Second only perhaps to the massive 1998 campaign to bring “Breath” back to the stage, was the clamor to resurrect “Leash”, which finally made an appearance in 2006 after 12 years. I may be one of the few fans who was not part of the outpouring of fanlust for the Vs. track, but I can at least partially understand it. From the very beginning, “Leash” was a live phenomenon. Performed regularly almost two years before the release of Vs., news of the song spread by word of mouth as a ferociously intense new anthem that completely floored audiences. When the follow-up to Ten was far enough along that in-the-know reporters were privy to the sessions, it was written that the studio version of “Leash” was slower than its live counterpart, but no less explosive. All of this, for me, made the resulting track fairly underwhelming, at least in comparison to the rest of the record, which nearly melted in my CD player for its obsessive use.
In concert, as a shared experience, there’s little denying the power of “Leash”. Just from the bootlegs, old and new, that I’ve heard, the song is galvanizing, thousands of troubled souls uniting in a torrent of rebellion against leashes of all makes and models. Jeff Ament’s 12-string bass makes the song lurch, the snaggle-toothed bastard progeny of “Animal” and “Go”. It is infectious. But on record, listened to privately at home or in the car, I’ve always been an outsider. I’ve read the interviews about the shared history of “Why Go” and “Leash”, empathized if not identified, but the song has never rallied my imagination the way so many others have. The choral shouts of “Drop the leash! / We are young!” were a nice touch to some degree, but I always felt kinda dorky chiming in. Unlike “Why Go”, “Leash” took a singular, disturbing case of child abuse and made it into an anthem for standard teenage rebellion. And although it was brought back energetically, the joy of hearing the song in 2007 felt more like nostalgia and recognition rather than identification.