Pearl Jam worked out the bugs on 'Mt. Baker Theatre 5/10/00'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“Thank you, Mt. Baker. What a fucking dump. It’s the nicest practice place we’ve ever had, actually.”
And it’s in this practice dump (in reality, the ornate Mt. Baker Theatre in northern Washington) where we find Pearl Jam, tuning up before setting out for what would eventually be the hardest six months they’d ever spent on the road.
Mt. Baker Theatre, Bellingham, WA, 5/10/00 is the fourth in the band’s Vault live album series, and presents the complete first show (save for “Dead Man,” which was removed reasons unknown) of that year. This was one of two warm-up shows before setting out to Europe for the first leg of their 2000 tour, so fittingly most of the set comes from Binaural — 10 of that record’s 13 songs are present here, including the first seven songs of the night. And there’s a little unease in some of the songs. “Light Years” has an ever-so-slightly extended introduction before falling into an arrangement that closely matches its Binaural counterpart. Later, it would grow to have a more authoritative drum introduction.
It’s also interesting to hear the audience react to the new material. Early on, “Nothing as it Seems” is given a huge response — it was the first single released ahead of Binaural, and it likely would have been one of the few new songs fans knew beforehand. It’s current status is as a rarely played cult favorite, but here it’s a rousing crowd pleaser. The band went through a battle with Epic to have “Nothing as it Seems” stand as the first single, so the rapturous response must have felt like something of a victory to the band at the time.
But this is also a rock show, and the party vibe and intensity jumps considerably when the band switches from “Thin Air” to the raucous “Do the Evolution.” The vibe loosens considerably from there, with a chatty Vedder setting up the first live reading of “Insignificance” and an improv in the first encore leading into a thundering version of “Go” that’s light on the actual lyrics, but punches right on the riffs.
Therein lies the rust the band was still shaking. Save for a couple of acoustic 1999 appearances at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, Pearl Jam hadn’t played live for the better part of 18 months. At their best on stage, they’re a loose-but-tight ensemble, casual enough to roll with the punches but wound-up to veer off wherever necessary. That vibe would be captured well enough on the following European jaunt (famously documented on 25 subsequent double-disc live albums), and the seed of that is apparent here.
This is the beginning of Pearl Jam’s transition from simply a very well-rehearsed and energetic live band they’d been before 2000 to the much more adventurous group they’d become night after night. Two-hour sets were still the norm and three-hour nights were for special occasions. Songs weren’t as stretched out as they’d become, though “Daughter” gets an extended “Hold On” improv tag here. Eddie Vedder also isn’t nearly as conversational as he is today. But the setlists were already changing nightly, and everything was on the table. That’s the feeling the band presents on this night.
New challenges would present themselves when they came back to North America following the horrifying conclusion of their stay in Europe, of course. Their appearance at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival ended in horror when nine fans were crushed to death in front of the stage, leading the band to cancel the rest of their dates and rethinking everything before playing live again.
This night, then, finds the band before that weight came down. It’s five musicians peeking back out from behind the curtain, ready to take the music out before the masses with only that music to fret about. It’s not perfect, it’s practice.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com