You may have seen Pearl Jam 100 times. You may never have seen them.
One thing that holds true today, 20 years into their career: They are simply a terrific live rock and roll show, from several perspectives.
- They play hard, every night. They give their all. They lean into the big songs, and cradle the quiet ones.
- They have a dedicated fan base, who feed them and whom they feed. The cycling energy in the room is palpable and infectious, even if you don’t know every song by heart.
- Their music is suited to live performance -- sing alongs, driving rhythms, changing tempos, danceable energy.
- They don’t try to dazzle you with fire, dancers, giant screens, costumes, or fake blood. While I find all of that entertaining at times (GWAR, Flaming Lips, Chromeo, Green Day... lots of fun examples), in the absence of all the other trappings, my attention is focused on the music and the band, and the interaction between band and audience. In this, they excel.
There were several special qualities to the night: Last night of the North American tour, closest show to home, Mudhoney opening, and frankly playing in a classic Vancouver venue. The Pacific Colesium, as hockey fans will quickly tell you, was home to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks for about 30 years. Working class, well worn but with great sight lines everywhere, not too big but roomy enough to pack in a lot of voices and arms. The sound was a bit muddy, but a vocal boost on nearly every song from the audience - in fact, audience-only vocals a couple times - helped provide more clarity to the lyrics. Eddie Vedder recalled that the band had played in Vancouver 10 times over the past 20 years, thanking the fans for putting so much gas in the band’s tank. He also highlighted that the band’s 5th show ever was in Vancouver in 1991.
Lots of love going back and forth -- the crowd seemed to be improvising with the band, at one point adopting synchronized arm movements throughout the arena, at another point adding some call & response vocals that Eddie picked up on and joined in. He was all over the stage, more and more so as the night wore on - climbing on monitors and jumping off, swigging some wine, leaning off of the microphone stand (which seemed to me to evoke riding a wave). Mike McCready was literally running around after a while -- going far stage left and at one point leaving the stage altogether for the crowd with his guitar during the song. Jeff Ament was leaping quite a bit, at one point climbing onto the drum riser with Matt briefly.
The band shared more than music, as well -- guitar picks were flung by the dozens by Eddie and Mike, and at one point numerous tamborines went into the crowd (Ed often sharing with specific people).
It being Canada, they checked in on who was from the states (lots in the Ten Club down front, a good smattering of others throughout) and who was from Canada (a roaring majority throughout the rest of the house).
One unspoken moment of great audience recognition by the band: Ed used the back of one guitar to reflect a spotlight around the room, but took his time while Mike, Jeff, Stone and Matt improvised. He shone it around the entire upper deck, slowly, then around the entire lower deck, then across the floor, and finally held it for a little while pointing at a Canadian flag hanging from the arena ceiling. The crowd loved being recognized from the stage like this - fans arms shot up as the light moved, and the roof jumped a little when everyone roared at the end. It was exactly this kind of thoughtful moment that tied band and crowd together so tightly in the room.
Pearl Jam’s set lasted very nearly 3 hours -- from 8:45 to about 11:35. Add in the Mudhoney set that kicked off right about 7:30, and it was about 4 hours of music. By the end, Stone Gossard had jumped onto the drums for one song and sang one, Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament had taken turns on guitars, and numerous guests/former bandmates had visited the stage, including Mark Arm and Steve Turner coming out to do a cover of Iggy & The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and Bruce Fairweather coming out for “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World” during the second encore set.
If there is to be no show in Seattle this year, the Vancouver show unequivocally knocked socks off left and right and would be an admirable stand-in.
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Given To Fly
World Wide Suicide
Off He Goes
State of Love and Trust
Chloe Dancer -> Crown of Thorns
Search and Destroy
Keep on Rockin’ In the Free World
Yellow Ledbetter -> Little Wing