Pearl Jam Vault Vinyl: 20 Concerts Worthy of Wax
Live Performances Worthy of a Pearl Jam Vault Release
There has been a demand for high quality bootlegs in the Pearl Jam community for going on 3 decades. It has changed over the years: tape trading turned into CD-R trading, which turned into mp3 downloads, which turned into torrents, but the demand has always been there. There’s also a high demand for Pearl Jam vinyl, and in particular limited upcoming releases such as the Live On Two Legs RSD reissue and the special “Up” and “Down” editions of Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991-2003.
Pearl Jam first released Live On Two Legs in November 1998, a compilation of performances from that year’s tour. It was the first official live release from the band, unless you count the Dissident 3CD digipak set from 1994, which contained most of the Atlanta 4/3/94 show (minus covers and new songs), and was never easy to find in its entirety, becoming somewhat of a rarity over time.
Then in 2000, the almost unthinkable occurred: the band decided to release (almost) the entire tour on CD. I will fully admit to dropping way too much money for the entire set through the Ten Club when they were released as a package deal. 72 shows in total, including 18 with the “Ape/Man” logo on the back, signifying a show the band thought was a level above the others. It took me a long time to listen to the entire tour, but after a few months I had listened to the entire series (and while I mostly agree with the Ape/Man designations, I still have a bone to pick with the band with a few omissions).
To make matters worse, on my wallet, the band did it again for the 2003 tour. And yet again, like the sucker I am, I shelled out far too much money to get the entire set:
At this point, the band was off to the races. Minus a handful of shows here and there (more on this later), pretty much every show they have played since 2000 has been officially released. Personally, I scaled back my purchasing after 2003 to just shows I attended, and then a few other highly regarded shows per tour (Moline, Grand Rapids, etc).
As a supplement to the ongoing live releases, the band also kicked off what they call the “Vault Series”, where they release some handpicked shows on vinyl and (usually) digital formats. My personally highly subjective take on the Vault series is that some of the releases have been complete home runs, and a few others have had me scratching my head as to why that particular show was chosen over others (either because I think better shows exist on that tour that I wish had the soundboard treatment, or because a good source already exists in the bootleg community). But then again, I put way too much time and effort into listening to and dissecting PJ bootlegs. The fact that the Vault series is even a thing is awesome. We’re truly spoiled as fans (and in turn I am sure we’re all putting the band’s great-great-great-great-great grandchildren through college.)
The other day I was having a conversation with Patrick Boegel, my co-host on the “Hallucinogenic Recipe” podcast. The whole point of the podcast is to relive the days of collecting and trading bootlegs in the 90s. It’s really just an excuse to geek out and reminisce about the days before Napster, the official bootleg series, and the glut of music available to everyone with just a few clicks. When you received a new batch of shows in the mail, it was like Christmas. The dates and names of the towns and venues became part of your psyche. Mention any one of these to one of those old school collectors and they’ll know exactly what you are talking about: Utrecht, Pinkpop, Brixton Academy, Den Haag, Soldier Field, Magnuson Park. You acquired shows and listened to them ad nauseam. Some shows were instant classics, as they were not only great performances but also great recordings. Other shows were amazing, but sounded like someone recorded it with a Fisher Price “My First Tape Recorder” in their pocket…covered in a pillow…next to a drunk guy having a conversation with his buddy, conveniently during the best parts of the show.
With no official releases at the time, this is what you had to put up with. Our conversation turned to the Vault series, and how we wished certain shows would be released. The Live On 4 Legs team put our heads together and we decided to give the band some recommendations. We came up with a few rules: you can’t choose a show already released in any format, and no duplicates between the 4 of us. Other than that, everything is fair game.
Got a show you used to love on tape (or now love digitally) but the sound quality is horrendous? Now is the time to plead your case as to why the band has done everyone a horrible disservice by not releasing it officially.
Without further ado: I get 5, you get 5, everyone gets 5! Here are our picks for the Pearl Jam Vault vinyl series if it were in our hands.
