If a Gallup Poll were to be commissioned today with the sole purpose of determining which rock band from the 90’s will still be rocking out in the free world ten years from now, which outfit do you think would emerge the victor of said fictitious referendum?
Based upon the nearly 16,000 die-hards that filled the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC this past Saturday, the sheer force and precise technical execution the band displayed, as well as the fans’ inspiring connection and interaction with their grunge era heroes, there could only be one possible winner, Pearl Jam.
Eddie Vedder and company were only playing the fifth show of their current North American sojourn that kicked off just a little over a week ago, thus expectations regarding length and level of performance going into their concert this past Saturday probably should have been tempered.
Pearl Jam buried any apprehensions some long time fans may have harbored going into the show as from nearly the moment the band the hit the lighted stage they proved they’re already firing on all cylinders.
The Seattle area quintet sounded as tight as ever as they triumphantly rocked a nearly three-hour long, 33-song, two encore set that also featured the band’s sophomore release, 1993’s Vs., being played in its entirety for the first time in Pearl Jam live show history.
The evening’s musical journey began with a high octane rendition of “Corduroy” off of 1994’s Vitalogy before seeing the band launch into a track-by-track run through of Vs. which included performances of now long standing Pearl Jam classics such as “Animal,” “Dissident,” “Go,” “Daughter,” “Rearviewmirror,” and “Indifference.”
Following the band playing the tenth track off of Vs., the seldom played live “Rats,” Vedder directly addressed the crowd at length for the first but hardly the last time on the evening.
The front man offered up an anecdote about how despite the fact the band had already been spending an inordinate amount of time on the road together they chose to live and record Vs. under the same roof.
About that period Vedder mused, “It was like a diamond, the five of us getting all crunched up together like that.”
Speaking specifically about the song they were about to perform, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Vedder reminisced,
“Stone heard me playing this on guitar at some point and I really didn’t like it but he thought it was wicked so here we go.”
Once the Vs. portion of the set list concluded some fans in attendance may have begun to conclude that the band was going to perform another one of their albums from beginning to end as the next four songs that were played all came off of 2013’s Lighting Bolt, “Mind Your Manners,” Swallowed Hole,” “Sirens,” and “Let the Records Play.”
Prior to jumping into the fourth consecutive Lightning Bolt track Vedder gave a shout out to Gene Berger, owner of Greenville’s own Horizon Records, on their 40th anniversary while also thanking Mike McCready for buying the guys in the band a whole bunch of vinyl on record store day.
Pearl Jam ended up performing a whopping nineteen songs before taking their first set break of the evening. Had the band chose to call it quits at that point I’m sure most fans would have still left the arena beaming with joy while also feeling as though they had got every pennies’ worth of their ticket cost.
Prior to kicking off their first encore set Vedder dedicated “Future Days” to a fan by the name of Evan who had apparently been battling cancer but who had also recently been declared N.E.D., an acronym meaning “no evidence of disease.”
The band would go on to play an additional six songs before taking their next time out that included more fan pleasing favorites such as “Nothingman, “Given to Fly,” and one of only two Ten tracks that made their way onto the night’s set list “Porch.”
It was also during second set that Pearl Jam would end up surprising many in attendance by playing the Pink Floyd classic, “Comfortably Numb.”
The band’s cover ended up generating McCready’s most memorable guitar work of the entire show as he masterfully tackled David Gilmour’s most recognized and signature guitar solo of all time.
Before performing The Wall classic Vedder also joked, “This song was very important to me growing up. I think the first few times I listened to it I was on mushrooms so I took a few just now…no, no I am responsible. Let’s play it. This song is like jumping off a cliff.”
The first encore set also included a version of the rarely played live “Present Tense” off of the band’s 1996 release No Code.
Vedder took notice of a sign an audience member was holding up requesting the band play “Inside Job” to remember the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place on this same day back in 2007.
Vedder talked a bit about how the theme of “Present Tense” could be applied to the campus tragedy the fan was attempting to bring attention to.
“I just don’t get it but there’s a lot of shit I don’t get. Education and experience are the key,” said Vedder.
“A lot of attitudes come from those who don’t know what it’s like to be different. These are things we need to accept not fight about. Life is short and the earth is fragile, this we know. Let’s get on with the good shit and take care of each other.”
Before the entire band would join Vedder back up on stage to perform the final seven songs of their epic 33 song-set the front man gave the audience a history lesson by reminding them that Pearl Jam was the first band to ever play at the the arena back in 1998 when the venue was still being branded as the BI-LO Center.
However, Vedder immediately clarified himself by referencing the fact that Janet Jackson was technically the first artist to ever play the venue stating, “No disrespect to Janet Jackson, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty, but we were the first band to ever play here.”
Several more fan favorites ended up populating the band’s second and final encore of the night including “Better Man” and a blistering take on “Alive.”
The latter of which saw Vedder directly making his way into the lower bowl seats to personally greet a fan that had been holding up a sign that read, “Alive Saved My Life” as well as McCready jumping into the crowd to perform the song’s guitar solo amongst hundreds of the band’s most fervent devotees.
Pearl Jam concerts offer their fans a time machine journey that gleefully delivers some back to their college-era plaid shirt wearing glory days while also uniquely providing them with a present day experience that will generate new memories for decades to come.
As Pearl Jam launched into the final two songs of the night, a cover of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and the ever popular Ten outtake “Yellow Leddbetter” that winded up being the B-side to the 1992’s hit single “Jeremy,” it dawned on me that Pearl Jam ultimately had achieved something special on the evening.
Beyond delivering a sublime performance that enthralled the crowd from first note to last, the band had also managed to further strengthen their already air-tight bond with their fan base; joking with them, singing along with with them and sharing past and present genuine personal moments with seemingly each and every individual in attendance.
Ultimately this is what helps Pearl Jam rise well above most of their so-called peers in the music industry today. The fact that experiencing the band in a live setting always ends up feeling much like less of a concert and much more like spending time with some your best friends you haven’t seen in far too long.
I can’t speak for everyone that attended the show in Greenville, SC this past Saturday but here’s hoping my friends Eddie, Jeff, Mike, Stone and Matt happen upon my door step again sooner rather than later.
Don’t worry about knocking next time either boys, the door is always open, come on in.