Pearl Jam has always been in touch with its fans.

From the early days when Seattle bands broke onto the national scene to their infamous battle over ticket surcharges, they’ve developed a reputation for being stubborn and for speaking out in their fans’ best interest.

In the ultimate gesture of fan service, they are now out to thwart bootleggers — specifically bootleggers who charge outrageous amounts for unauthorized recordings of their concerts.

This strategy definitely benefits the band. (They get their share of the profits.) How does it benefit fans? They get great, digital concert recordings for an insanely cheap price. When else will you ever be able to get two hours of new music for $10 to $13?

Consistent with the bootleg theme, the packaging is spare. Each of the 25, two-CD sets is found inside a plain, brown cardboard sleeve, with only the location and date stamp differentiating between each of the unique recordings.

The second of their concerts at London’s Wembly Arena (#5) was my personal purchase. The Side A disk featured the bulk of the concert, while Side B featured the rest, plus a six-song encore. The recording itself, mixed by Brett Eliason, is clean and without much of the distortion and strange sounds you hear on so many live albums. And the music…

Almost 10 years after their national debut, Pearl Jam still rocks. The fury and excitement of their music comes through, whether they are performing new tracks off the most recent studio effort (Binaural) or classics from their earlier albums. London #5 features a balanced mix of old and new. Of the new compositions, “Grievance” starts the show off on the right foot, while “Nothing As It Seems” showcases a great guitar solo, bookended by Eddie Vedder‘s vocals. Those looking to find old favorites will not be disappointed, as the set list features a heavy dose of rock radio staples including “Even Flow,” “In Hiding,” “Daughter” and “State of Love and Trust.”

The encore’s last two songs are truly standouts, especially considering that the band probably plays them most nights on tour. “Black” starts out quietly, slowly crescendos to a full sound during each chorus and then pulls back abruptly. As the song reaches its climax, the anguish and regret portrayed by Vedder and the rest of the band is full-blown, creating an unsettling impression as they fade out. The finale is “Alive,” a song that became an anthem to kids sitting in dorm rooms, circa 1991 and 1992.

When Pearl Jam first hit the scene, there was nothing else quite like them, even among their Seattle contemporaries. “Evenflow” crashed down on college radio with a thunder that programmers and fans alike knew was special. They were passionate. In the intervening years, their musicianship and skill as performers has grown to complement their emotional style. They are proof that finished, well-crafted music doesn’t have to sound prefabricated. It’s hard to fake it live on a handful of tracks. It’s impossible to fake it for more than 40-hours worth of live recordings.

The excitement and the quality are there. Now you just have to decide which (or how many) of the 25 sets is your concert.

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