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Eddie Vedder And The Earthlings At Beacon Theatre, Thursday, February 3rd, 2022, Reviewed

Eddie Vedder is the best rock star we have. Not in any way you can reach towards, on record his dayjob Pearl Jam had one great album (Vitalogy) and maybe only another 20 must hear songs dotted throughout their career. So not recorded. Live, Vedder has a handful of peers, Bruce, Byrne, a few others, and Eddie does what they do but he does it with a self-effacement Dave Grohl just can’t muster; to front a rock band you need a huge ego and Eddie is one of the few leaders who keeps it in check. How many men have children that sing “My Father’s Daughter” (“I am my father’s daughter, come hell or high water”) for them the way Olivia Vedder did last year? A song that breathes life into one of the deepest relationships there are? There are things in life that define us, surely the love and respect of one’s children -especially given the implicit Electra complex buried inside the father and daughter dynamic, is a huge one. As a rule of thumb, if your children hate you you are probably an asshole.

Many years ago, I had tickets to see Metallica and Pearl Jam for the same day and chose Metallica. My friend told me that the concert was the best PJ she ever saw (Metallica weren’t all that). Who knows? Actually, I do, PJ released the concert when they were bombarding us with legal live boots (you remember? With those gray album covers), and Eddie, who was clearly drunk (on his third bottle of red wine by the end of the evening) made it the sound of being alive, I’ve seen PJ many times but what can beat that? Nothing. Last night at the Beacon Theatre it wasn’t that and yet it was a strong evening.

“Mercury was in retrograde”, Eddie warned us as he gave the best description of the past two years, “Covid hell dungeon”. That’s the time of year when Mercury appears to be moving backwards and horroscopeans believe it is a period of misfortune for, er, Earthlings. Eddie has had the most chaotic three weeks in all his life, he explained, between people close to him getting Covid and eating into rehearsal time which went from twelve to three, a weather bomb battering his plans, and an an insane amount of stress for the 57 year old. Mercury left retrograde last night at 817pm, Eddie went on stage at 910pm.

Irish singer songwriter Glen Hansard, who worked with Eddie on the soundtrack to “Flag Day” last year, opened the evening with a set drawing on The Swell Season and the Broadway musical “Once”. Performing solo, Glen was a powerhouse singer and his way too brief set (25 minutes – my only real complaint is that why cut Glen short if you aren’t coming out for 45 minutes?) climaxing with a brilliant “Falling Slowly” left us wanting more, which we got because Glen is also the guitarist with the Earthlings, and indeed was a highlight of Vedder’s set dueting on a riveting “Tender Mercies” which took the songs voluntary socialism and blasted it.

It was something Eddie might have considered doing himself. What we got last night was ten songs off the upcoming album, ten covers, and a coupla ringers. What we wanted was Eddie reaching back to “The Long Walk” but I think in his mind’s eye was revolved around pleasing his audience -maybe in ways they didn’t need pleasing. The PJ songs were “Wishlist”, “Better Man” and the final song of the set proper, a storming “Porch” off the debut album where the band, who have been fine all night, exploded in obstreperous joy. The list of covers is beyond obvious:

All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan
Drive by R.E.M.
Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
Isn’t It a Pity by George Harrison
People Have the Power by Patti Smith
Precious by Pretenders
Room at the Top by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The Earthlings are a group of first rate musicians: Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, ex-RHCP guitarist and Pearl Jam touring member Josh Klinghoffer, Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney , as well as Glen and also lead guitarist (he gets the solo!) Earthling producer Andrew Watt. Known as a rock guy, he is more pop punk with the likes of Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Eddie worked with both Glen and Andrew on the “Flag Day” soundtrack, and the rest of the band are L.A. royalty (“They aren’t doing this for the money”). But they aren’t that tight and botched the beginning of one of his best new songs, “The Dark”.

The blasts that occured, at regular intervals, are part of the set’s weird construction. They open with three covers and close with five covers, and between them perform songs from his upcoming album and some of “Flag Day”. In between, Eddie has some things on his mind, specifically suicide and the isolation of Covid that sent him to a dark place. I had realized that “Brother The Cloud” was probably about Chris Cornell but “Long Way” was a surprised: it is part of an album that is not as big as its parts, rather, though strong, they are flashlight songs, they come together and leave apart. Earthling is Eddie’s third solo album, and he has worked on soundtracks as well, and they aren’t appreciably different than Pearl Jam except for the Ukulele one. I’m not certain about performing “Wishlist” (it is Yield‘s 25th anniversary, also the 25th anniversary of Bowie’s Earthling), “Lukin” would have been my choice, and I’m seriously not sure about “Room With A View,” though “Lukin” has a soundalike with not yet out “Try” which included a mean harp from “Pearl Jam: Let’s Play Two” director Danny Clinch, and “The Haves” is a Tom Petty inspired song.

Eddie wasn’t in great voice, except for a dynamised “The Long Way”, he seemed to be holding back a little: first night of the tour after two years at home kinda explains why (“We’re gonna ease in slowly”) and I bet the show tonight is better. For those of you who are going, the doors are at 630pm, Glen went on at 805PM, Eddie at 910p,. and it was over elevenish…

Despite weaknesses, too many covers, the band not entirely jelling, the sense of a a whole lotta rock lifers do it again, the evening worked because Eddie Vedder is such a nice guy. Nice may be a weak adjective yet somehow as Vedder discusses how the Beacon (of hope) lived up to its name yesterday, of how this to him was hope, it became clear his strength of character. He is great on stage, he talks to huge audiences and yet does it with so much empathy and passion he might have been simply talking to you in person. Take a look at his New York Times interview a coupla days ago (here) and he managed to get the journalist, David Marchese, discussing a suicide that affected the writer, EDDIE got the writer to open up (David in caps):

I lost my best friend to suicide, and I’ll say that the link between sadness and anger in that song is very recognizable. Can I ask you about that?

Oh, gosh. I don’t know if I have anything to say. I know it’s personal. But just so I have another perspective.

Yeah, OK. How is your level of forgiveness? Has it stopped growing? Do you feel like it will keep growing? I think the mature thing is to understand that maybe it wasn’t completely his choice. How have you felt about the forgiveness?

I think it’s about finding a way to accept conflicting feelings. Now I have it to where 90 percent of the time I feel gratitude for having had that person in my life at all. The other 10 percent of the time I think, Why did you do that, you idiot? Ninety percent is very good. I wish I could get to that. And then how much do you feel the frustration of, OK, we were that close, and you didn’t come to me?

I’m sorry, it makes me emotional to talk about. I don’t want to hijack this interview. You’re relating to something. It’s valid.

Then, Eddie retold the story to us and it was very personal, very thoughtful. He told the story before the excellent “Brother The Cloud” off the upcoming album and hearing him clearly enunciate “Suicide kills everyone” is a painful share. By an odd coincident, a very close friend of mine attempted suicide earlier this year: I got the opportunity to ask her why she didn’t reach out to me and I didn’t get an answer. It reminds me of Chris’s daughter after Cornel killed himself, she was the face of heartbreak. When Eddie digs that deep he is a gift to rockers, and it is a skill not many people have at all. It is hard to imagine Anthony Kiedis getting through to us.

Nobody would claim greatness for last night, but yes to goodness, yes to the honest roar of rock and roll, yes, yes, yes. Or maybe it’s just because mercury is no longer in retrograde…

Grade: B+

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