Brian’s Picks for the Pearl Jam Vault Series:
5/5/92, Boulder, CO
I sometimes feel like Apr/May ’92 is sort of a forgotten period when discussing that era, but it’s every bit as important. In my tape trading days, I had a ton of shows from earlier in ’92, several killer Euro shows from June, and then Lollapalooza. But Apr/May was sorely underrepresented. This was the era where they were truly ascending into the level of fame they would soon grow weary of. You can really hear some great energy on of the bootlegs from this era, and this show is a great example. From the opening notes of Oceans, the crowd is really into it, and I suspect a big reason why is that they actually know the songs by this point. This show is full of energy and features several improvs and jams, as was typical of the shows during this time.
Highlights: Check out this sequence of songs ending the main set: Black, State of Love and Trust, Improv (I’m Not Crazy), Once, Colorado Jam, Porch. That’s some absolutely quintessential stuff right there.
12/1/93, Las Vegas, NV
Why: As co-host of the “Hallucinogenic Recipe” podcast with Patrick, we would be remiss if one of us did not include this concert that was included in the eponymous box set. The version I’ve had as part of that box set since ’95 is etched in my brain, but the sound quality has always left a lot to be desired; it’s totally listenable and conveys a lot of the energy, but it’s missing several songs and I would kill for a soundboard. When the band chose the previous night to be a Vault release, in my opinion a lesser show, I was totally bummed. This show just slays and an official release needs to see the light of day.
Highlights: Ed’s voice in Blood is other-wordly. The jam in Porch reaches a crescendo you need to hear to believe; it’s the most underrated version in my opinion (and Eddie’s little speech before the song about getting into a fight and what it truly means to be grunge is hilarious). As a matter of fact, Blood through Alone is just crushing. Speaking of Alone, please allow me to geek out for a moment: as Eddie is trying to take requests, you can clearly hear Dave play the intro chimes to Rush’s “YYZ” which, as a massive Rush fan, quite pleases me.
3/29/94, St. Petersburg, FL
Why: Several months ago one of my PJ friends responded to a comment of mine online where I mentioned this show, and he said something along the lines of “Ever since I have known you, you always bring this show up.” There’s a reason for this: quite simply, it is one of the best shows they have ever played. The audience bootleg is actually pretty good, but again a soundboard recording would be just incredible. This show has it all: jams, powerful versions, a very sarcastic and talkative Eddie, you name it. I hold this one in very high regard, in very rare company for a reason.
Highlights: As with the Vegas show, this one has a ridiculously powerful version of Blood (complete with a unique ending crescendo on guitar), and one of the craziest, longest, and most unique Porch jams you will ever have the pleasure to listen to (and Ed’s voice is as good as you will ever hear). There’s also a very powerful ending to Black. Several Vitalogy songs are played, including Last Exit (with a hilarious intro, and labeled as “Three Days” on my Hotpoint bootleg) and quite possibly the greatest and angriest Not For You ever performed.
3/15/98, Brisbane, AU
Why: The final tour of Jack’s tenure in the band is sorely under-represented in bootleg form. Most people have 3/5/98, and then you really have to dig to find other shows with good enough audio quality to listen to. I chose this over 3/12/98 because this one has the poorer audio and would really shine with a soundboard release.
Highlights: The run of songs to end the main set is just killer: Given To Fly, Throw Your Arms Around Me, Off He Goes, Improv > Habit, Rearviewmirror (with a very chill and melodic middle jam). The extended, chill, ending jam on Corduroy is also very nice.
