Sunday, May 23, 2010


People can be cynical about arena concerts, and I can understand that sentiment. Yes, there can be a big disconnect between the artist and audience, and oftentimes the thousands of fans at a large arena get herded like livestock. I get it.


Some artists just figure that it's part of the deal to go along with it. You get big enough to play arenas, the lack of connection is part of what comes with the deal. But what if you got to that point because your fans felt some kind of real connection with the band (as opposed to just liking some of the band's songs). Arguably, no one has handled the problem as well as Pearl Jam (maybe Bruce Springsteen). I've seen Pearl Jam probably about 20 times since 1992 (at the Limelight!) and I've always appreciated the way they respect the fact that there are people paying to hear them perform. For a few years, they seemed to struggle with the conundrum and Eddie Vedder didn't always seem happy on stage.  I'm happy to say that it seems like he's gotten over this in the past few years.

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to see the band three times this week: once in Newark, and twice at Madison Square Garden. At one of the MSG shows, Eddie had a beam of light reflecting from his guitar into the audience. He slowly moved the guitar so that that beam of light touched every seat in the audience. It's more than just a cool looking effect, it's him acknowledging every single person in the crowd. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but it's a cool gesture.

A few numbers: they played 76 songs over three nights, with only six songs being played all three nights: "Alive," "Do The Evolution," "Lukin" (although the last night featured a very different, slower verison), "The Fixer," "Unthought Known" and "Just Breathe." Quite a few rare tracks over the past two nights, including "Sweet Lew" (Jeff Ament on lead vocals!) and "Black Red Yellow" (which I'd never heard them play before), "Hunger Strike" (with Band Of Horses' Ben Bridwell on guest vocals), and lots of cool covers: The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" and "The Real Me," The Ramones' "I Believe In Mircales" and The MC5's "Kick Out The Jams."

But really, what it was about was this: they emptied the tank every night. They played great songs, and made it worth everyone's while (and money) to come more than once (which I'm sure many people did). They played the songs that hooked us in the first place, but their latest songs from last year's Backspacer showed that the band is as vital as ever ("The Fixer" isn't just one of my favorite songs, it's becomming my mantra!). I'm always amazed by how great they are. Yes, Eddie Vedder is one of the best frontmen in music. Mike McCready is one of the rock's great underrated lead guitarists, and his heroics prevent the band from descending into boring indie rock pretension (he happily runs around the stage, striking excellent poses with classic rock guitars: Fender Strats, Les Pauls, a flying V and even a double neck Gibson like what Jimmy Page used to use).  But the other guys hold it down.  Stone Gossard, as I mentioned, is a guy you would want in your band.  He plays every instrument, but is rarely flashy, is a riff playing monster, and really holds everything together. Jeff is a great bassist, he can play in any style. And PJ fans can thank god for Matt Cameron, the perfect drummer for the band. He also adds the occasional great song (like "You Are") and great backing vocals too.  I can't wait to see him back in Soundgarden later this year, but I hope he never leaves PJ. And of course touring Hammond player Boom Gaspar is a great part of the band also, giving them an even more timeless sound.

Night 2 at MSG was the last night of the US tour. Then, they have some European dates and then Matt is doing the Soundgarden tour. I think Stone is doing another Brad tour and album, and I guess Eddie will do solo shows.  But when Pearl Jam tours again, I'll be there. I want my moment in the spotlight again!

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