April 3, 2009

Thoughts Arrive Like Butterflies

After Alive, Even Flow has got to be the most recognizable and popular Pearl Jam song from the extensive catalog. Played an astonishing 622 times live, it is a quintessentially Pearl Jam. Starting off with a catchy riff, an anthem like chorus, a mid-song breakdown into a loose jam session held together with drum and bass, and an explosive McCreddy guitar solo to end the song, Evenflow defines Pearl Jam

It is a great example of the evolution of the members of Pearl Jam as musicians. While the song doesn’t strike a chord with me lyrically, (according to Wikipedia-The stark lyrics by Vedder for "Even Flow" describe the experience of being a homeless man. The subject sleeps "on a pillow made of concrete" and panhandles passersby for spare change. In addition to being illiterate, he may also be mentally ill, as he "looks insane" when he smiles and struggles to keep coherent thoughts.) musically I have seen it grow and change throughout the years.

I have seen Pearl Jam live at least 10-15 times since 1993 and Even Flow –has been a staple of their set since the beginning. Rightfully so, the moment Even Flow comes on the crowd suddenly ignites. It is a vibe I have never experienced at any other live show. A familiarity tinged with an expectation of impending chaos keeps the crowd undulating in a state of near madness.

The song over the years seems to have sped up, as if the members of the band are trying to keep up with the train they themselves set off years ago, but the musicianship and intricacies of the solos have also improved.

Even Flow is not one of my favorite songs, and I have no intense life experiences attached to it. I love the line, "he can't help when he's happy looks insane." The true magic of this song is screaming...
...thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don't know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he'll begin his life again
Life again, life again...
with a crowd of 30,000 people. Now that I write it down, I am realizing that perhaps that is as close to euphoria as many get.

It is funny to watch Eddie so awkward and unsure of himself at this very first show. Notice the rawness of the jam at 3:58. We will compare later to a version from 2006. It is amazing what playing a song 622 times over 18 years will do to it.

Take a look at the next video and see how far McCready has come as he starts to lay the ground work for his solo at 2:40.

By 4:14 the song is ready to take flight, now with Stone Gossard adding his crunchy rhythm riffs.

By 4:45 the song has a life of its own. Each instrument is set lose on a journey with only the promise of converging back to the original structure at some time set in the future.

At 6:06 the build up starts. For those familiar with the song, and that is everyone in the crowd, this moment if what this song is about.

At 6:59 McCready is set loose. The song ends.

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