended up as b-sides, on the “Singles” soundtrack or as rarities to surface in future compilations: “State of Love and Trust”, “Breath”, “Footsteps”, “Yellow Ledbetter”, “Wash”, “Alone”, “Just A Girl”, “Brother”, “Dirty Frank” and “Hold On”. Those songs would make an impressive album for just about any other band.
Below you will see my highly subjective ranking of the greatest versions of each of these songs. So let’s get to the task at hand. 11 songs and an attempt to list the definitive version of each one. Take a deep breath and try not to throw your device out of the window if you disagree with me. Make your own list and share it on the various PJ groups online!
Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA – 10/31/93
Why: “This is a fairytale. Once upon a time…”. “Once” is a song that is all about Eddie’s voice just killing it. There are some great versions, but by and large they are all very similar. If Eddie’s voice is on point and Mike nails the solo, then it’s a good version. So why Halloween ’93? Because they actually extend it with a very interesting jam that makes it truly unique. Right before the “I’ve got nothing to say” part, the band kicks into a rocking improv section, seemingly out of nowhere. As the song kicks back in, Eddie decides to forego the usual vocals in favor of an ad-libbed scream. There’s been nothing like it before or since. Quite simply, it’s incredible.
Honorable mentions: 10/6/91, 4/3/94
Safeco Field, Seattle, WA – 8/8/18
Why: “Even Flow” has a long and storied background as a song that always sees the band take a journey. Let’s face it – it’s usually a Mike showcase. But there are so many different versions of this song. The early years were pretty standard, with Mike given a short section to solo. Later in the 90’s the song started expanding, allowing Mike (and sometimes Stone) to really shine. Nowadays it is not uncommon for Even Flow to hit the 8+ minute mark, and several renditions in the mid-2000s also feature a short drum solo by Matt. So why this one from 2018?
This one stands out because it is preceded by Eddie telling a story about the song’s origins to the hometown Seattle crowd. The band played to a sold-out crowd of over 40k at Seattle’s Safeco Field and donated $11.5M of the proceeds (over the course of 2 nights) to fight homelessness. “Even Flow” was written about a homeless man (a Vietnam vet also named Eddie) that Eddie had gotten to know while the band was in its infancy. He passed away early in their career and thus never got to hear the song he inspired. Perhaps on that day in Seattle, Eddie finally heard “his” song.
Honorable mentions: Almost too many to choose. 9/1/00 (which made it onto the Touring Band DVD) is quite good. There are so many extended versions in the 2000s where Mike really shined, and in 06-08 where Matt sometimes had a solo. Check out Buffalo 5/2 and State College 5/3/2003 for 2 great back-to-back Mike showcases. 6/25/08 is a great version showcasing Mike, and then a little bluesy breakdown where Mike and Stone get to feed off each other, and then finally a short Matt solo before the song kicks back in and the incredible MSG crowd takes over singing duties.
Pinkpop Festival, Landgraaf, Netherlands – 6/8/92
Why: “You survived today. No matter what band could come up here, this thing wouldn’t happen without you. You’re the whole reason this thing is even halfway a success. It’s you surviving the rain. It’s you who’s going to be sick tomorrow. It’s you who we appreciate. Thank you.” I didn’t even have to listen to this bootleg to remember those words; they are etched in my brain from countless listens. These words introduced “Alive” to a crowd of 60,000 people at the Pinkpop festival.
While “Alive” would change in tone and length over the years, there is something to be said for the power of this song when the band was young and hungry. Just watch this video. Pearl Jam was out to crush every crowd it played to, big or small. This version was played with fire. It was played with purpose. It was played to make everyone a fan. From Eddie’s voice, to Mike’s ripping solo, to the pan out of the crowd going crazy, to the “War Pigs” tease at the end – this one has something for every fan. It is a perfect moment in time for where the band was in June, 1992. For early PJ, this is as good as it gets.
Honorable mentions: 8/3/91 (used for the video), 11/6/00 (First time played on the 2000 US tour, and the last show of the tour, after not playing it following the Roskilde festival tragedy in June), 5/31/06 (VH1 Storytellers), 4/29/16 (the moment everyone in the Wells Fargo Center knew the band was playing “Ten” straight through).
The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA – 10/31/09
Why: It was the last of the 4-night run that would officially close down The Spectrum. A few days later the building would be demolished. As I sit here wearing my Spectrum shows t-shirt, on my 45th birthday no less, the memories of this Halloween show are still etched in my brain.
As the lights went down to start the show, a video commemorating the run was briefly shown, accompanied by the theme song to Rocky. The crowd ate it up like you wouldn’t believe. How in the world do you follow that up and keep the energy going? With “Why Go”. “Here we go”, Eddie announced, and away the entire night went: A 41-song marathon for the ages. There was no better way to start than with “Why Go” blowing the roof off the place (figuratively speaking of course – the actual roof would have to wait a few days to officially be blown off).
