Live Last Night: Pearl Jam, Song-By-Song
I won't waste time with pleasantries because Pearl Jam played a whopping 31 songs last night and it's my job to say something about all of them. It was a very good show, with definite highlights and only a few missteps. Pearl Jam's appeal is that they play solid rock-and-roll very well, so expecting a truly revelatory performance is unfair. The band's appeal is in its lack of frills. Hardcore fans, "Ten" devotees and casual fans all had plenty to like on Sunday night. Were you there? Let us know what you thought of the show in the comments.
1. Hard to Imagine: This was my fourth "proper" Pearl Jam show (Tibetan Freedom Concert being the other) and the first time "Release" wasn't the opener. Like that "Ten" classic, this one sort of eases you into the set, with some fine Vedder bellowing to start things off.
2. Severed Hand: A by-the-numbers, charging rocker by a band that manages to make by-the-numbers, charging rockers sound particularly vibrant. This one was no exception.
3. Hail Hail: This "No Code" single was the first one to really get the crowd hyped, and with good reason. The first two songs were a bit relaxed; there was more urgency to this one. I even like the bridge in this song, if only because of the "Are you woman enough to be my man?" lyric, which is so silly but delivered with such sincerity that it works.
4. Do the Evolution: Set list arrangement is such an important aspect to a show and this is a good example of how to do it right. Each previous song brought a little more energy to the table and we got the first peak of the evening here. Stone Gossard gets a rare spotlight solo but it's Vedder's howl that is the highlight, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that his voice remains the band's best instrument.
5. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town: "This one's for Mt. Pleasant," Vedder said before starting into the folky sing-along from "Vs." It was the closest he got to making an Ian MacKaye reference all night. This is one of those songs I heard a thousand times 15 years ago and have heard only a handful of times since then. But the lyrics stayed with me and it was hard to keep my reporter's cap on and not sing along with the rest of the 15,000 or so. When everyone put their arms in the air and the house lights went on at the "I just want to scream ... hello!" line, it was a give-you-chills moment.
6. Evacuation: If Robert Christgau were writing this review, all you'd see here would be: [bomb icon that very clearly didn't paste in like I hoped it would]. The band tried to fight through the first batch of guitar problems but after they resurfaced, they didn't try again.
7. Corduroy: My favorite Pearl Jam song and clearly a crowd favorite, too, as evidenced by the enthusiastic (read: too fast and offbeat) clapping during the intro. It serves as a prototype for a great PJ tune, with a slow-build beginning, some serious riffage and singing and screaming by Vedder. Mike McCready, king of unnecessary hand gestures, broke out the jumping index finger twirl during this song.
8. I'm Open/9. I Am Mine: I couldn't tell if this was one song or two that flowed into each other. The setlist tells me it was the latter. They fit together pretty well, although they both gave off some weird British folk vibe. "Was that a Gordon Lightfoot song?" asked Dave McKenna, Official Reviewer of Record (check tomorrow's paper), who was sitting next to me. (Yes, they put all of us writers together; there were two other people with pads in the same row.)
10. I Got Id: One of the clear highlights of the night and another example of good setlist writing. After the weird meandering of the last two songs the band delivered one of its most ragged and rugged songs. This song has the perfect Eddie Vedder sing-along chorus. It starts out with "Ohhhhh I" and then you can't really tell what he says after that, but he's going up and down and it's fun to growl whatever words you want.
11. Daughter: Jeff Ahment breaks out the stand-up bass for this one ... but plays it sitting down. Whatever. Like "Elderly Woman" this song is given a mid-tempo rock makeover which takes away a bit of its charm but makes sense for an arena show. The band has been known to segue into various covers from this song but tonight it was just a few minutes of Eddie Vedder chanting stuff like "Hey-o!" and the crowd echoing him. It didn't really add anything to the song and just made me wonder why the Wizards don't use "Minnie the Moocher" on the Jumbotron anymore since they moved away from the Cap Centre.
12. Light Years: A nice and pleasant rock song written by a band of adults. It has one of those brief pauses that would maybe get a big reaction, but since it's from "Binaural," not too many people know it. It's not quite a sit down song, more of a sit on the top of your chair song.
13. Even Flow: One of the only times of the night that it felt like the band was pandering to the crowd by including a song that nobody in the band seemed to want to play. Except, of course, for Mike McCready. Man, that guy. He certainly has never met a long, pointless solo he couldn't make longer and more pointless. Eddie let him have at it and disappeared to the back corner for a cigarette and some wine. Dude loves his wine. The crowd didn't even seem to be that into this one, although maybe it was just the superfans up front that made me see it that way. I'm sure there are dozens of songs they'd rather hear than "Even Flow," and the percentage of superfans (as in, multiple shows per tour) only seems to be increasing lately.
14. Green Disease: The inevitable political preaching moment came before this song, although Vedder came at it from an interesting angle by talking about offshore drilling. Right after mentioning the topic he was greeted with some boos, although I couldn't tell if people were booing offshore drilling itself or simply Vedder talking about offshore drilling. He threw a bunch of numbers at us, 60 million something, 70 million something. "Too much math!" I yelled, far too pleased with myself, while some woman in front of me gave me a weird look. He ended his spiel by saying it will be "great to get some color in the White House." So there you have it: Pearl Jam endorses Alan Keyes. The song itself was fine, but given its placement and preceding lecture, it was the most popular bathroom breaker of the evening.
