Our month-long tribute to 30 years of Pearl Jam didn’t go quite as planned. A few days in, it became clear that the coronavirus would change not only our coverage plans but our lives for the foreseeable future. Suddenly, Pearl Jam releasing their best record in 20 years, postponing their first tour in two years, or even celebrating three decades as a creative life force seemed trivial. Of course, what this band has come to represent is anything but trivial. And, as many of you already know, a Pearl Jam concert isn’t just a date you circle on your calendar.
When the 2020 tour does commence, I can’t wait to hear bits and pieces of Gigaton live — songs of accountability and hope in a time when our leaders refuse to accept the former or offer the latter while people worry, suffer, and even die. I can’t wait until social distancing once again becomes standing shoulder to shoulder with fans I’ve never met, belting out “Corduroy” together. I can’t wait to hear Eddie Vedder — two bottles in — remind us that our voices will be heard in November, shout-out a fan in the crowd needing a warm word or two, or sprint the length of the stage during a marathon Mike McCready solo like a man half his age. (When those dates do get rescheduled, check for tickets here.)
I’ve seen Pearl Jam in concert nearly a dozen times (a newbie in the Ten Club ranks), and whether at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field or a corporate-named arena, among dear friends or fellow fans, in times of peace and prosperity or war and bouncing checks, I’ve always left each Pearl Jam show with far more than I came with. Below, you’ll find words and photos stretching back to our earliest days of covering Pearl Jam shows as a publication. You’ll hear tell of epic setlists and conquered lightning storms and see pictures of thrown wine bottles and the greatest touring band on the planet. Each show, I believe, leaving us with something that lasted long after the band took a final bow, the lights turned on, and the bus headed to the next city.
So, until we can all meet and shake hands and sing together again, enjoy these memories of more nights than we can possibly remember. Nights of banging heads, dancing, and singing along with the best fans and best band in the world. Keep safe, everyone.
Most emotionally powerful performance: Pearl Jam. 11th best set overall.
“Looking back and feeling the wave of energy still, I have to say, I now understand, more so than ever, where these long time fans are coming from. This is a landmark event. And if they’re still touring, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll bring my kid to a Pearl Jam concert one day.” — David Buchanan
Vedder’s setup for the tour, much like his demeanor, is very relaxed. There are a few eccentricities, such as a reel to reel machine, a couple of “on the road”-looking artifacts, and an arsenal of acoustic equipment. That’s just in the foreground. Behind it all, the background changes from a studio back lot, to the backstage, detouring to the outdoors, and eventually ascending into another realm altogether.
Blown away and flabbergasted, a tired and bewildered Vedder bowed to the sold out crowd, all of whom were smiling and screaming with angst. It was minutes before the stage was clear and the musician left the stage, though it was much longer before the fans gave up any hope of a third encore. Dedicated, motivated, and stunned… everyone walked back out into the crisp Chicago air, heading back into society. — Michael Roffman
It’s rare that I find little to no fault in a live set, as noted by my previous Mayhem reviews — the cynic in me was expecting something to ruin this, but alas, no dice for him. What we received instead was a memorable evening merely stone’s throw away from our nation’s capitol, a night on the edge of Virginia and grunge resurrected, a night where the new and the old of Seattle reigned supreme just days after a final show at the now-defunct Spectrum. This is the borderline of history for many, another night in the glow of “Ledbetter” for some, a revitalizing piece of the ’90s that never died off — and sealed with people carrying Pearl Jam tickets printed off from Ticketmaster. — David Buchanan
“This is the place to play this song,” Vedder posited, confusing a few in the crowd. He explained how there had been a request, for someone special in the crowd. That person was Mr. Ron Santo, Jr., son of the late Ron Santo, the legendary Chicago Cubs third basemen and longtime radio announcer, who passed away this past December. Before launching into the Cubs tune “All the Way”, Vedder expressed his admiration for Santo, stating, “It makes me want to kick out a stain glass window for the fact that he’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.” Shortly after, Vedder brought everyone to Wrigley Field – well, at least mentally.
“Even though I don’t live in Chicago anymore,” Vedder admitted. “Chicago lives in me.” — Michael Roffman
Tonight’s show just cemented my thinking that Pearl Jam is our generation’s Led Zeppelin–that band you can always count on to play unpredictable marathon shows. More than that, they just encompass everything I need in a band. They can bring grand, sweeping arena bluster or go punkish and trippy. They can be deeply personal or deeply political and rebellious. They have something for whatever ails ya. In their own words, they “got some if you need it.”