Honorable mentions: 8/23/91, 1/17/92, 3/4/92, 3/10/92 (from the PJ20 soundtrack), 9/20/92 (Drop In The Park), 4/29/16 (as part of the full “Ten” set – the crowd is singing along the whole time).
MTV Unplugged, New York, NY – 3/16/92
Why: I struggled with this one (as I did several others). I love me some later 90’s versions where Mike started really going wild in the ending jam. Then of course there are the 2000’s versions where the band really extended the outro with jams, singalongs and Eddie tags. But let’s be real here for a second: this is “Black”, a song that is held sacred to so many fans as very few songs are. It is a song in elite company.
MTV took a gamble on a relatively yet unknown band in March of 1992 for their Unplugged series. What they ended up with was quite possibly the greatest Unplugged ever recorded. Pearl Jam did not have the luxury of having a massive catalog to pull from, as so many of their peers did when they had their Unplugged sessions years later. You can try to find fault in the sound of their guitars, or in Dave’s over-playing, but you’d be wrong. All of that stuff combined, along with the sheer power of Eddie’s young voice, is why Unplugged is so epic.
This is not a polished band. This was early PJ at their most raw and hungry. But this version of “Black”, to some the greatest moment of their career, is stunning. It is stunning because of one thing in particular: Eddie’s voice. It is at times vulnerable, and at times seemingly not human. From the modified singing of the “I take a walk outside” part in the 2nd verse, to the “we belong together” tag at the end, this is really a showcase for the still relatively unknown front-man whose voice would soon seemingly take over the world. That voice!
Honorable mentions: 6/18/92, 4/3/94, 11/4/95 (listen to Mike absolutely crush the ending), 9/1/98, 9/7/98 (Live On 2 Legs, 9/1/00, 4/23/03, 10/22/03 (Benaroya Hall), 9/16/05, 5/25/06, 6/9/07, 8/5/16.
MTV Video Music Awards, Los Angeles, CA – 9/9/92
Why: To many, this was their first glimpse at what this band was like live. And while it was only 1 song played at the MTV Video Music Awards, it was captivating. There are so many things to watch in this performance: Eddie self-censoring the f-bomb and altering the vocals to “and the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear”, Stone (and Jeff) getting really animated right as Eddie seems to get almost possessed, and Dave beating the snot out of the drums. Rumor has it this was the moment that Kurt Cobain, watching from backstage, realized how passionate Eddie was about the music and changed his opinion of his once “rival”. Fun trivia fact: Eddie sings “I don’t need no…I don’t need no mom and dad” at the end which are lyrics from the song “Sonic Reducer” by The Dead Boys. It was a song they covered frequently and wanted to play instead of their hit single at the time (which of course was “Jeremy”). This irked the band, but they relented and played the popular song. As a slight FU to the MTV execs, Eddie threw in a couple of lines from “Sonic Reducer”.
Honorable mentions: There are some great early versions where the band is firing on all cylinders and Eddie sounds great. For something different try a version from 2006 and beyond where the crowd really takes over the ending section: check out 6/26/14 or 4/29/16 (as part of the “Ten” set). Also, an absolute must hear version is the 6/20/95 version from Red Rocks, affectionately known as “No Jeremy”. The band was feeling the effects of the altitude and played the first several songs sitting down. This is a stunning version of “Jeremy”, completely re-worked into a very hypnotic jam.
MTV Unplugged, New York, NY – 3/16/92
Why: As much as I want to spread the love around to several shows, it’s hard not to see the MTV Unplugged version of “Oceans” as the definitive version. Eddie’s voice is spot on and the band sets the perfect mood with the music. It’s a great moment in time for the band, and the perfect way to kick off their Unplugged set.
Honorable mentions: 3/2/92, 4/12/94 (famous show at The Orpheum where the roadies created the setlist), 7/2/03 (Opening song of the first of 3 shows in Mansfield where the band did not repeat a song except for Yellow Ledbetter), 7/7/06, 7/10/18 (a touching moment dedicated to a fan, Israel, who had recently passed away)
Volkshaus, Zurich, CH – 6/18/92
Why: I expect to get some flak here. Hear me out. As a young fan in the early 90s, bootlegs were not easy to come by. My only exposure early on was MTV Unplugged, random snippets here and there on TV, and the Atlanta ’94 broadcast which I taped off the radio. What I knew early on was that “Porch” was a force to be reckoned with. MTV Unplugged and Atlanta 4/3/94 are monster versions. When I got to college in 1994, bootleg CDs were a thing. Yes, they were usually $30 a pop (per CD), and yes quite often you ended up with a mediocre recording. But sometimes you found a gem.
After purchasing a few of those bootlegs, I made it my mission to find the best version of Porch. I amassed quite a collection of bootleg CDs as well as cassettes I traded with folks online (Maxell XLII’s only!). To me, the best versions are from 92-94 when the band was aggressive and Eddie’s vocals were spot on. There are SO many amazing versions, but over time it became clear that 6/18/92 in Zurich was something special. If you listen to as many versions from late 1991 into June 1992, you will see bits and pieces of riffs and sections that they work on over time start to come together. For a really interesting early jam, start with 1/17/92 – the pieces are all there, but it’s a little rough around the edges.
