By his own admission, Ed Vedder wasn’t terribly conscious of melody during Pearl Jam’s first few years (a fact that doesn’t negate the existence of melodies in the Ten era, though perhaps they were serendipitous). But the man certainly had instincts, a fact by which I’m particularly struck listening to “Why Go”. That song has never been one of my favorites; even back in the day, it bridged the gap between “Alive” and “Black”, my ears never really focusing in on it for its own sake. With the recent resuscitation of “Why Go” on the band’s recent tour however, I’ve come to find it really, really exciting.
Ed’s singing on “Why Go” doesn’t stand out for its melodic trajectory, a beautiful or unique string of notes playing with or counterpoint to the bass or guitar. Instead it singles out particular notes, and lurches around or near those notes for small stretches. But what’s remarkable about the performance is how Ed drops and lifts his voice between ranges. “She! seems to be stronger”, for example, or “Maybe someday / Another child”; those shifts may be subtle, but they help build tension and maintain interest in verses that are otherwise musically static. Ament’s music, built around a 12-string bass, sound as huge and expansive as all of the Northwest on Ten, one of the few moments on that record where I now appreciate Rick Parashar’s reverb-drenched production for something more than nostalgia.