8/20/98, Montreal, CA
Why: Okay, fine – I am biased with this one. This was my second show, and my first with amazing seats. The bootleg source that surfaced more recently than the original source is certainly listenable and actually does a very good job of representing the energy of the audience that night (greatest crowd ever), but I would absolutely kill for a better sounding source. Unfortunately this wish may never come true, because in a recent issue of Deep discussing the ’98 MSG Shows and Live On Two Legs, Brett Eliason explained: “Well, New York City unions charge 10 or 12 grand to record, so we didn’t record it! There were a couple of shows along those lines. Montreal was the same thing. They wanted a ton of money. Sadly, those end up being some of the best shows. This was at a point where we didn’t even know we were working on a live record. Was it worth it dollar-wise to pay all that money just to have some tapes sit in a vault? Turns out maybe, but that’s hindsight.” Sad face. Sad face indeed. Pearl Jam: if you have a secret source of this show hiding in the vaults, maybe ask the Montreal unions if enough time has passed so that you can release it without facing any lawsuits? Maybe? Please?
Highlights: Want to hear the first time I actually cried at a PJ show? Listen to the beginning of the show as they transition from Sometimes to Corduroy. The intro of Corduroy, as the crowd erupts and then the song builds to the first verse, was just something I cannot possibly convey. It was too much for me to handle. Also noteworthy is the return, after 4 years, of Hard To Imagine. Check out the intensity of this run of songs: Corduroy, Animal, Hail, Hail, Brain of J., Red Mosquito, and Given To Fly. Mike goes bananas during the jam in Black.
Patrick’s Picks for the Pearl Jam Vault Series:
When I think about shows I would like to hear from Pearl Jam’s Vault series a couple of things immediately come to mind. One, I have little to no interest in hearing something I already have in very good audio quality. So no to existing FM, Pre-FM, or even Monkey Wrench mono broadcasts. Two, I don’t want a modern show just for the sake of getting it on vinyl. I see little to gain from re-releases of the year 2000 or later. So with that in mind, here are the five shows I would love to see as Vault releases.
11/17/93, New Orleans, LA
While there have been 2 Vault releases from the fall of 1993 Vs. tour, 2 just ain’t enough. This night 2 show of a rare 3-night run happens to have a very nice audience recording that has been available for decades, and it is particularly great sounding on the slower and mid-tempo songs. A typical-for-the-era early set Even Flow develops into a funky groove between Stone and Dave, creating some room for a more nuanced, albeit reined in, solo from Mike. Daughter meanders into a one-time-only snippet tag of Release, and is followed by a fiercely tight version of Go, paced by Dave’s 5th gear rhythm. The main set closes with a run of Footsteps, Alive, Garden and Porch, of which the latter two were omitted from early bootlegs.
An always welcome and loose version of Rats opens the encore, finding Stone at his absolute best. But the highlights of the evening, and what would be worth every penny of a carefully cut lacquer, are Crazy Mary and Indifference. The former is not on a Vault release to date, this being just its second live appearance and last outside of a few teases and tags until the 2000 tour. It features both original songwriter Victoria Williams on guitar and vocals, as well as producer Brendan O’Brien on organ. O’Brien also adds his presence to Indifference, which finds Eddie showcasing some of his peak vocal range.
4/7/94, Rochester, NY
While you could argue there is not much difference between Pearl Jam in the fall of 1993 and spring of 1994, that argument would fall flat. This show is nestled neatly in the middle of the famous Atlanta radio broadcast and the officially released, but truncated, version of the infamous Orpheum Theater show. A listenable, but up and down audience recording of this show exists and is worth seeking out. The audience is amped up and you can hear this clearly from song to song.
The show begins with a stunning Wash, the final time it would be performed with Abbruzzese. Mike feeds off the band’s tight-knit rhythm. Breath at mid-set does much of the same, with Mike reeling off passion on the fretboard in the key of E. The main set comes to a close with a thunderous Alive.
The encore opens with a stellar Rearviewmirror, showing hints of where this song could and would go in years to come. A raw but inspired second-ever live performance of Corduroy follows. While its ending was still uncertain, it is a great historical nugget followed by some great Ed deadpan crowd taunting. Porch is…well, Porch is just another notch in the belt. The best way I can describe the first jam is Fugazi-meets-Black-Sabbath-at-a-luncheon-hosted-by-Pink-Floyd. Dave signals the redirect to the bridge to the final chorus at the five-minute mark, but Mike has other ideas that Stone and Jeff run with.
