Listening to the recent Pearl Jam performance at Chicago’s Vic Theater (cough, Army Reserve, cough), it sounds as much of a celebration of Pearl Jam’s legacy as comparable gigs like Las Vegas ’00, State College ’03, and on and on, because it shined consistent light on the more shadowy corners of their catalog. Debate rages about how the band feels about its own material, but unless you get a direct quote from a band member, it’s tough to tell, and how much it matters is even more debatable. But hearing such a fresh, exciting, and altogether different set does make one wonder. The answer to some extent is that the more rare material such as “Education”, “Low Light”, and “Hard To Imagine” might require special circumstances, the right place and time to feel right and appropriate on stage. The 1,000 seat Vic Theater is just intimate enough to really sell those tunes all the way to the back. It doesn’t hurt to have those 1,000 be, um, kinda sorta fanatical either.
Hearing “Education” live, with its jangly rhythms (reminiscent of “Rawhide”) and whipcrack stops and starts, also makes me wonder how Binaural would have been received if the song had been included as on the earliest publicized tracklisting. The song would have appeared after “Parting Ways”. It’s been a while since I dusted off my home-burned, 16-track alternate version of the disc, but I remember making it almost purposefully so I could experience such a strange album ending. “Education”, in either its Lost Dogs form or the recently leaked demo version (with vaguely flamenco-style guitar accompaniment to boot), would have been the most outwardly aggressive album closer for the band, though it’s not a particularly heavy song. It would also have tied up an album purposefully divided into relative loud/soft halves.
“Education” was one of three Binaural outtakes to be leaked somewhat widely long before the release of Lost Dogs, and much to my complete surprise at the time, I found myself with a copy. “Education” was definitely the strangest of the three. “Fatal” was a Gossard ballad in line with a lot of the material he was developing at the time; “Sad” was a fairly classic Vedder tune. But “Education” possesses elements that I find hard to classify or compare to any other Pearl Jam song, at least musically. Lyrically, I find it akin to a whole slew of tracks, from Binaural bretheren (“Sleight of Hand”, “Soon Forget”, “Thin Air”, “Of the Girl”) as well as “In My Tree” and “Present Tense”. The theme is continued growth, learning, doubting, curiosity, introspection, self-challenging. “I’m questioning my own equation / Is my own equation relevant somehow?” I wish to God that more people asked themselves this fundamental question, particularly those with political power. The ability to check oneself constantly throughout one’s life, to not be taught one thing from the beginning and hold it as unwavering dogma forever. I can think of several individuals in power who do not seem to possess such self-awareness and humility. Cookie Monster, for example.