Vedder defies humanity – for the sake of bloody politics…

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PEARL JAM LIVE REVIEW – as seen by Dominic Allen
Venue: WEMBLEY ARENA
Date: 18/6/07


Last Monday I finally got to see Pearl Jam perform live. I’ve only be a fan for like, err, 13 years, so as I joined the throngs of Jam-ites congregating around the fountains of the new Wembley complex (long hair, Doc. Martens and xxl band t-shirts still exist!) I was pretty darned excited.
For a band who rarely play these shores, I reckoned I was entitled to a greatest hits setlist interspersed with the occasional great album track curio and a smattering of Neil Young covers.
After a short, functional support set from Idlewild (more idle than wild these days, but nay bad), the famous intro to Once teases the audience before Eddie takes the mic and launches into
err, well, it’s called Long Road, and I’m reliably informed it’s the B-side to I got ID. So not exactly the barnstorming opener I’d hoped for. The tone of the night is set

But before I slag off one of my fave all time bands, I’ll list some positives. Vedder is still one of the great rock vocalists of our generation – effortlessly transfixing the packed arena with his distinctively rich, powerful and moving delivery. And boy do these guys still have presence and authority on the stage: McCready with his guitar-god posing playing solos behind his back, Matt Cameron’s tribal-pounding his skins, and good ol’ Stone and Jeff, just being good ol’ Stone and Jeff. Oh, and even cult-hero Boom (crowd go ‘Boom’!) Gaspar on keyboards.
So anyway, you know the tracks you can’t help but skip on an album? And never expect to hear live because they aren’t good enough? Well tonight I counted a few that had an airing. Lowlight off Yield (because, as Eddie explains, ‘Jeff wrote it, and his wife’s in the audience tonight..’). Did she pay £40 entry?? The woeful Parachutes off their latest album (played during the encore?! – now that’s just silly). And then, in encore part 2, when Eddie comes out alone on stage, spotlit, guitar in hand
I’m expecting a glorious sing-along to Vitalogy classic Betterman. Instead I get a lengthy diatribe against Bush and Blair, a story about an Iraqi soldier, and then a song nobody’s ever heard of called ‘No More’. No more war. Oh dear. The time it takes Vedder to regale us with his hatred of Bush, the band could have knocked out Go and Corduroy.
In fact, it’s clear to me that over the last ten years Eddie’s pearls of political wisdom have come at a high price – to the detriment of the music. Maybe I sound all naïve and pre-1996 here, but just 6 tracks in total (out of a total of 27) from their first four albums is a poor show in my book, especially for a gig of this magnitude. And have they ever matched the strength, consistency and edge of Ten, Versus and Vitalogy since? No. For every Worldwide Suicide there’s a Bushleaguer.
Perhaps this is a fan-boy gig (all standing room is taken up by fanclub members). And there’s no denying that Vedder has always been one for pro-choice propaganda. And maybe the fanclub members don’t want to hear Alive for the seventeeth time. But I’m sorry, I do. And thank god they did, as I may otherwise had sulked off to the toilets to read my copy of ‘Non-Partisanism in the workplace’.
But another note-to-self. I love Pearl Jam. Superb renditions of Faithful, Why Go, Grievance, Present Tense, Severed Hand, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, the magnificent Immortality have the hairs raised to attention on the back of my neck. The crowd sing as one, and the majority of the time the band play furiously like it’s their last gig.
The clunky politicism that spoils much of the encore is swept away by the Neil Young crowd-pleaser Rockin’ in the free world and the stunning, emotionally-charged Indifference – the only Versus track I’ve heard all night, and a reminder of a band at their absolute peak (I’ve written some s*** lyrics in my time’, says Eddie, ‘this isn’t one of them’).
So I’m left exhilarated but mildly exasperated, and wanting a whole lot more. Knowing Pearl Jam, it might be a while, but then at least Bush and Blair will be long gone by then.
6/10
DOMINIC ALLEN

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