Rock and roll lives. 24 years to the date of their debut show in Seattle in 1990, Pearl Jam displayed mastery in their craft to a sold out Pepsi Center show. The band brought absolute fire in an eclectic mix of old and new for nearly 3.5 hours, with no opener and two, bucket list encore sets. They still got it.
Denver was the second to last stop on their national Fall tour, officially ending in Mountain View, California with Neil Young this Saturday. The particularly special 24th birthday night meant nostalgia and powerful sentiments from lead man and rock n’ roll legend Eddie Vedder. The entire evening was a nod to their first show in Seattle on October 22nd, 1990. Over two decades have passed and the electric talent and passion of the rock gods is as evident as it ever was. They just don’t make them like this anymore. Vedder rejoiced:
“It’s been one hell of a ride.”
Set 1 peaked with “Even Flow”, “Ghost”, “Present Tense”, and “Do The Evolution”. Some absolutely heavy and raunchy rock solos by lead guitarist Mike McCready. Among guitar god Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, with matched energy by Matt Cameron on drums. McCready rotated guitars for songs, sometimes on a glitter-coated axe, sparkling in the white and black on the screen and in the light. Mike on the glittery guitar, Stone on the pink guitar. McCready got into a bar fight with one of the light fixtures, and won. Glass shattered on the stage and the entire audience was enthralled to see what he would do next.
In former shows on this tour, Vedder was swinging out on the glass bulb and into the crowd, flying high above peoples heads. This particular light fixture came equip with handle ropes meant for his crazy, rock star meets Tarzan moment. But alas, Vedder was too tired at this final leg of the tour to fly over the crowd in the same way. He still was extremely volatile and playful. One of the only musicians in the world you can say that about, and have it be a compliment.
Vedder then gave a heartwarming shout out to the troops, thanking them for their sacrifice and the sacrifices of their entire family. Thinking about how much people give, they give their well being and their body, he fixated on their physical body being given to make us feel safe. It is remarkable.
“If anyone still has real lighters, now would be the time.”
The Pepsi Center lit up with cellphones and lighters as Eddie channeled Lennon with a sultry cover of “Imagine”. The single is now for sale on iTunes to benefit Heartbeat, an organization working to create dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth through music. This moved us to another absolute highlight, the cover of “Mother” by Pink Floyd. First, to have Vedder’s voice cooly adapt the classic is one thing, But to watch him sway and hypnotize with a political presence much like Pink Floyd, left me speechless.
The beautiful ballad went perfectly with the ambiance and love reverberating through the stadium. Vedder is a peaceful man at heart, despite his bouts of rage and spitting wine across the stage. He passed around several bottles for the occasion, filling up cups in the front row, and even sent one to the very back of the Pepsi Center dome. The audience felt a closeness with the band on this night. Vedder opened up and became really sentimental when talking about the history or Pearl Jam:
“On October 22nd 1990, we played our first show in Seattle. October 23rd, we recorded the, I don’t know, 8 or 9 songs, what would be our first demo. And then on October 24th, I was back in San Diego working at a gas station.”
A giant mechanical bird hung above the set, comprised of garbage and clunky metal, yet light as a feather. The band turned away from the main crowd to face the back for “Last Kiss.” Their well known cover of the 60’s pop-esque sounding ballad is a go to karaoke song for the masses. The crowd knew every word. Also apparent through Vedder and McCready’s interaction with the crowd is the love they have for their fans. The band was flirting, for a moment, blowing kisses in the form of monstrously powerful guitar solos laced with red wine.
Then followed a memorable and high-energy version of “Rearviewmirror”. Vedder would take a moment to throw the microphone out into the excited crowd, pulling it back just in the nick of time to catch his verse. So rock and roll. I melted to a thoughtful and emotional ride for “Black”. Even the shattered light bulbs sparkling on the stage hung back, shy in the overwhelming presence of Pearl Jam.
The highlight of my night was seeing “Better Man” as it begins in it’s understated beauty, and then forcefully shifts in the middle around 2:00 minutes to the high-energy and sped up beat you just have to dance to. The melodic twists and turns in Vedders voice ring as clear as the first day he performed, in regards to his passion, nothing has changed. I kept thinking to myself, give me “Alive.” And he did. Then, a cover of “Baba O’Riley” and finally, the cherry on top and final song, “Yellow Ledbetter.” Pearl Jam is living proof that no matter how old you get, you are a rock God. May the daily grind of life, and the passage of time, never take that away.