Pearl Jam: 25 Years Later…and Still the Best

May 5, 2016

Post-tour blues have set in. Granted, I am seeing Pearl Jam at Fenway in August…but that’s not until August. So far away. Ugh. I haven’t been listening to a lot of new music the past week or two because I’ve been listening to a lot of Pearl Jam. And by a lot, I mean it’s practically the only thing I’ve been listening to. MSG I from 2003. Gorge 2005. Moline 2014. Philly III from 2009 when they played four nights to close down the Spectrum. Granted, I don’t see nearly as many concerts as you’d expect a fan of music to see, but I still feel confident in my opinion that Pearl Jam is one of the top three live acts today.

They are such a great live band that I expect everyone to have the same reaction that this guy had after seeing them at MSG earlier this week, his first time seeing Pearl Jam live. Then again, the wife / girlfriend of the guy sitting next to me and my friend may have disagree. I should also emphasize the sitting part since that is what she did for all but three songs. 25 years in and they still play every show with the passion and intensity of a band playing in a small club. At no point do you get the sense that they are simply going through the motions. Eddie Vedder is running around the stage, dancing, and finishing many of the songs on which he plays guitar with a Pete Townshend-esque jump. Lead guitarist Mike McCready puts on a show all his own. Besides for his dazzling guitar work, McCready is constantly playing with the audience, pointing at audience members, throwing guitar pics, etc. It’s actually exhausting watching him work. Possibly less entertaining to watch, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Stone Gossard, and drummer Matt Cameron are all top notch musicians.

Besides for the fact that Pearl Jam concerts routinely run over two and a half hours and span 30+ songs, one of the best aspects of their show is that the setlist varies so much night to night. Eddie Vedder sits down before each show and comes up with a unique setlist. With 10 studio albums, countless b-sides, and a myriad of covers that are worked into their sets, you never know what you are going to hear on any given night. This past week, I saw two shows. The first was in Philadelphia and was the second of two nights the band played there. To start the show, the band played their debut album, Ten, in order. The first time they have done that since 1992. The second show I went to was the band’s second of two shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The first night at MSG was a great show and I was a little worried that night two wouldn’t live up to the previous night’s show. As always, they did not disappointment. In addition to a killer set, the band had a couple of aces of their sleeves. About midway through the band’s first set, they brought out Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick to play the band’s hit song “Surrender.” Then in their second encore, they played “Driven to Tears” by The Police. After finishing up the first verse, none other than Sting sauntered onto the stage to finish off the song. Unbelievable.

At some point during Friday night’s show in Philadelphia, it occurred to me that my first Pearl Jam concert was 20 years ago. I still remember those two nights at Randall’s Island in 1996 like they were yesterday. It rained the entire first night and I was soaked, but couldn’t have been happier. Night two was one of the best shows I have ever seen…by them or any other band. I was already a big fan before I saw them in 1996, but those shows made me an even bigger fan and were my first taste of Pearl Jam’s powerful live show. A Pearl Jam concert is as close as I get to a religious experience. To this day, I am thankful that I have been fortunate enough to fall in love with the music of a band that has been soundtracking the past 25 years of my life and continues to make good music, continues to tour, and continues to surprise. This blog takes its name from a Pearl Jam song of the same name. The very first post here (hard to believe it’s been nearly 5 years already) detailed how and when I fell in love with this band.

To give you an example as to what kind of band Pearl Jam is…and always was, watch the video below. Jessica Letkemann, editor-in-chief at Fuse TV by day and co-editor at by night, was attending her 150th Pearl Jam show this past Monday night in NYC. I follow her on Twitter and saw that she was camping out the morning of the show. Her goal? Rail. To the uninitiated, front row in general admission. Her dedication paid off. She hung a little sign telling the band that it was her 150th show and requested the band play “Breath,” a song resurrected at MSG in 1998 after being absent from the band’s shows for years prior. Not only did they play, watch what happens toward the end of the song:

If you’ve never seen Pearl Jam, do it before it’s too late. I think they’ve still got years left in them, but you never know with the way 2016 is going. Even if you consider yourself a casual fan or a fan of their early stuff only, go and become initiated. I can almost guarantee you that the person who leaves will not be the person who entered.

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