How Pearl Jam Ruled the Road on ‘Live on Two Legs’
Two years before Pearl Jam released recordings of 72 shows to launch their Official Bootleg series, they dipped a toe in the live album waters with Live on Two Legs.
Released in the fall of 1998, Live on Two Legs became the document of the moment a great band became live legends. What happened the summer before turned into one of those musical miracles that seems to be a through-line in the Pearl Jam story.
With the momentum of Yield, where they veered into rougher rock waters after the more experimental No Code, Pearl Jam booked a massive summer tour of traditional North American arenas and amphitheaters, their first full-scale trip across the continent since their battle with Ticketmaster fizzled out. But there was a problem: They had no drummer. with Jack Irons ending his four-year stint with Pearl Jam, upon the conclusion of a month's worth of shows in Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia in March 1998.
However, Soundgarden had broken up the year before, leaving their old friend Matt Cameron without a band. A few phone calls and two intense weeks of Cameron learning 80 songs later, the mighty Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog drummer was on board for the summer tour. He turned out to be a turbo engine that supercharged the band’s new and older material on stage. A ticket to see them that summer was a golden ticket indeed.
With the focus off ticketing and venue issues, a perfect drummer and friend stepping into the breech and armed with a powerful new album, the Yield tour blew minds across the country.
Less than two months after the final notes of the final show (“Yellow Ledbetter” in West Palm Beach, Fla.), Pearl Jam delivered Live on Two Legs. It contained 16 songs recorded during the tour, each from a different stop, representing each of the band’s five albums along with a Neil Young cover for good measure. Curiously, the band chose not to include details about which song came from which show, leaving fans in the tape-trading community to puzzle it out.
Structured unlike any Pearl Jam show, Live on Two Legs nevertheless achieved the flow of a setlist, opening with Eddie Vedder leaning into the signature notes of “Corduroy,” from 1994’s Vitalogy, recorded at the United Center in Vedder's native Chicago.
Listen to "Corduroy" From 'Live on Two Legs'
Yield takes over next with build-to-a-soar “Given to Fly,” from the date at the Forum in Los Angeles, rolling in. 1996’s “Hail Hail” (from No Code) follows, before the singalong jam of 1993’s “Daughter (from Vs.) takes over, with tags of a few political songs, the hypnotic “W.M.A.” and Young’s “Rockin' in the Free World” from, perhaps fittingly, Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall.
The whirlwind continues with “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in i Small Town,” "MFC," “Go” and “Red Mosquito” before even deploying a song from the band’s classic debut, Ten. But when “Even Flow” hits, it hits hard. With a groove 10 miles deep, the solo jam screeches in with Vedder intoning “Let me introduce you to Michael [McCready]" and bounces out with Stone Gossard on the feedback. Only one other Ten tune, the muscular ballad "Black," made the 16-song track listing.
Quieter songs do have their moments (i.e. “Elderly Woman,” and “Off He Goes” segueing into “Nothingman”), but the big rock moments where each band member locks into his part of the propulsion stand as highlights here. Witness “Do the Evolution,” from Vedder’s opening howl and Vedder, McCready and Gossard’s triple-guitar assault to the solo where Cameron’s backbeat outshines the axes and Jeff Ament’s bass putting the rubber on the road.
Listen to "Do the Evolution" From 'Live on Two Legs'
Pearl Jam would go on to release just about every full show they played after this tour, and, of course, the set lists would continue to expand. But once upon a time, there was only the Yield tour -- their first long stretch out on the road with a healthy catalog under their belt -- where Pearl Jam were truly able to spread their wings and fly. With Live on Two Legs, they managed to give a glimpse of what it all felt like that summer to have the band in its finest form up to that date.
“We’re making up for lost time here,” Vedder says from the stage at one point. “Thanks for waiting.”