Merkin Ball offers two songs recorded during the February 1995 sessions for Neil Young's impromptu Mirror Ball record, on which various members of Pearl Jam served as Young's backing band. Young returns the favor here, lending a distinctive sludgy guitar solo to "I Got ID," which also serves as drummer Jack Irons' recorded debut with Pearl Jam (the song is more commonly known as "I Got Shit," but rumor has it that Epic execs made Vedder change the title when he shopped this single to them). Indeed, "I Got ID," is an even mix of Vitalogy's raw rock and No Code's major-key majesty. The clincher is the glorious melody, which builds to a thunderous chorus with great chord changes and a loose Vedder vocal. Quite good. Song two on Merkin Ball is a simple ditty called "Long Road," which became a familiar set-opener at the band's later concerts. It's not the most complex song in the Pearl Jam catalogue, but Vedder's melody is uplifting, his lyrics poignant: "I have wished for so long/I might wish for you today." Producer Brendan O'Brien turns up, playing organ and lending the song the warm feel of a tune like "Better Man." "Long Road" also appears on the soundtrack for the movie "Dead Man Walking." Succeeding in its role as a stop-gap, the EP offers a relatively accurate precursor of the sound Pearl Jam arrived at on its two subsequent releases. By no means essential, but well worth a spin.
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Cohen