Kansas City; St. Louis (self-released)

Pearl Jam 

Kansas City; St. Louis (self-released)

Between the Chiefs and the Rams, the Royals and the Cardinals, there are plenty of athletic rivalries to inspire heated debates between Kansas Citians and those I-70 neighbors under the arch. But the music scenes are hard to compare because the cities excel at different sports, with Kansas City scoring high in the indie/emo ballpark and St. Louis boasting hip-hop heavyweight Nelly and such alt-rock mid-majors as The Urge and Gravity Kills. Both St. Louis and Kansas City tend to get the same big tours, which raises the question: When rock stars remark onstage, "You guys are crazy here in Kansas City, way crazier than in St. Louis!" are they just fishing for applause, repeating the same scripted lines they toss out at every tour spot or expressing genuine appreciation? To find out, some band would have to tape every performance on a lengthy coast-to-coast trip, enabling fans to compare and contrast set lists and complimentary banter.

Considerately, Pearl Jam did just that. Both St. Louis (October 11) and Kansas City (October 12) received the double-disc treatment as part of the final leg of the group's 2000 tour. To his credit, Eddie Vedder isn't big on spewing cheer-bait, so the question of which city's fans rock harder remains unresolved. In his only local nods, he told Kansas City fans that the Cardinals had lost to the Mets (to a chorus of amused shouts), then retracted, revealing the game was actually tied 3-3. In St. Louis, he informed fans that the Cardinals had just won, setting off more than a minute of wild rejoicing. After the hoots died down, he delivered the punchline: The team had actually lost, so "aren't you glad you were here instead of at some fucking game?" His ploy earned him a few more cheers, though he probably lost the hardcore jock contingent for the remainder of the night.

Regional rivalry aside, the Pearl Jam discs make for an enjoyable study, given that the group actually plays a dramatically altered set each night. The Kansas City show, one of last year's best Sandstone offerings, opens with the slow-building "Release Me," which showcases Vedder's vocals at their most lush. Pearl Jam then kicks into a roaring rendition of "Do the Evolution" and seldom slows down for a significant stretch of the first disc, giving "Even Flow" a faster, almost thrashy feel and following it up with the adrenalized "Spin the Black Circle." Finally, the band catches its breath with the lazy-paced singalong "Betterman," into which it weaves the English Beat's "Save It for Later," and a funk-infused take on "Animal."

Disc two starts with a truly unique version of "Jeremy," which Vedder introduces with the title "Love Amongst the Dead." In the second verse, Vedder omits the word "fuck" and the crowd happily fills in the blank. Seconds later, he needs help again when he seemingly forgets the words, singing the wrong lines and then trailing off as his fans encourage him with applause. There are no such slip-ups during Pearl Jam's sparkling run-through of another classic, "Black," which features three solid minutes of intriguing instrumental wandering. Even so, the group doesn't really emphasize the Jam in its name until "Rear View Mirror," which starts out quickly, then meanders into a free-form jazz odyssey before re-embracing its driving bassline.

Pearl Jam opens the St. Louis show with four songs it didn't play in Kansas City, the most impressive of which is a turbo-charged version of "Go." The group again comes in like a lion, pausing only for the low-key "Insignificance" before storming through "State of Love and Trust," another cut that didn't make the KC set list. A sizable number of song introductions proves Vedder was a bit chattier on this evening, albeit no less incoherent. ("Those lighters look like souls dancing," he mumbles at one point.) After a crowd-pleasing call-and-response couplet of "Daughter" and "Betterman," the group plays its finest B-side, the sullen slow-burner "Footsteps." I've got scratches all over my arms/One for each day since I fell apart, Vedder growls, his voice communicating both anguish and resignation.

The second St. Louis disc is improv-heavy, as Pearl Jam performs expansive renovations on "Rear View Mirror," "Porch" and "Breakerfall." After delivering a plug for Ralph Nader (which both audiences received), Vedder shines on "Parting Ways," an impressively dense stop-and-start rocker. The group plays "Last Kiss," its most recent hit, without fanfare before wrapping up another solid set with its most famous B-side "Yellow Ledbetter."

It's difficult to say which performance was superior or which city was more responsive, but these discs do suggest that Pearl Jam, because of its night-to-night variety, is one of the few bands that might prove worth the four-hour trip to St. Louis even for fans who caught the act in KC the previous evening.

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