Ode To Boots

by John Reynolds on May 5, 2003

Dear Pearl Jam bootlegs,

The gift that keeps on giving …

Oh how I love thee, let me count the ways. Actually, I can count the ways: 72 ways in 2000 and 72 more in 2003. You certainly have become a dear friend to me in the past few years, and I wanted to write you and announce my feelings so that all the Pearl Jam world can hear: I am in love with my bootlegs!

For years, I have longed for beyond-soundboard, multi-track, aural goodness and, now, those dreams are realized. I certainly cannot forget your cousins – the audience recording, the mislabeled foreign bootleg, among others – who have paved the road that now leads me to you. My ears have suffered through many unofficial bootlegs and endured such cacophony as young girls screaming “ED-DIE, I LOVE YOU” at near super-sonic volume. Countless older audience recordings would always “somehow” not include the opening song, or miss minutes during a show because those old cassette machines had to be flipped after 45 minutes. And wouldn’t I have looked silly if I held up a sign at a 1992 show for the band to play “Drop the Leaves” just based on the song-labelling skills of Italian bootleggers.

And look! What is that in the mail today? More boots! Oh, your padded envelope seems like such an insulting way for you to be delivered to me. And it’s raining today! C’mon, we’ve got to get you out of that wet mailer. As I gently peel the cellophane off your cover, the waft of CD surface paint envelopes me and I can envision the factory where you were born.

You have grown so much throughout the years. For Europe 2000, your image was such a clone of the Who’s “Live At Leeds” that you neglected to search for your own originality. Your packaging was dark and course, but that Ape-Man logo was oh so sexy. And how about that little song switcheroo in Lisbon – you devil! But in the end, this new realization that you would be available for every tour was enough to make my heart skip a beat. The atmosphere in Verona and Milan was aptly captured, as was the blistering Paris and Dublin sets, the off-the-hook Katowice show, and the jamboree at Stockholm.

For the North American 2000 installment, I noticed a great change in your appearance. Your skin was suddenly lighter and your colorful spines made me want to “ride the rainbow” almost every day. How searing was the Columbus show that I couldn’t attend? Did the band really pull off “Crown of Thorns” in Vegas? Did not hearing “Corduroy” in St. Louis give you that lost, empty feeling inside? By early 2001, I was able to answer all these questions and it felt like there was a tour all over again. The Boise show burned bright, the “No Code”-heavy Jones Beach #3 rose above and your fertility treatments were finally successful when you spawned a third disk for Seattle 2. You were finally walking the audio red carpet – as the Music Press could not praise you enough – and bands started walking in Pearl Jam’s footsteps by selling their shows to fans as well. A triumph for boot-kind!

I didn’t think it was going to get any better than 2000. I had made shelf space for you and you seemed quite content resting vertically. In 2001, I also made my own bootleg of the tour’s Pre-set appearances by Eddie and called it “#72-1/2″, packaging it in a makeshift cardboard sleeve. Just passing the time until the Riot Act tour.

News came from the Pearl Jam camp in late 2002 that the upcoming tour’s shows would again be sold to the public, with the additional whipped cream being that the shows would be shipped usually within a week of the show and mp3s delivered in most cases within 24 hours. This was almost too much to handle, realizing that it would not have to be months before reliving blistering tour legs en masse.

When you started arriving in the mail, it was interesting to see how your packaging fit into the scheme of fast delivery. Supplying the clear labels for the spine and the setlists certainly made it easier for you to be shipped more quickly and it made for some interesting arts and crafts. I felt as though I would have a degree in Decal Application Engineering by the time I was finished applying the spine and setlist stickers. Continually thinking “make sure all the spine labels are aligned” and “don’t rub too hard or the white lettering comes off” was tempered when the job was finally finished and the Australia, Japan, North America, Canada and Mexico bootlegs stood prominently with their 2000-tour relatives.

Is it me? Or do you sound better this tour? I notice Stone’s live and acoustic sound is amazing, Jeff is more prominent in the mix, and there is a much better mix of the crowd giving the boots a more realistic live feel to them. Your creators Brett Eliason and John Burton certainly did an incredible job. It’s a shame that “Arc” was left off of nine of the boots, but we understand why.

My love for you, o’ boots, was in full view the other day as I cranked the first MSG show on my stereo. Feeling like you’re back at a show – just by listening to a recording of it – is very difficult to achieve. As I dropped all three of your disks into my player, I was soon lost for nearly three hours because I was thrown right back into my seat at the Garden. My memories of the show were surprisingly enhanced by cranking the boot and the visual snapshots that still remained in my head from the show streamed by the backs of my eyelids as I found myself dancing eyes closed in the middle of my living room. It was as close to being able to get into a time machine and see the show again as I’ll ever be. I hope Pearl Jam realizes what a great gift they’ve given by creating you.

My love will never die, as the boots are always on my mind. I recently included my collection as an asset in my homeowner’s insurance policy. My mind stuttered the other day when my wife exclaimed “Honey, I was at the store and I bought you a pair of boots”. I dreamt that Billboard Online created a new section in their publications titled “Top 100 Boots”. I realized that I had listened to “Love Boat Captain” about 65 times in a span of 26 days. I started having discussions with fellow boot-lovers about which was the coolest “Encore Break” track. The list goes on!

I relish in knowing that this will be a long lasting relationship with Pearl Jam continuing on like a guided missile. News that shows from the past might be released just might throw me over the edge, if I’m not there already.

Well, I feel that I’ve expressed myself enough. Please know what special place I hold in my heart for you. I’m going to the store now – which is only a 5-minute drive – but not before grabbing the Missoula ’03 boot just so I can blast “Last Exit” one more time and make the ride a little more bearable.

Love, John Reynolds – Two Feet Thick

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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