9/14/95, Las Cruces, NM
Night two of four makeup dates, out on the “Sponsored By No One” tour, playing shows without Ticketmaster. Unfortunately, the short run of make up shows in September 1995 was not broadcast via the pirate FM Monkey Wrench Radio, as the preceding Soldier Field and the subsequent November make up shows all were. Early set highlights include a shimmering Release, a torrid Spin the Black Circle, a jangly romp through Tremor Christ, and a now-polished Corduroy.
While the main set is full of crackling energy, things reach an atomic level with Immortality as Jack Irons begins to take center stage. Black features a soaring jam that would be the hallmark for years to come. Porch circa fall 1995 grooves in a way that would have been almost impossible to imagine a year prior. Jack sets a tone and pocket with Jeff that allows for Stone and Mike to experiment in a much more nuanced fashion, and includes a nod to “Third Stone from the Sun” from McCready.
Blood is the showstopper of the encore. By this point of Jack’s tenure, post-Mirror Ball tour, the band was getting comfortable taking songs down unpaved roads. Blood in the fall of 1995 is space thunder music for punks. To put a cherry on top, the band wraps the evening up with Footsteps and Yellow Ledbetter back to back, one of only three times the songs have been paired directly together in a set. For songs that existed in late September and early October of 1990, that is remarkable.
9/28/96, Randall’s Island, NY
Look, everyone knows night two was epic in length, and it was indisputably a great show. We are fortunate to have a couple of great audience tapes and solid video of the evening. But night one was just sharper, and against all odds, anyone in attendance should have been miserable at an open air show in the rain in late September. The rain dampened the taping, but not the playing.
The show kicks off with a thumping Last Exit followed by Hail, Hail, Animal, and Spin the Black Circle. Frenzy. Not For You is intense, as the band seemingly has control of the weather. State of Love and Trust kicks off an epic five-song run to end the main set with just pure energy, closing with an excellent Blood, tagged in part with David Bowie’s “Fame”.
The encores include an all-time great Even Flow, with John Popper on harmonica, and a show-closing, soul-gripping Indifference. There are rumors that multi-track recordings of the Randall’s Island shows do not exist. If that is the case, just use the master board recordings. Everyone deserves to hear this show in the highest quality possible, and if it is not multi-track, so be it. This is not some passing fancy or contrarian take. I was at both Randall’s Island shows, and have felt like this from the moment after it was all over. Both shows are stunning; however, Saturday, September 28th was absolutely brilliant.
11/21/96, Barcelona, ESP
There are absolutely great audience recordings of this show. They have even been mixed together to enhance their grandeur. Still, there is something about this set that screams “Let me out of the vault!” Eleven of the thirteen No Code tracks are performed on this night. Wash opens the evening, and is brimming with energy as the band and crowd feed off of each other, with Ed already in great form. That same feel carries through intense romps of Last Exit, Hail, Hail and Animal. Red Mosquito and Even Flow allow Mike to shine, and the quartet of Rearviewmirror, Immortality, Alive, and Porch put an exclamation point on a stellar 19 song main set with the band in top form.
The encores kick off with Stone on the mic for Mankind, followed by the veterans Once and State of Love and Trust. The contemplative and gentle beginnings of Present Tense build and soar into a chaotic jam that steers to shore. Smile, which is featured on the 1996 fan club single, is beginning to hit a stride as it is played for just the tenth time. Blood brings the first encore to a close, much different from the noise jams that became the hallmark of the song the year prior. These 1996 versions build around Jack’s pulsating groove and have a slight off-beat funk flair to them. The evening comes to a close with the third performance of Around the Bend. It is on point and poignant. There are a couple of these shows through the years that get a heavy dose of No Code songs, but it’s usually six, seven, maybe eight songs. Even on the No Code tour itself, a half-dozen or so songs a night was a gift. So being treated with 11 is something. And hey, Smile is evidence that the multi-track for this one exists, so why not? Como se dice, Smile?