Throughout the Feb/March 92 dates, Porch continues to evolve. Then comes June. In particular 6/6 and 6/8 (the famous Pinkpop show with quite possibly Eddie’s most insane stage dive from a camera stand). But 6/18 is where it all came together perfectly, and it doesn’t need a stage dive video to put it over the top. Each section of the jam is crisp and cohesive. The interplay between Stone and Mike at several points is magical (almost Allman Brothers-esque), and the ending crescendo back into the final chorus is an absolute powerhouse. To me, this is the perfect, definitive version of Porch. I will die on this hill.
Honorable mentions: 8/21/91 (acoustic radio performance), 1/17/92, 2/22/92, 3/4/92, 3/16/92 (MTV Unplugged), 6/6/92, 6/8/92, 9/20/92, 12/1/93 (incredible climax jam), 3/29/94, 4/3/94, 3/17/95 (you can clearly hear the more melodic and mellow form this song will take in the coming years), 3/4/03, 5/3/03, 5/12/06 (quite possibly the most psychedelic jam ever), 6/3/06 and 10/15/13, 7/14/18 (the band teased “Seven Nation Army” with Jack White watching from the side of the stage at the Nos Alive festival in Lisbon, PT).
Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA – 4/3/94
Why: There are so many great versions from the early days. A good version hinges on the song being tight, Mike nailing the solo, and of course Eddie sounding great. The reason I chose a version from a little later on is how powerful Mike’s solo is and then how intense the ending section is. Go to the 4:30 mark and just listen to how gorgeous the whole band sounds right up through the end. It’s almost a heavy metal vibe for the final minute or so.
Honorable mentions: 8/23/91, 9/30/91, 2/19/92 (Acoustic version featured on the PJ20 soundtrack), 3/9/92, 6/18/92, 9/20/92, 12/31/92, 12/1/93, 5/13/06 (the re-worked version from the ’06 tour)
Spartan Stadium, San Jose, CA – 11/4/95
Why: 1991-1994 featured so many amazing renditions of this song, it’s hard to choose a favorite from that era. So why go with a 1995 “Deep”? Quite simply – there was something about Jack’s drumming that brought this song to an even more menacing level, from a musical standpoint. As the song builds to a climax and then disintegrates into chaos, those ’95 versions of “Deep” are just intense.
Honorable mentions: Pretty much anything from 1992. 11/24/93, 3/26/94, 4/2 and 4/3/94, 7/11/95, 11/6/95.
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA – 4/29/16
Why: Where to even begin? This song is powerful in so many ways, and is an emotional release (pun intended) for so many fans going through difficult times. Early on it was simply a beautiful song – normally a show opener and the perfect way to set the mood. The emotional content of the song is matched only by the desperation in Eddie’s voice. As the tours marched on over the years, “Release” turned into something of a communal affair – a singalong like no other.
I will never forget bringing a friend to his first show in 2006 (Boston, night 1). When the crowd took over singing for the first time, he just turned to me with a huge grin on his face. It’s an amazing song, and an amazing moment to see live. 4/29/16, or Philly night 2, is the show where the band busted out “Ten” in its entirety. They had already busted out a few complete albums in the previous couple of years, and if you caught one of them you knew it was a special show. But no matter which album show you caught; nothing compares with the sheer energy of the crowd like the “Ten” bust-out. Why? Because hardcore fans and more casual fans alike knew every word to every song.
The Wells Fargo Center was completely out of its mind throughout the set. As the band wrapped up the “Ten” portion of the show, there was only one more song to go: “Release”. Eddie gave a speech beforehand about how fans going through some really deep stuff in life are always requesting songs, and this particular version was dedicated to 2 brothers in the audience who lost their brother, Collin, recently. Being in attendance that night, just a couple of days removed from having attended 2 funerals, this speech and version of “Release” completely overwhelmed me. It was an amazing moment from an amazing show.
Honorable mentions: 3/4/92, 3/28/92, 4/3/94, 4/12/94, 3/17/95, 7/11/95, 5/26/00 (check out the slight changes Eddie makes to the way he sings several lines), 6/12/03 (Eddie says “Hi dad” mid-song after a lightning strike nearby), 5/24/06 (unreal crowd singalong), 9/16/06, 6/25/08, 8/8/18.
Final Thoughts on the Best of Ten Live Performances
So, there you have it. One fan’s completely subjective take on “Ten” after 30 years, and the versions of each song that stand tall amongst all the others. My hope is that maybe you agree with some of these and vehemently disagree with others. That’s why this band and their music is so great: There are no right or wrong answers.
It’s been an absolutely amazing ride for the past 30 years. Hopefully this band has affected you in some sort of powerful way, like it has me, no matter when you hopped on board. Cheers to the greatest band on the planet, and hopefully many more years to come!