As someone who grew up on classic rock, who’s first concerts attended were the likes of Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, KISS I often wonder what bands from my generation will one day be as highly regarded as they are. On Friday night I found out at least one band that undoubtedly will be, grunge legends Pearl Jam.
Much like frontman Eddie Vedder’s idols, The Who; Pearl Jam started out as a raucous, loud, unpredictable rock band in their early days playing small rooms. Also, in similar fashion to the British legends, Pearl Jam has evolved into one of this generation’s premier live acts. Every Pearl Jam show is a unique experience, the setlist changes every night, the banter is different, sometimes the band has even been known to preface their own shows by playing an acoustic set before going into their full performance.
While every Pearl Jam show is unique in it’s own way, Friday’s was especially so, taking place at the legendary baseball stadium, Fenway Park. There was an enormous buzz in the air around the ballpark before the show, with rumors of one of those pre-show acoustic sets persisting, and the general anticipation from fans who knew they were about to see something special. While the show was advertised as starting at 6:30, Pearl Jam let the anticipation build even more, not taking the stage until 7:40pm, when the band strolled onto the stage, lead by Vedder with a bottle of wine and the night’s setlist in hand. In stark contrast to their career trajectory, on this night Pearl Jam started off slow with a beautiful rendition of “Release” complimented by the setting sun over the ballpark.
The band, along with the crowd, built momentum as they went along. The set fully kicked into high gear upon the fast paced, punk tune “Mind Your Manners” from Pearl Jams’ 2013 release “Lightning Bolt” and only went up from there being followed by classics like “Why Go,” “Daughter” and peaking on rock radio staple “Even Flow.” The baseball references began shortly after, when Vedder dedicate the song “Faithfull” to Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. One of the night’s most memorable moments was the acoustic based “Black” which started with the band being joined on stage by former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo on the acoustic guitar, and ended with a sea of iPhone flashlights illuminating the cavernous stadium.
Part of Pearl Jam’s greatness is not only their own material, but their ability to perform cover versions of other artists’ work and make them uniquely Pearl Jam flavored. Even the most dedicated of fans did a little jump of excitement when the band launched into their cover of “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, something Pearl Jam had not done since a performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York back in 2008. The energy level went back up to ultra high levels when the band played “Porch” which featured Vedder running around the whole stage, jumping, and even going into the first row of fans to sing – not quite matching the stage dives of his younger days – but still exhilarating for those close enough to be a part of the moment.
After a brief encore break, the band re-emerged, now sitting on stools, for a semi-acoustic set that began with the ultra rare “Strangest Tribe” which was performed live for only the second time in the band’s career. Another surprise guest came out in perhaps the night’s most comedic moment, as Eddie Vedder asked if he could get a “Uke” on stage and was promptly greeted by Red Sox alum Kevin Youkilis, affectionately nicknamed “Youk” by Boston fans. Youkilis presented Vedder with the ukulele he needed to perform one of his solo songs, “Sleeping by Myself.” After a stunning cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” on which guitarist Mike McCready shined performing David Gilmour’s solos, Pearl Jam ended their first encore with a next-level performance of “Corduroy” a fan favorite track from the 1994 album “Vitalogy.” With numerous Boston baseball references under their belt, Pearl Jam wanted to make sure they paid tribute to the city’s music history as well, which they did in the form of an Aerosmith cover in which Vedder did his best Steven Tyler impression for the tune “Draw the Line.”
Perhaps the night’s most chill-inspiring moment came during the song “Alive” – one of Peal Jam’s signature songs - when the stadium lights came on prior to the final chorus, creating a moment that felt bigger than the show itself. Emotion is a big part of Pearl Jam’s music and concerts, even now in their 26th year as a band, they still maintain emotional connections to both their music and music that inspired them, after playing “Alive” the night was closed with a pair of emotionally charged tunes. First, they played the Beatles song “I’ve Got A Feeling” which was introduced by Vedder dedicating the song to a fan that lost his father, the fan penned a letter to the band asking them to play the Beatles tune, a cover Pearl Jam had not done since 2004. While introducing the song, Vedder got choked up talking about loss and those we all hold close. Pearl Jam’s ability to connect with their fans on an emotional level is a major part of what inspires such loyalty from their crowd.
For their final song of the night, that influence from The Who was evident once again, as they played a triumphant rendition of “Baba O’Riley” played as almost a victory song for having put on such a memorable performance. The Who – Pearl Jam connection runs pretty deep, and Eddie Vedder doesn’t attempt to hide his love for the band he idolized growing up. Playing “Baba O’Riley” was almost symbolic of the similar career path Pearl Jam has taken to The Who, and for a song that’s seen more than it’s fair share of cover versions, it’s often hard to pull off without seeming cheesy, or overdone. But for Peal Jam, and especially for this night, the song was not only fitting, but felt almost as if it was exactly the ending the night called for.
Pearl Jam have come a long way from their days haunting the dark Seattle grunge clubs and basements in the early 90’s, they’ve evolved into a stadium rocking act that brings with them a buzz that encompasses the entire city in which they play. While it may still be too soon to determine all the acts that will one day be look upon as ambassadors of rock and roll the way U2, The Who and RUSH are, at this point it’s safe to say that Pearl Jam will be one of them.
1. RELEASE 2. LONG ROAD 3. ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND THE COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN 4. LOW LIGHT 5. ALL THOSE YESTERDAYS 6. GIVEN TO FLY 7. MIND YOUR MANNERS 8. WHY GO 9. DAUGHTER 10. EVEN FLOW 11. FAITHFULL 12. GRIEVANCE 13. I AM MINE 14. DOWN 15. BLACK 16. DO THE EVOLUTION 17. MASTER OF WAR (BOB DYLAN) 18. I AM A PATRIOT (LITTLE STEVEN) 19. PORCH
ENCORE 1: 20. STRANGEST TRIBE 21. SOCIETY (JERRY HANNAN) 22. JUST BREATHE 23. SLEEPING BY MYSELF 24. WASTED REPRISE 25. LIFE WASTED 26. STATE OF LOVE AND TRUST 27. COMFORTABLY NUMB 28. CORDUROY
ENCORE 2: 29. DRAW THE LINE (AEROSMITH) 30. ALIVE 31. I GOT A FEELING (THE BEATLES) 32. BABA O'RILEY
Songbird Sings - Veterans Voice Program: The Veteran Voices program will be modeled after the existing Songbird Sings programs, which were built upon the premise that music is a healing and transformative force that can transform those who have experienced unspeakable violence or trauma.
Zumix: An East Boston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to building community among low-income underserved youth through music and the arts. Award-winning music and creative technology programming is designed to equip young people with the tools necessary to reach their full potential, while creating a safe space for them to explore who they are and who they want to be.
Roxbury Youthworks - 'GIFT' Program: A community-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people caught in cycles of poverty, victimization, and violence to transition successfully to adulthood. In particular, Pearl Jam’s donation will support the ‘GIFT’ program which provides Life Coaches to support and guide participants throughout their recovery from commercial sexual exploitation.
Artsbridge Institute + Music In Common: ABoston-based program that provides a month-long Intercultural Leadership Summer Program for students from Israel, Palestine and the United States. Music In Common is a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, educate, and connect communities through the universal language of music. These two organizations partnered in 2016 for the Artsbridge Leadership program this summer