The period following the mammoth success of their 1991 debut album, Ten, was a turbulent period for Pearl Jam. The adjustment to stardom was a difficult one, and the strain only grew with the suicide of Seattle contemporary Kurt Cobain, its doomed antitrust lawsuit against promoter Ticketmaster, guitarist Mike McCready’s growing alcohol abuse and the bubbling internal personality conflict between Vedder and drummer Dave Abbruzzese. The group funneled its angst first into two of its finest studio albums: 1993’s tight, aggressive Vs. and the following year’s more eccentric Vitalogy.

This massive box set includes nicely remastered versions of both of those albums (tagged with three bonus tracks each, most intriguingly a sizzling alternate take of “Corduroy” with markedly different lyrics) and a previously unreleased concert from Boston’s Orpheum Theater, both on CD and vinyl; a cassette featuring material from the band’s guerilla-style “Self Pollution Radio” broadcasts; and a grab bag of memorabilia. (A three-CD set with Vs., Vitalogy and the Boston concert is also available, as are Vs. and Vitalogy individually.) The Boston concert, recorded just days after Cobain’s death, effectively captures Pearl Jam’s onstage ferocity at the time. It’s the sound of a band playing as if every show could be its last—and given Vedder’s mindset at the time that was certainly possible. Something had to snap, and finally did when Abbruzzese was fired in August 1994 (a few tracks here feature his replacement, Jack Irons). A chapter had closed, one this set sums up handsomely. –CN

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