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Pearl Jam in the Rear View Mirror

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on May 17, 2006 4:10PM

It seems obvious now, but if you were an avid rock music fan in 1992 and someone told you that of the four standard bearers of the Seattle sound (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, 2006_05_pearljam.jpgSoundgarden, and Alice In Chains whose current Phil Anselmo-William DuVall-fronted incarnation isn’t fooling anyone), Pearl Jam would be the one to survive over a decade later, you would have been forgiven for thinking they were high. Yet all the signs were there.

Consider their debut. In a year not lacking for solid rock albums (Nirvana’s Nevermind, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger), Ten stood out in both its iconography and sound. The cover showed five hands clasped together in what initially resembled triumph or celebration, but now looks more like promise. Specifically, a promise that the band endures as something greater than the sum of its parts, rotating drummers and Ticketmaster battles be damned.

Though Nevermind’s obscure lyrics and angst-ridden riffs were a rejection of much of what came before it, Ten’s defiance was wrapped in arena-ready choruses surrounded by muscle-bound guitars that were hardly left of center. But the familiarity it bred with its mainstream audience would later be rejected by the band on subsequent albums as their experimentation often seemed to dare their fans to remain loyal.

When an artist releases a self-titled album after several years in the public eye (especially when it’s preceeded by both greatest hits and rarities collections), it’s usually an attempt to re-define the band’s identity, for better or worse. And though the Pearl Jam found on their most recent record is different than the five young turks on Ten (the sound is edgier, and the lyrics are blessed with the wisdom of age), the band’s credo hasn’t changed. They remain on the road less traveled by your average rock band, the one that leads to longevity and perhaps peace of mind.

If you've got $50 dollars lying around, you can still pick up tickets for tonight's Pearl Jam show at United Center, where if reports from last night's show are any indication, you'll be in for two and a half hours of PJ, which averages out to about 33 cents a minute, not counting opener My Morning Jacket.