John’s Picks for the Pearl Jam Vault Series:
I tried to find some lesser-known shows that would really be brought to the forefront by having a Vault release. I’m holding out hope that they’ll follow in Fugazi’s footsteps and release everything, pay-per-show, but until then, we’ll have to be happy with 1-2 shows released per year.
9/3/98, Birmingham, AL
One of the many oft-overlooked gems of the Yield tour, this show has some rarities (Leatherman, a mid-set Footsteps, a short tease of “Dueling Banjos” to integrate themselves with the locals), but its strength comes from the powerful renditions of some of the band’s strongest live material, and that should make it an easy choice for a Vault release. It’s one of the handful of shows on this tour that open with Release, and Hail, Hail, Corduroy, and an incredible Immortality punctuate the early part of the set. Matt Cameron has one of his best early nights with the band, lifting up the aforementioned Immortality, pounding accents on Daughter, and driving Rearviewmirror all the way to the end. Alive grooves and bounces like the early days, and it closes with a triumphant Baba O’Riley. This one deserves the full treatment.
4/8/94, Fairfax, VA
Part of arguably the most eventful 2 weeks in the band’s history (The Atlanta 94 radio broadcast, recording Vitalogy, visiting the White House, the Boston shows, Saturday Night Live, etc., etc.), this emotionally heavy show takes place the day that Kurt Cobain’s body was found. Ed reportedly destroyed his hotel room before the show, and the band is a raw, exposed nerve on stage, culminating in a version of Breath that Mike McCready sends soaring into the stratosphere with a cathartic solo. Ed offers up a poignant speech about fame. Early versions of Corduroy and Not For You are not to be missed in the encore. This one is a long shot, the memory might be too painful to exploit, but it would be a must-listen.
7/16/93, Rotterdam, NED
This show is all speed and energy, and the distant audience recording doesn’t do it justice, as blistering versions of Rearviewmirror, Go, and Porch try to claw through the speakers. Fuckin’ Up, Sonic Reducer, and even a sped-up Rockin’ In The Free World keep the pace going right to the end. This one needs to be unleashed upon the world and played loud.
9/24/96, Columbia, MD
Every Vault needs something to grab your attention to start off, and this show has one of the best, most heart-wrenching Long Road performances that does just that. The Vault series is crying out for a Jack Irons rendition of In My Tree, and this show has a great one. They take a request to start encore two, and it’s a fantastic Wash. 1996 has its big moments (Randall’s Island, Berlin), but a Vault release like this would help increase its stature.
2/19/92, Winterthur, SWI
The original Unplugged. As seen in the Pearl Jam Twenty movie, the small, cramped stage at this venue forced the band to play an acoustic show. No audience recording of the show has ever surfaced, this would be a true Vault discovery. The reported jam session at the end of the show only makes it that much more tantalizing. This one would move the meter and get everyone’s attention. Garden appeared on the PJ20 soundtrack, but I’m dying to hear the entire show.
Randy’s Picks for the Pearl Jam Vault Series:
I’m going to take a little bit of a different route with my picks. The other three guys grew up pursuing bootlegs from all over the map and compiling collections I could only dream of. I’ve been a digital beneficiary of that. There is practically nothing you can’t find through friends and various publications, albeit not at the top-notch quality that Vault releases have provided. But even after the band’s effort to release everything past 2000, there are shows that have never been officially released. There’s a few I’ll leave off – both PJ20 shows and the 2012 Made In America festival, both speculated to not have releases for specific reasons, but deserve the mention. Hell, there is a chance that none of these shows are allowed to be released in any capacity. But this is essentially playing fantasy Vault, so in this universe we’ll make it count.
