As a Gen-X music junkie, I’ve been fortunate enough to see more than my fair share of concerts, and my regrets are few. One of my biggest, however, is never having seen Pearl Jam. I was in high school and college when Ten was blowing up, but I didn’t think too much of them at the time. Of course, my college roommate and a different buddy on my floor were HUGE PJ addicts, so I was able to familiarize myself with a lot of their stuff at the time. It became quickly clear to me that their best stuff was to be found on demos, bootlegs and B-sides, so I didn’t take up the aforementioned latter friend’s offer to see the band in a tiny club in Detroit around ’93. He had been in the Ten Fan Club since its inception, and these were choice seats. To this day, I kick myself for letting that opportunity pass me by, but I was broke and living in Chicago at the time, so what can you do?
I decided to rectify the situation this evening by catching Eddie Vedder at the Warner Theatre in DC. As I previously mentioned, I was never a huge PJ fan and knew next to nothing of Mr. Vedder’s solo catalogue. I always dug the band for their non-musical forays, like telling Ticket Bastard to stick it and good things like that. As such, I’m not even going to bother trying to go over the set list. I’ll be completely honest; I didn’t even recognize half the tunes played tonight. I can say he touched on Ten and Vs., two Beatles tracks (a powerful “Blackbird” and a jammy “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), the titular track from Dead Man Walking and damn near the entire Into the Wild soundtrack. The concert ran about two hours and change. Vedder played on a sparse stage, with a few guitars in the background, a stool, a box of some sort and what looked like a suitcase from the nosebleed seats I had. He went through about four painted backdrops, ranging from a giant tent to what looked like the backside of high school play scenery.
Eddie pretty much ran the gauntlet musically, at times playing with church-like reverence and at others strumming away like a man possessed. The first half of the show was not the best I’ve ever seen. The audience was damn near out of control, continually screaming (drunkenly) requests whenever Vedder tried to speak. Between songs, he’d try to punctuate the atmosphere with various political opinions, but the crowd was unreceptive at best, which I found particularly odd for DC, but who am I? At one point, someone threw a George Bush mask on-stage that made for a great deal of banter, but, again, folks didn’t seem much interested in hearing that.
After the first intermission, however, it was like the house changed. I don’t know if it was the fact that Vedder started playing crowd favorites or what, but the last hour or so made it clear to me what the allure of this man and assumedly his band have over their fans. He got into a groove and didn’t let up. He closed his first encore chanting into a vocal loop machine which, for me, hands down was the musical high point of the evening. The final encore saw Vedder take the stage with someone on drums and someone else on a tambourine (again, I had clouds lower than I was sitting) truly rocking out, adorned in lab coats as the house damn near came down.
[Photo by Karen Loria, via the official Pearl Jam site]