CONCERT REVIEW: Pearl Jam Lightning Bolt



Pearl Jam x 2 – I was never a huge Pearl Jam fan but recently started listening more and more and was surprised at how many songs I knew and how many I actually liked. I had never been to a  show but headed up to Charlottesville, Virginia. for my first. We had decent seats on stage right and at first we were surprised that the arena seemed less crowded than we thought.  The lights dimmed, the band took the stage and when the lights came back on, wow…packed.  I had been studying up on Pearl Jam songs so I would be familiar with the music and was glad to hear a ton of songs that I have grown to like, some love.  As with most of their shows in this tour, they started with Pendulum, off their latest album.  This is the perfect “first song”, slow but builds to a pretty sound. The entire first set was strong and I am sure more knowledgeable PJ fans could talk for days about each and every song inclusion. There were a couple of songs I really wanted to hear but unfortunately none of those were played.  One of the highlights of the show was Sirens. This is by far my favorite new song of theirs. The sound is beautiful and the lyrics are wonderful. My favorite line: “If I think too much I can get overwhelmed by the grace by which we live our lives with death over our shoulder.”  I love that line.  I love this song. They played many other great songs, took a short break and then came back for a very intimate set including Thumbing My Way, and The End, which I had never heard before but loved both immediately.  A lot of their new stuff is really great so I was excited to hear so much of it (when is that ever said about a concert?).  They threw in a few covers too including Pink Floyd’s Mother and Little Wing by Hendrix. About half way through the concert I was pretty hooked. You cannot deny that Pearl Jam is a fan’s band. Their website lists every song they’ve ever played, how many times and where they played it, who wrote it and lists the lyrics.  They release professional bootlegs of every concert after the tour so they can make sure that random people don’t charge a ton of money for horrible quality versions.  City specific shirts and posters are sold so people can commemorate not only the tour, but the specific night and city where they saw Pearl Jam.  Each night the set list is created specially for how the band feels and they change it up based on Eddie’s read of the crowd.   But more than that, and here is something I don’t think I can really explain adequately, is how passionate the fans are for THEM.  There were people in the crowd with signs that said “Thank You”.  TO THE BAND. Who does that? Even before the show we went to a local bar that was PACKED, and since I had just walked three miles in heels I desperately needed to sit down. I asked two guys if we could join them and of course they were also going to the show. We chatted about the band, the tours and life in general. There was an overall sense of “you’re here for Pearl Jam, that means you are a good person.”   At one point during the show I just looked around and was utterly amazed at the overall vibe of the entire arena. And while I mostly think that “Lead Singer Banter” is scripted, it seemed like the band was having just as much fun as the rest of us. It seemed spontaneous, genuine. If it was choreographed, props to them for making it seem real. From the first time Eddie spoke, saying “Good Evening, we’ll talk later. First I have a story to tell you” I was enamored with him. His stage presence was warm and friendly, his sense of humor evident and his voice was clear and much prettier in person. There were a number of other little moments that stood out for me: Eddie stopping everything to check on a scuttle in the pit, talking with some young kids in the front row, offering them wine and commenting on them knowing every song since it is great to know there will be at least two PJ fans when the guys are in their 80s. They wrapped up the show with a cover of The Who’s Baba O Reilly that had the entire crowd screaming at the top of their lungs.  I honestly cannot remember having more fun at a show. They ended the show saying “If you could see all the great faces from up here, you’d be very grateful and you’d probably  keep saying thank you and thank you and thank you like we are doing right now, but you’d understand if you could see what we see.  Thank you” We all walked out smiling, high fiving each other, knowing that we just were part of something awesome.  Amazing, just amazing.

We drove home the next day and prepared for the Charlotte show. We had pit passes for this one so headed down early to get in line for the general admission. I really wanted a Charlotte  poster since I have a collection of band posters, so loved the city specific one. I stood in line for 30 minutes chatting with the people around me. Most were talking about shows they had been too and I immediately had street cred saying I was at Charlottesville.  It hadn’t even been 24 hours and the show was already known for being amazing. The posters sold out 6 people in front of me. ARGH.  Assured there were merch stands inside, I went to wait in the general admission line. We had pizza and drinks and talked with our neighbors. There is nothing like the instant bond you can create with someone standing in line, it made the two hours go by very quickly. As soon as the doors opened, I headed to a merch stand while my new friends headed to secure our space in the pit. I was able to get a poster, walked to the pit and was thrilled to see I would be 2 people back from the stage.  I don’t care what band is playing, being that close is a neat experience. I love seeing the set up, the “behind the scenes” things that happen that most people don’t get a chance to see, and being that close to a legend is always a treat. The show started with Pendulum again and then they proceeded to play hit after hit. I don’t know it was just different than Charlottesville or I was tired or they were tired, but it seemed like there was a bit more of a laid back vibe. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun and amazing, but in a different way. They sang more of the well known “sing along” songs like Even Flow, Daughter, and Black.

Again there were two songs I really wanted to hear (Chloe Dancer and Let The Records Play) and sadly, I was disappointed that neither of them were played. I was more upset when I saw the original set list HAD LTRP listed but it was replaced with the famous Better Man.  I am not a huge fan of that song, but I liked it live. I was happy to hear Just Breathe (another great line: I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love) and I was taken by surprise when I got teary eyed during Sirens.  Have I mentioned what a great song that is? I was pretty happy to hear Getaway live and now can say I was there when they played it for the first time.  Overall the concert was great, the crowd around us was into it and there is nothing like making eye contact with the band members to feel more connected. I even was lucky to get one of Mike McCready’s guitar picks.   Eddie passed out wine to the pit and gave a tambourine to one of my new best friends from waiting in line. Again I walked out of there smiling, glad to have been part of something so special.

Many people have told me that they “just don’t get it” in regards to Pearl Jam but I think those people still think of them as the twentysomethings with long hair, wearing flannel and heading up the grunge movement. And to be honest I don’t know that I would like them as much as I like the 50 year olds that I saw twice this week.  They and the shows are so fan-centric, it is hard not to leave there feeling like they tour just to make the crowds happy. Many people talk about how unintelligible Eddie’s singing can be (check out this hilarious video of Yellow Ledbetter  “I said I don’t want a whale in a box or a bag; Potato Wave”). The band has an amazingly comprehensive listing of all the lyrics online. I read through many of the songs and was so impressed with the poetry and imagery that is created. Some of the songs are utterly beautiful. I was also so surprised at how clear and pretty Eddie Vedder’s voice is. And honestly, no matter how you feel about their music, you have to respect the fact that this band has been around, viable and rocking since 1990.  These (old) guys still are able to create new music that is really good, entertain and put on an amazing show.  While I’ve never seen The Stones or Zeppelin, I have seen many concerts and many of those have been legendary performers, but I can honestly say I have never been to a show that felt like such a mutual love fest between artist and crowd. If you get the chance, go see them. I guarantee you will walk away amazed, smiling and utterly happy.