PEARL JAM LIVE REVIEW – as seen by Dominic Allen
Venue: WEMBLEY ARENA
Last Monday I finally got to see Pearl Jam perform live. IÃ¢ÂÂve 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 intoÃ¢ÂÅ err, well, itÃ¢ÂÂs called Long Road, and IÃ¢ÂÂm reliably informed itÃ¢ÂÂs the B-side to I got ID. So not exactly the barnstorming opener IÃ¢ÂÂd hoped for. The tone of the night is setÃ¢ÂÅ
But before I slag off one of my fave all time bands, IÃ¢ÂÂll list some positives. Vedder is still one of the great rock vocalists of our generation Ã¢ÂÂ 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 CameronÃ¢ÂÂs tribal-pounding his skins, and good olÃ¢ÂÂ Stone and Jeff, just being good olÃ¢ÂÂ Stone and Jeff. Oh, and even cult-hero Boom (crowd go Ã¢ÂÂBoomÃ¢ÂÂ!) Gaspar on keyboards.
So anyway, you know the tracks you canÃ¢ÂÂt help but skip on an album? And never expect to hear live because they arenÃ¢ÂÂt good enough? Well tonight I counted a few that had an airing. Lowlight off Yield (because, as Eddie explains, Ã¢ÂÂJeff wrote it, and his wifeÃ¢ÂÂs in the audience tonight..Ã¢ÂÂ). Did she pay ÃÂ£40 entry?? The woeful Parachutes off their latest album (played during the encore?! Ã¢ÂÂ now thatÃ¢ÂÂs just silly). And then, in encore part 2, when Eddie comes out alone on stage, spotlit, guitar in handÃ¢ÂÅ IÃ¢ÂÂm 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 nobodyÃ¢ÂÂs ever heard of called Ã¢ÂÂNo MoreÃ¢ÂÂ. 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, itÃ¢ÂÂs clear to me that over the last ten years EddieÃ¢ÂÂs pearls of political wisdom have come at a high price Ã¢ÂÂ to the detriment of the music. Maybe I sound all naÃÂ¯ve 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 thereÃ¢ÂÂs a Bushleaguer.
Perhaps this is a fan-boy gig (all standing room is taken up by fanclub members). And thereÃ¢ÂÂs no denying that Vedder has always been one for pro-choice propaganda. And maybe the fanclub members donÃ¢ÂÂt want to hear Alive for the seventeeth time. But IÃ¢ÂÂm sorry, I do. And thank god they did, as I may otherwise had sulked off to the toilets to read my copy of Ã¢ÂÂNon-Partisanism in the workplaceÃ¢ÂÂ.
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 itÃ¢ÂÂs their last gig.
The clunky politicism that spoils much of the encore is swept away by the Neil Young crowd-pleaser RockinÃ¢ÂÂ in the free world and the stunning, emotionally-charged Indifference – the only Versus track IÃ¢ÂÂve heard all night, and a reminder of a band at their absolute peak (IÃ¢ÂÂve written some s*** lyrics in my timeÃ¢ÂÂ, says Eddie, Ã¢ÂÂthis isnÃ¢ÂÂt one of themÃ¢ÂÂ).
So IÃ¢ÂÂm 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.