Op-Ed: Give Way – Does It Give Enough?
In this opinion piece, Live On 4 Legs contributor and Hallucinogenic Recipe podcast co-host Patrick Boegel shares his frustration regarding the recent announcement of Pearl Jam releasing Give Way for Record Store Day 2023 and pleads for a more comprehensive approach to the band’s legacy. The impact of Record Store Day is starting to come under more scrutiny, leave a comment and let us know what you think.
On January 10, more or less at 10 am Pacific time, the monthly ritual of the last several years for Pearl Jam fans landed in email boxes. The subject line of this monthly missive at quick glance raised a momentary jolt of excitement to the synapses:
Pearl Jam, we have a problem. You are confounding us. Your approach to your musical archive legacy is puzzling to some of us fans.
As a music fan, particularly a live music fan and a Pearl Jam fan, we are given a lot. Since the year 2000, almost every show the band has played has been released for fan consumption, with some notable exceptions. We are nearing somewhere close to the 500 mark or thereabouts since the Binaural tour and the first series of the official bootlegs. That is a lot of great memories and just damn good live music listening. But there is a but, so let’s talk about it.
Back to that January newsletter, we kind of, sort of, maybe thought for a fleeting moment we were getting a follow up to the Ten and Vs./Vitalogy era box sets. Alas, no. I’ll spare everyone me bemoaning the teased videos to look out for which turned out to be bits of Single Video Theory.
On February 16, Record Store Day announced their list for the year. Images of part of the list had begun leaking the night before, so as is the case among us freaks, we speculate, good and bad. The release we are getting from Pearl Jam is an officially sanctioned release of the infamous Give Way promo CD, a 17-track selection from the Triple JJJ broadcast of the March 5th, 1998 Melbourne Australia concert.
Originally slated for release at Best Buy stores, this promotional CD was to be bundled with Single Video Theory back in the spring of 1998. It got pulled from the stores at the last minute, as it was evidently not authorized by the band. A few leaked through the years, and to some collectors it is what might be referred to as a grail. So what’s the problem with that you ask? The Give Way promo CD was, as noted, 17 tracks. The concert is actually a 25-song set. Frankly, I never quite gave a rip about the Give Way promo CD because it was incomplete and the entire show has been available to all of us fans in exceptionally good pre-FM soundboard sound quality since 1999. As I write this, I’m listening to my home-burned CDRs of the show, which replaced the cassette tapes I had prior.
I can understand releasing the performance, it is an absolutely classic show. Somehow those radio shows from the era always hit a high mark. I may be part of a small nitpicky bunch that would argue, let’s hear some things that are not already easily accessible in great quality? Why go to the trouble of releasing this particular show and not make it complete? We know they have the tapes. Again, listening to the show right now, every track exists in complete stereo. It would, however, take a third LP to release this entire show. It could still be a nod to the promotional nature of the original, it doesn’t need to be a replica. In that light, the CD version, also slated for Record Store Day, is kind of oddly hilarious. It is a total trinket, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever need this or play it, given as I have stated, I am listening to the entire show right now on CD. An edited version on CD is landfill material.
Nothing I say is going to change this pending release, it is surely already pressed, printed, and ready to ship out to record stores across the globe. And yes, I am going to buy it. I love records, I love live music, and I love Pearl Jam. Plus, there is not much Pearl Jam with Jack Irons live that I can legally put on the turntable. But can we start thinking about all this differently? I don’t know if it is a situation of being too close to the sun, too busy, or just not knowing the hardcore base of fans when it comes to these archival releases. We ponder and guess that maybe things are just completely missing in terms of shows, parts of shows, or entire eras.
Record Store Day has yielded us music-collecting Pearl Jam fans two incomplete takes on the Easy Street Records performance from 2005, one on CD and one recently on vinyl. We have MTV Unplugged, incomplete, but nice nevertheless to have on vinyl, even though everyone has that one from the Ten box set on DVD or via numerous variations of the complete show traded completely for free among the fan community for decades. In 2022, a reissue color variant of Live on Two Legs, a nice piece for vinyl fans who aren’t perhaps as fortunate as some of us to have the original 1998 pressing. I won’t even go down the road of the pressing plant issues that plagued a good portion of this release.
Look, the world has bigger issues than the approach to a band’s musical archive releases for its fans. Fully acknowledged, this is not a life-or-death issue. That said, my point is the entire history of the band means a great deal to many of us, and selfishly, we are not getting younger. This intense connection to this music, both now and in the past, matters a great deal to a lot of us, and I humbly submit that we would like to see it go a different route.
How about a full show, or as much as is not compromised due to master tape limitations that may exist? Perhaps the first night of Melbourne 1998? Or pick a date, any date, that we don’t already have the performance in complete pristine quality? Or, much as say a band like the Grateful Dead for a Record Store Day several years ago, releasing an alternate version of their classic live album, Europe ’72? Or even picking selected songs from the entire Australian and New Zealand run that year?
Pearl Jam, you give us a lot, we appreciate that. Some of us would just really love to dig deeper into the pre-Binaural tours. Tap into an era when us fans helped make the live show lore happen. It was us – the tapers, the traders, the interested and skilled folks who learned how to use audio programs to mix and re-mix shows – paving the way for the official bootleg series, because we wanted it. All we are asking is that we go a little further into the vault than the obvious and easy. And when an idea comes up such as a release of that promotional item that got shelved 25 years ago, maybe go the extra mile and make it the full show. And with that, I yield.
Those of us highly interested in a No Code/Yield box set. We’ve got some ideas.