10/2/94, Bridge School
The likelihood of this getting a release is extremely low, unless there is a fundraiser element attached to it. As you’ll see with some of my other picks here, most shows that were done for charity did not have official bootlegs. It’s why the best that you’ll get with any of the 17 Bridge School shows is a YouTube video with an angle from the upper deck stationed on the amphitheater video screen. I picked the second night of the 1994 shows because this marked a turning point for the band right before Vitalogy came out. It’s Jack Irons’ introduction, it’s Not For You and Immortality getting rare action in acoustic form, it’s Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers accompanying them on Black, and it’s the only Bee Girl performance for another 11 years. The fact that this show is only a 45 minute set of 7 songs could help the vinyl production stick to one disc, cutting costs and potentially keeping more in stock after pre-order fulfillment. Question is, did they actually run any soundboard tapes during this? The Bridge School compilation that came out a decade ago makes me think it’s possible.
4/12/03, Orlando, FL
This show doesn’t get talked about enough, but it would fall right in line with the Vic Theater release. With a crowd of 2,000 radio station contest winners in a Floridian city which they haven’t ventured into since, this show was never released as an official bootleg from the 2003 tour. It’s not the rarity-heavy set that helped popularize the Vic, but you do get the rarely played ukulele Who cover of Blue Red and Grey. There hasn’t been a vault release from the Riot Act years, so this can easily help fill that void with songs like Can’t Keep, Get Right, and Thumbing My Way getting an upgrade onto vinyl.
10/5/04, St. Louis, MO
About 99% of Pearl Jam fans’ minds will immediately think of Atlanta when they hear the Fox Theater venue name, but I decided to pick this one for a few reasons. First off, there are no official bootleg releases from 2004. That may be due to the nature of the year being a part of the Vote For Change touring circuit. The ideal pick for most people would be Toledo from 10/2, but the next show on this list fills in the special guest narrative. There are some cool things at this show: Alone makes its live comeback for the first time in a decade this year, the first encore is all acoustic songs and closes with Black, it’s the third and final time they play the Who song The Seeker, and includes other covers befitting of the era, such as American In Me, Fortunate Son and The New World.
10/5/05, Chicago, IL
Exactly a year later, after finishing up a long Canadian tour in 2005 and some extraneous dates in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, the band played a benefit show in Chicago to raise money for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Performing alongside them at this show was Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. While commonly citing Zeppelin as an influence of theirs, it’s an extremely rare commodity to hear any covers or tributes to Zeppelin in their shows (The most notable thing would be Mike’s Stairway To Heaven solo in Crazy Mary). At this show, they get the honor of having Plant join them on stage for a few Zeppelin songs and a bonus Elvis song. In the past, Vault releases have been extremely careful on which covers are included. Many that cite the Soldier Field show missing its encore could be due to not wanting to pay out royalties to use Everyday People or Let My Love Open The Door. Potentially the same goes with the absence of Baba O’Riley on the 1/17/1992 Moore Theater Vault, but it’s not like Baba hasn’t been produced on hundreds of boots before, so why the issue there? That’s not information we’re privy to, it’s all speculation, but the idea that there’s nothing official for a show featuring Robert Plant is just borderline ridiculous.
7/19/13, Wrigley Field
To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing any speculation as to why we never received an official boot. And if I did, then I’ve either forgotten or the reason wasn’t strong enough. Any way you slice it, it feels like there shouldn’t be any excuse for this not to have a real release. Now, put this on vinyl and you have at the very least 4 discs needed to fulfill that monster of a set. But it would be more than worth it. You’ll have the wonderful stories of Ed waxing poetic about the ballpark he grew up adoring, a peek into how the threat of rain would put the show at a complete standstill, and best of all…don’t you want a live rendition of Bugs on vinyl? Unfortunately, it seems like if they have held onto it for this long then something massive is preventing it from ever getting into the public’s hands. Crazier things have happened, but I think we’ve been waiting for this as long as the rain delay.
Final Thoughts on Additions to the Pearl Jam Vault Series:
There you have it, 20 concerts from different time periods and tours that we think are worthy of a Pearl Jam vault vinyl release. Like our picks? Hate them? Are there any you think we missed?
Leave your list of shows you’d love to see added as a Vault Series release in the comments below!