Pearl Jam: Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester

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I was always a Nirvana fan.


Or should I say, I was always a bigger Nirvana fan. You just had to be. Nearly 20 years later it’s still incomprehensible to think how, as a listener, you get suckered into these traps.
We’re all guilty. It’s just too easy. A mere four years later after the rumble in Seattle, we’re duped into the Great North and South divide as two heavyweight Brits slog it out with their version of Ali and Foreman in a media-concocted contrivance aimed at shifting units, shelf space and artistic state of mind. Once again you’re forced to pick a corner.
We all know how much good that did.
A quite remarkable eighteen years later and fashions haven’t so much gone full circle but lapped themselves; plaid, corduroy and dissaffection have sifted by, reignited bigtime and once again, are now on the wane.
Shooting yourself in the head wasn’t ever cool. And thank Kurt, Eddie Vedder saw past the insular systematic faults of journalistic expectation and cool.
It’s been remarked many a time, but it’s worth pointing out again, Pearl Jam were never, not ever, Grunge per se.
Seattle-born, angry and scruffy fucks yes. Yet musically they shared little, if anything comparable to that scene’s Godfathers Sonic Youth, The Melvins and Mudhoney. Nor their offspring Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots.
Pearl Jam were the invaders of their own island. And if anything they made themselves hard to love.
Sure each of the original five members had a beachcomber swagger; all sandshabby, windswept hair, aching detachment and a violent disregard for establishment. But where was their teen spirit?
Their punk was overshadowed by an inescapable intelligence, a sense of political engagement and, if anything a technical musical advancement, which seemed to overcome Nirvana (and their copyists) genuine force for danger.
Cobain and co were severely likely to ruin not just themselves but take you out in the process, while Pearl Jam, for all their anger and dirty havoc would be as likely to pull you up on Ticketmaster’s naughty scamming as they were to blow the roof off.
Was your appetite for discussion or destruction?
Eighteen years later and this is exactly why a packed-to-the-rafters enormabowl is singing as one to a classic rock and roll band.
Their self-preservation, reason for existence, being altogether – apart from trends, punk, fashion and teen spirit – is why they’ve endured. And thank Kurt they have.
Tonight’s gig reminds me, ironically, to their true muse, Neil Young – an adopted Godfather of Grunge (more in spirit, than musical inspiration), whose gig 18 months ago at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre showcased such a range of material that it’s only the archivists and fanatics that can seriously keep up.
Like the Canadian, PJ have done it their way, racking up a remarkably assured reputation as they go forth.
Of course Young’s vast treasures far outweigh his American counterparts in terms of mileage, but Vedder and co. are on his heels what with the forthcoming release of Backspacer – their ninth in 18 years – a tremendous average in contemporary terms.
Of the new swag, The Fixer, is an uptempo stomper, obvious lead single and notable high but tonight is all about a joined, heaving mass of rolling bodies, fist-punching, air-smashing, neckvein-popping riot act.
Why Go, Last Exit, an incredibly funky drawn-out wah-grrr of Not For You and Given To Fly provide several early triumphs but it’s not until a quarter of the way in when Mike McCready decides to launch into a quite preposterous round the back of his body guitar solo during Even Flow that proceedings reach the ‘this is actually very special‘ level.
McCready, all barrel-chested, slightly bloated stomach, and altogether odd looking, lizard-cum-stoney faced creature wrecks his fret board with continual RSI-inducing finger movements, ragging all manner of tone controls and foot pedals all the while looking completely expressionless at the very lip of the stage. Eddie meanwhile goes stage left for a quiet fag. He’s seen it all before.
I’ve not. And save for Prince, it’s hard to remember a finer moment of guitar-led audaciousness.
It’s not until the main set closer, Rearviewmirror, do they match this spectacle. This time the already hurricane-like song is ramped up further as each member – bar the hyper-kinetic, yet ultra-still, Matt Cameron behind the kit – grabs a guitar chopping, slaying and beating riffs until a spine-tingling stop, slight judder of feedback and drone gives way to an almighty punishing finish. It’s approaching 12 minutes of barnstorming thrill.
Of course most people would say Alive matches this in the glory stakes, but these ears finds the staple a somewhat everpresent comfort, easily bettered by a messy, mistake-ridden Save You (Eddie guffaws visibly as he forgets the words), a juddering Worldwide Suicide , hugely uplifting Daughter and the stunning subtlety of a quite mesmerising Black as tens of thousands coo the coda in unison.
They close with fan-dedicated Smile, a blockbusting Who cover of The Real Me and as the arena lights turn on and organiser’s signal showtime the band keenly press on for the hushed finale of Indifference – it’s apt: against the grain, unexpected, hardly there and really rather magnificent.

Black

Even Flow

Rearviewmirror
Videos courtesy of youtube member dfgjsfgj
Setlist:
1.Long Road
2.Last Exit
3.Why Go
4.All Night
5.The Fixer
6.Low Light
7.In Hiding
8.World Wide Suicide
9.Not For You
10.Even Flow
11.Present Tense
12.Save You
13.Grievance
14.Sleight Of Hand
15.Got Some Play
16.Given To Fly
17.Rearviewmirror
Encore:
18.Go
19.Daughter
20.Do The Evolution
21.Alive
Encore 2:
22.Smile
23.Black
24.Leash
25.The Real Me (The Who cover)
26.Indifference

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