Pearl Jam 10.22.14
Words By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)
Photo By Abby Radbill
Few bands have the wherewithal to withstand the test of time like Pearl Jam. From the ashes of Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam rose like a flannel-laden Phoenix to the ultimate heights of the Seattle scene. They’ve outlived many of their contemporaries most notably Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Beyond Grudge they continue to push themselves musically, however the age of Doc Martens and ironically long hair has passed. Or has it just come full circle? Since Pearl Jam released their tenth studio album Lightning Bolt in October of 2013, they have been touring worldwide. Denver marked the final stop as well as the 24th anniversary of Mookie Blaylock’s very first live performance in Seattle. So needless to say there was much to celebrate on this particular night at the Pepsi Can.
My lurking fandom combined with Pearl Jam’s lack of recent shows on the Front Range meant this was my first time seeing them live. Fortunately for me, this show would prove to be one for the books. Pearl Jam started the night with a subtle, but beautiful “Release” off their first album Ten.
Set One: Release, Low Light, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Last Exit, Why Go, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Setting Forth, Leatherman, My Father’s Son, Even Flow, Ghost, Present Tense, Do the Evolution, Eruption, Of the Earth, Given to Fly, Sirens, Don’t Gimme No Lip, Lukin, Porch
Encore: Future Days, Sleight of Hand, Imagine, Mother, Last Kiss, Breath, Leash, Rearviewmirror
Second Encore: Once, Black, State of Love and Trust, Better Man, Wasted Reprise, Life Wasted, Alive, Baba O’Riley, Yellow Ledbetter*
*Star Spangled Banner Solo by Mike McCreedy
Given their recent spate of performances where PJ has played an entire album some fans speculated that they would play Ten in it’s entirety in Denver. The opener put an end to that wishful thinking, but they did manage to play seven songs off the album. This show taken in its entirety was a nonstop blast that took us through Pearl Jam’s full history with a healthy dose of the ‘classics.’ “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” became a triumphant sing-along while “Why Go” became a furious, fist-pumping throw down capable of doing serious structural damage. They treated us to the title track off of their newest album Lighting Bolt as inordinately large light bulbs raised and lowered above the stage. During “Porch” Mike McCreedy actually started swinging things at them first his mic stand then his guitar. The guitar was successful and as the bulb broke stagehands scrambled across the stage. Vedder was all smiles as he cracked open his bottles of wine at one point half toppling over. Later he leaned out over the corner stage and began filling up cups. This was obviously a family affair and I was like the new friend of the weird third cousin. Regardless, I was having an incredible time taking it all in and having a great time. Seeing this band play with this much energy and regard for their fans was worth the price of admission. Vedder gave a heartfelt shout out to Chris McCandless, the subject of “Setting Forth,” as well as the film Into The Wild. “My Father’s Son,” also off Lighting Bolt, was a dark and heavy exposition on bad genetics (I think). “Even Flow” was a huge hit with the audience and a highlight of the entire show. They played Van Halen’s “Eruption” before they went into a bombastic “Of The Earth.” “Given To Fly” was a bit of a breather before the band cranked up with a big close starting with “Don’t Gimme No Lip.” “Lukin” exploded out of the PA before the entire band went ballistic on “Porch.” Lightbulbs were lost.
Other bands would just take a set break, but after playing for over ninety minutes straight, Pearl Jam returned for a series of encores that would last almost as long. They began back up with a series of acoustic songs, “Future Days” coming first. A sobering “Sleight of Hand” followed.
"There’s a new app for your phone that will light your marijuana cigarettes. (Joint flies through the air towards Vedder.) Oh, I just got myself a marijuana cigarette, thank you very much. We’re not gonna smoke it… til later.” – Eddie Vedder
And with a wink the sheer massiveness of the Pepsi Center was transformed into an intimate hall. Pearl Jam performed stripped down renditions of Lennon’s “Imagine” and Pink Floyd’s “Mother.” Vedder sat down to deliver these performances and again highlighted his versatility as a singer. Not to mention his showmanship. He interacted, told stories, reminisced, smiled and paid homage throughout the entire show. This gave fans in the 300's a sense of inclusion despite their obvious proximity issue. The entire band ventured to the back to play to the audience directly behind the stage. Complete with a small drum kit Vedder stood on the riser and sang “Last Kiss.” Pearl Jam returned to their instruments and kicked up the energy level with “Breath.” They continued the trend with “Leash” before ending with “Rearviewmirror.”
Pearl Jam emerged for their second encore to the sounds of “Happy Birthday” emanating from the audience. The house lights just stayed on allowing everyone to see each other. Vedder acknowledged their anniversary, but noted that both Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard had been playing together for thirty years. And with that, they performed a profound “Once.” The second encore was full of early cuts including a jawdroppingly good “Black” along with a huge “State of Love and Trust.” The crowd took lead vocals on “Better Man.” “Alive” was yet another throwback from Ten. Pearl Jam went into a stellar version of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” before they officially ended the show with a perfectly timed “Yellow Ledbetter.” Towards the end of the song McCreedy went into a Hendrix-style interpretation of the "Star Spangled Banner" while the rest of the band popped bottles of champagne. They returned to spray Mike as well as most of the front row down before calling it a night. This show in Denver was the best introduction to Pearl Jam anyone could hope for. Huge musical highs coupled with a sincerity and intimacy that is difficult to pull off in an arena that holds 20,000+ souls. They sound like a band that has had 24 years to dial it in and turn it up. Let’s just hope they don’t wait too long before coming back to Colorado.