Saturday, June 30th 2012
Shows: Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam is the best live band in the world. It may only be my opinion, but judging on what I saw again this past week, it’s bordering on fact.
The long-running Seattle outfit proved their mettle as modern torchbearers of classic Rock again last week, with back-to-back performances which will count amongst their most memorable – at least by those in attendance. They started their European tour with two rather amazing nights in Manchester and a beautiful set at the Isle of Wight festival, complete with an Eddie Vedder guest spot with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. But Amsterdam will be remembered for years to come, I’m ready to bet on it.
Pearl Jam fans know how it is. They’re always shuffling up the setlist, adding rarities, new covers, and basically never playing the same set twice. That’s one of the reasons why they’re still together, and why they’ve managed to sell out the brand new Ziggo Dome twice (about 35 000 people), even without a new album. But even with that in mind, die hard fans were not prepared for what was about to hit them, and hit them hard.
The band was supposed to start off the first night with a slow-burning beauty, Long Road, from the 1995 Neil Young collaboration Merkinball. But the band came on stage full of energy, bassist Jeff Ament leaping to its spot like a nearly fifty-year old Duracell bunny acting half his age. It seemed fitting that the set changed with rocking songs like Corduroy, Why Go or the punk blast of Brain of J. Hardly stopping for the first part of the set, the band tore through classics like Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, or unavoidable life staple Even Flow, which once again showcased Mike McCready’s otherworldly guitar skills.
As usual, they peppered the set with a couple of rarities, this time In Hiding, Vs.’ Rats and the live premiere of their recent fan club single Better Things, a cover of English band The Kinks. A powerful Do The Evolution, led by Stone Gossard, ended the main set with a bang.
Of course, the encores raised the bar even higher. It started pretty slowly, with their 1999 surprise hit Last Kiss followed by their most recent hit, Just Breathe, a reflective, quiet, finger-picked ballad that always seemed to me more in touch with Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild side than with Pearl Jam’s. The audience loved it as an old favorite nonetheless. Anyway, a couple of songs later, the band actually started to take requests, and played No Code’s rarity Smile with Gossard and Ament switching instruments, and the criminally underlooked Green Disease, the theme of which sounds even more relevant now (can you guess what disease Ed’s talking about? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with Creed).
As the 11 o’clock hour rolled around, and with it the arena curfew, the band knew they were running out of time. A couple quick setlist changes (very surprisingly, Alive got dropped), a cover of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me and a extremely emotional Black later, Neil Young’s Rocking in a Free World ended the show, with Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and support band X’s John Doe doing back up vocals.
The band then met center-stage, saluted the ecstatic first rows… then decided to cap off this wonderful night with an absolutely gorgeous version of Indifference, with Eddie Vedder belting the words like he didn’t spend the last 140 minutes onstage. What a night.
And you know what? Night 2 was even more insane.
Every Pearl Jam fan knows the story of PJ setlists – Vedder writes them often minutes before showtime, and always with a subjective approach to the energy of the venue/crowd/night. But this was ridiculous. Not only did they repeat only two songs from the first night (Corduroy and Backspacer’s lead single The Fixer) but they asked a fan club charter member to help the write the setlist. The result was this, a night to remember for every die hard fan including this writer, who saw six songs he never saw Pearl Jam perform before, even if the concert was his 16th Pearl Jam show. Now, really, which other band does that?
But they didn’t simply play any sort of back catalogue crap. The opener was Wash, a near-legendary Ten era b-side, and we also got the sarcastic overload of Glorified G, with Ed Vedder wishing America would trade guns with Amsterdam’s bikes. Rarities also included Nothing As It Seems, a personal favorite from 2000’s Binaural and another opportunity for Mike McCready to shine, and Deep. The more the show went on, the weirder it got : Eddie aired a guitar-only version of Vitalogy’s Bugs, maybe the weirdest song in their whole catalogue, and one that had only been played once before.
Who knew then what the encores would bring. Well, they brought Brian, the aforementioned fan club member, who probably wrote a good chunk of that part of the set. They opened the first encore with Release, which usually opens shows, not encores. It gave the impression that the show was starting anew again, but ultra-rare airings of b-sides Alone and Footsteps, Mother Love Bone’s Crown of Thorns and Dead Boys’ Sonic Reducer made it a night to remember. The night ended like it should, with the arena lights on. Every arm was raised, every fist was pumped to the beat of Alive. No matter how overplayed it may be, the song is still an absolute anthem. Tried and true signature set closer Yellow Ledbetter finished it off, giving Mike McCready a final chance to shine, tagging Jimi’s Little Wing to his final solo and throwing about seven million guitar picks into an audience who gave so much to a band who gave them even more.
Pearl Jam continues their European tour with about ten more dates, then Eddie Vedder will play five European solo dates and a full US tour. Pearl Jam will also bring their show Stateside for a couple of exclusive perfornances. But next year, they will release another album, and no matter how it will be, they will tour again. And again. And they will show, once more time, that they are the best live band in the world.
Photo: Johnny Firecloud