But what I really liked was the overwhelming sense that this band takes nothing for granted. They opened with “Release”, a song they always open Chicago shows with. How many bands keep tabs on something like that? Eddie talked about all the clubs and venues in town they’ve played, including their first Chi-town show at the Metro back in ’91. How many internationally famous bands can remember where they played 20 years ago? They dedicated “Come Back” to a young female fan who passed away recently. Once again, how many bands make that type of gesture? And in another touching move, some of tonight’s proceeds were donated to inner city programs focused on education. So, you might say that Pearl Jam left Chicago a little better than they found it. — Matt Melis
Too many writers have spent years praising Pearl Jam for playing each night like it’s their last. That wasn’t exactly the case Sunday night at Austin City Limits, but that didn’t stop Eddie Vedder and his Seattle brethren from delivering the weekend’s strongest headlining set. More than two decades later, the gang still knows how to close out a show in a way that leaves even the most die-hard fans picking up their jaws by night’s end. — Michael Roffman
Vedder brought out his ukulele and then switched to mandolin when Pete Townshend joined him for a Bob Dylan cover. The Pearl Jam frontman surprisingly botched the solo, prompting a funny moment where he threatened to smash the instrument, similar to Townshend’s past. Eventually, The Who guitarist took over to play a one-of-a-kind record that could be bid on for charity.
By the time the full band arrived, I’d forgotten they were even supposed to be there, so I was extra glad to see Joe Walsh tear up lead guitar on “Emminence Front” and Joan Jett sing “Can’t Explain”. I was promised a rock show, and it was finally happening.
Later, Vedder returned to sing “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Better Man”, which led into Rick Nielsen’s appearances on the final two numbers of the evening, which were capped off by the massive crowd sing-along to “My Generation”. — Jill Hopkins
…[T]he gig’s true consequential moments – the occurrences that made this occasion historically significant – came during Vedder’s frequent heartfelt interjections…
Each incident was so incredibly humanizing. It was wonderful to witness this titan rock band of 25 years eschewing the phone-it-in-for-a-paycheck path taken by so many other artists at a similar level of supremacy. I suspect that for many in attendance, the experience was life-changing. Between the emotionally charged moments and my first brush with the positively stunning fanfare of Foro Sol, I know that it was for me. Vedder summed up the larger-than-life event best before the first encore, “Unless you’re actually here right now, you wouldn’t believe it – this is really special.” — David Brendan Hall
It was surreal, but so was the entire night.
Going into a Pearl Jam show, you never know what to expect, and that mystery mostly stems from their uncanny setlists. Yet Vedder took Ft. Lauderdale on an emotional roller coaster that went above and beyond another unique entry for Setlist.fm. We laughed at his wine-fueled short story about hotel tiling, we sighed when he brought one woman to tears on-screen during “Footsteps”, and we quickly cheered as he serenaded her during “Last Kiss”. Hell, we sang “Happy Birthday” to McCready. — Michael Roffman
Pushed back after a brief weather scare, Pearl Jam rocked Bonnaroo with the type of set you expect to see in a highlight reel in the years to come. The Seattle outfit thrashed through their catalog with Springsteen-esque showmanship, and while some might argue and whine that their best music is behind them, most will contend that they’re forever in the sweet spot for live performances. The firework display, though a Bonnaroo tradition at this point, was magnificent as ever in tandem with the glow of Pearl Jam’s brilliance — a finely tuned machine if there ever was one. –Pat Levy
You wanna know how to get the crowd going? They start towards the exit, you pull out the Cubs song. They turn the lights on you, you say to hell with the curfew. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get the crowd. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? What are you prepared to do?
Rest assured, Pearl Jam never stop fighting till the fight is done. — Michael Roffman
That One Performance: What else needs to be said about Pearl Jam? Are we really that surprised that they drew in the biggest crowd of the festival? Or that they delivered the most resonating set of the weekend? Not really. The Seattle rockers are one of the greatest rock bands on the planet, and the gooey stuff is just second nature to them. Hell, even when they toss out a hits-fest like Thursday night’s setlist, which consisted of seven Ten cuts and their more predictable bookends (“Release”; “Rockin’ in the Free World”), the guys still know how to make the night seem like a one-of-a-kind show. Reason being, it’s not just about the setlist with them; it’s about the energy, and at Mad Cool, that energy was not only palpable but downright symbiotic. — Michael Roffman
That One Performance: “I drink to Portugal,” Vedder smiled, holding a bottle up to the sky. From Yield standout “Low Light” forward, the extra-sized set (complete with multiple Pink Floyd covers, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and just about every Pearl Jam song you could ever hope for) led to screams of joy throughout the park. And 23 songs in, just when it seemed every base had been covered — including a snippet of “Seven Nation Army” worked in for good measure — Jack White himself stepped out to join the band for a cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World”. But Vedder’s flawless vocals remain the unforgettable showstopper, and this evening seemed particularly giddy in its perfection. — Lior Phillips
We don’t have any accolades left to heap on Pearl Jam that we haven’t already awarded. They’re one of the few remaining rock acts that deserve to play stadiums, never take a night off, and build community through sincerity, brotherhood, and an unwavering belief in rock and roll’s ability to leave the world just a little better for it having blared out a stack of amps.
Mired in what will no doubt be looked upon as a particularly ugly stretch of history — a period that has witnessed our basic American values called into question on almost a daily basis — two nights of standing, dancing, and headbanging shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters at the ballpark was enough to remind us of just how sweet it is to keep on rocking in the free world. –Matt Melis