Pearl Jam are spending summer 2014 in Europe. Here's five things we learned while watching Eddie Vedder's band...
EDDIE VEDDER IS A TRULY FABULOUS HOST
By reputation, Eddie Vedder is a Serious Artist, a brooding, intense, taciturn individual with the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. So who’s this charming, funny, generous and effervescent character onstage then? Whether addressing the 16,000 capacity crowd in halting Austrian, constantly topping up front row glasses with red wine, handing tambourines to girls on their boyfriend’s shoulders or dedicating songs to familiar faces from Pearl Jam’s Ten Club fan club, Vedder is a wonderful host this evening, a magnetic, charismatic presence ensuring that everyone present feels intimately connected to proceedings. “When this room is empty it’s one of the second or third worst sounding rooms we’ve ever played,” he notes at one point. “So, I’m not fucking with you when I say that you filling this place up makes it special.” What a nice man.
IN CONCERT, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED FROM PEARL JAM
The first time this writer saw Pearl Jam, playing as support to the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Washington DC on November 9, 1991, Eddie Vedder put a rose between his teeth and ‘swam’ atop a sea of hands out to the venue’s sound desk in order to present it to a pretty young lady. The last time this writer saw Pearl Jam, at the Barclays Center in New York on October 18, 2013, guitarist Mike McCready played Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar showcase Eruption in full mid-way through the set. Tonight Vedder throws a Snoop Dogg ‘Bow wow wow, yippie yo yippie yay’ chorus into Daughter. The point being, it’s impossible to predict exactly what you’ll get when you see Pearl Jam live. The quintet switch up their set-list every single night, so that even the die-hards have no idea what form the show might take. You’d have got long odds tonight on the prospect of hearing Rats from Vs., or Vedder pulling out a solo acoustic reading of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done for the first time in five years, or Stone Gossard stepping up to the mic for a sweetly harmonised take on The Beatles’ Rain, and this unpredictability makes for an absorbing experience.
GRUNGE IS MORE FUN THAN YOU MIGHT REMEMBER IT BEING Critics of the Seattle sound tend to focus upon the downbeat, introspective nature of the scene - typified by Soundgarden’s ‘90s nickname ‘Frowngarden’ - while ignoring the fact that most of the participants in that community had a fucking blast during that era. But there’s little doubt that Pearl Jam have loosened up considerably in recent years, and it’s genuinely hard to think of another band who have so much fun onstage in 2014 than the grunge figureheads. From Vedder introducing Even Flow as “an old Alice Cooper song called Cold Ethyl” to Mike McCready snapping photos of the crowd with his iPhone, to the duo engaging in a lengthy mid-set conversation about McCready’s LSD use in the band’s formative days, there’s a playfulness to Pearl Jam live which casual observers might have missed. The grin on Vedder’s face as he thumps a tambourine with his ever-present bottle of red wine during a thrilling cover of Neil Young’s Fuckin’ Up is undeniably infectious.
AT FULL-TILT, PEARL JAM ARE ONE HELL OF A ROCK BAND
Twenty minutes into tonight’s show there’s a run of hard-riffing songs which is little short of astonishing: Why Go into Spin The Black Circle into Hail Hail into Got Some into Lightning Bolt into Mind Your Manners. Later we’ll get an impossibly intense burn through Rearviewmirror, an electric take on PiL’s Public Image, a rollicking State of Love and Trust and a fierce, fabulous version of The Who’s Baba O’Riley. At times like this, Pearl Jam sound like a bunch of excitable kids getting high on volume and fuzz and speaker hiss in a North-Western garage rather than a group of seasoned pros who’ve criss-crossed the world for over two decades. Younger bands would do well to emulate their energy and enthusiasm.
ALIVE WILL NEVER, EVER GET OLD Pearl Jam’s debut single is arguably second only to Smells Like Teen Spirit as the most recognisable, and over-played, song of the grunge era. As such, one could understand if Pearl Jam decided to retire it from their live set. But when Vedder asks for the house lights to be turned on ahead of a genuinely transcendent version of Alive, and one sees 16,000 people screaming along to the chorus, with eyes screwed shut and fists raised high, it’s a truly beautiful thing. It’s easy to sneer at the jukebox standards, but there’s something wonderfully life-affirming about seeing an audience so lost in music, so utterly absorbed in a collective hymnal. The old gods won’t be with us forever, so treasure such moments while you can.