15. You Are: The echoy, processed guitar riff on this one made me think for just a split second that it was going to be a cover of "How Soon Is Now?" But nope, just another "Riot Act" tune. More good setlist construction, making sure the bathroom people don't miss anything they'd be too upset about.
16. U: The most pleasant surprise of the evening. Only post-show research helped me find out this was an extra track on the "Wishlist" single; I really thought it was a cover because it sounds nothing like your typical Pearl Jam song. It's the closest thing to a jangle-pop song in the band's catalog. There aren't many Pearl Jam songs that make you want to bop your head and just kind of shimmy, but this one does, and does it well. It was like a great, lost Lemonheads track and I'm going to have to track this one down for my iTunes.
17. Who You Are: Releasing this tribal, rhythmic, Eastern-influenced song as the first single of "No Code" signaled the beginning of the end for Pearl Jam as big unit movers, but that doesn't mean it's not a great song. Matt Cameron kept the rolling rhythms steady throughout and Vedder got to show off the range of his vocals. It kind of petered out at the end, but that actually fits with the song.
18. Why Go: A very stark contrast to the preceding song, this set closer (or, in Pearl Jam land, halfway point) is Pearl Jam at its most arena rock. Like most of the "Ten" songs, McCready seemed to be enjoying himself more than anyone else and proved it by playing a behind-the-head guitar solo. Neat.
19. Comatose: The first encore began with this punky tune, which has a three-chord riff that really reminded me of Tom Petty's "You Wreck Me." Not a bad thing at all.
20. Sad: It seems this one was a bit of a rarity, which might explain why the girl in the row in front of me was freaking out about it. It couldn't have been the song itself, which was another solid-but-ordinary PJ rock.
21. Given to Fly: Now here's one was anything but ordinary. It's a very aptly titled song because this one simply soared. It's got all the ingredients of a classic Pearl Jam tune, from the big riffs to Vedder wailing "Oh, oh." Blame the Pearl Jam fatigue that was setting in by 1998 as the reason this one wasn't a big hit. My #1 highlight of the evening.
22. Come Back: A nice comedown after "Given to Fly," this one had the feel of a different era. It reminded me of "Donna" by Richie Valens or maybe one of Otis Redding's mellower songs.
23. Grievance: One of those mostly indistinguishable chugging riff rockers. Nothing wrong with it, but it didn't hold my attention. My eyes drifted to the retired Capitals jerseys in the rafters and I wondered: 1) Does any team have a more pathetic trio of retired jerseys than the Caps' Yvon Labre, Dale Hunter and Rod Langway, and 2) Who had the better mustache, Labre or Langway?
24. Black: Of the "Ten" hits this is the one that I find the least annoying these days. That's a backhanded compliment right there. As expected, it was a massive sing-along and Mike McCready ripped off a few solos.
25. Rearviewmirror: Another personal favorite. They jammed on it for a bit too long but since it was the end of the first encore, I'll forgive them. Up until the end it was an expertly done propulsive rock song, constantly gaining a bit of momentum, leading up to the call-and-response ending. Vedder played guitar for about half the songs tonight and I've always thought the guitar looked more like a decoration on him, but he had the rock star moves down pat here.
26. No More: The second encore kicks off with Vedder coming out alone with an acoustic guitar, greeted by chants of "Edd-ie! Edd-ie!" Written in tribute to a soldier who had been seriously injured in Iraq, this was a pretty straightforward folk/protest song.
27. Last Kiss: The little fan club Christmas single that could. The band performed this one early-'60s cover"for the back," those thousand or so folks seated behind the stage who can tell us if the guys in the band have any bald spots. A pleasant enough throwaway.
28. Crazy Mary: The strange encore continues with this brooding, folky Victoria Williams cover. It was the first song of the evening to prominently feature organist Boom Gaspar, and the long jam gave Vedder yet another chance to grab a smoke.
29. Alive: They have to play this one pretty much every night, and you can tell by the way they play it. Not that it was bad, but how excited can you get for a song that's 17 years old and doesn't really represent what you sound like these days? Still, the guys in the backwards hats near me were loving it. And good for Pearl Jam for giving it to them. If it wasn't for those guys in the backwards caps, they wouldn't be in this position in the first place.
30. All Along the Watchtower: The house lights went on, which usually signals the last song. And it's not "Yellow Ledbetter," but instead a hard-charging version of the Dylan classic. Perfect! Some young kid from what seems like Darnestown gets to come up on stage and play guitar with the band. It's cute, if a bit distracting.
31. Yellow Ledbetter: Can't escape it. What a terrible way to end an enjoyable evening. Simply put, this song is terrible. Please guys, retire this one.
(Note: Since this is already 2,000+ words I'll leave Ted Leo out of it but I'll just say this: Ted Leo + "I'm Stranded" by the Saints + Â¼ full Verizon Center = totally surreal and great.)
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