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Pearl Jam At Barclay Center, Friday, October 18th, 2013, Reviewed

Eddie emotes

Eddie Vedder thanked Jay-Z, “We’ve got 99 problems but a place to play ain’t one” for inviting Pearl Jam to Barclay Center, though Jay-Z sold his stake in the arena last month, and Eddie dedicated a song to New Jersey (no, he knew where was one, he was thinking about natural disasters) but otherwise you get that sense if either Pearl Jam or I had the date circled on our calenders it was probably me. A sprite, slim, no nonsense 150 minute set by the grunge stalwarts was frill less  though  not thrill less.

150 minutes slim? Yeah, of all the really really big rock and roll bands, Pearl Jam have the least bloat and the least ego. The 32 song set was a masterclass in rock and roll dynamics mixing great covers (Van Halen and the Dead Boys any one!) with deep album cuts, a healthy handful of hits and just enough off the new, very good album Lightning Bolt. With the exception of a DOA four song of acoustic (ish) songs during the first encore, Pearl Jam performed as smart and self assured a rock and roll show as imaginable, as Springsteen, as the Who or the Stones. And unlike any of them, they do so with a minimum of fuss, special effects or distractions. Eseentially, Pearl Jam just play.

In a sold out Barclay Center, I mean even behind the stage, Pearl Jam took the stage for 17, 000 plus fanatics (the first of two sold out shows) at 830pm on the dot and were no nonsense all business rockers. Eddie, still in plaid shirt after all these years,  but with a nicely trimmed beard held center stage for the first hour  till “Dissident” when guitarist Mike McCready (in a New York Dolls tee shirt) jammed hard rock riffs, behind his own back!

A coupla songs later, Pearl Jam reached the zenith of the set with Stone Gossard soloing and the band boiling through crowd favorite “Spin The Black Circle” and showstopping Mother Love Jone cover “Crown Of Thorns”. “Unlike these guys,” Eddie said, pointing to the band, “I never knew Andrew Woods but I’ve thought about him a lot a lot a lot” before the band expanded the song into a pre-grunge heavy metal show of strength.

Eddie dedicated “Infallible” to his kids and that makes three dedications and he talked to the audience with both ease and honesty, and just enough to make it OUR CONCERT in this one place and time. Nothing feels canned though the “thanks for coming out” spiel probably is.  And along with Stone and guitarist Mike, bassist Jeff Ament means  the heart of the band remains unchanged since its inception, former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron is the new recruit of 15 years. They play extremely, extremely well together and they should be the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

But they aren’t.

Pearl Jam’s problem is their songs aren’t as good as their performance. 90 minutes into the set,  Pearl Jam do indeed jam, and the two guitars are lifting riffs off one another: it is brilliant transformative stuff ,  “Let The Record Play”, “Do The Evolution” and “rearviewmirror” are all showstoppers. But none of them are great songs, the latter plays off two riffs, one a little lower than the first, but on record it doesn’t really work. Imagine if the song wasn’t such a typical PJ track? Imagine how great these guys would be if they had their own “Baba O’Reilly”. At their very best, Pearl Jam are great but how often are they at their very best as songwriters? By my reckoning they’ve released one masterpiece of an album Vitalogy and that’s it. Sure great songs everywhere, maybe three on their new album Lightning Bolt alone, but that’s it. Time after time after time, the songs fail to take hold.

It works because watching Eddie Vedder swinging off a hanging from the roof lantern during “Porch” Eddie and the rest of Pearl Jam have absolutely everything a great rock band needs except the songs. I’ve seen PJ three times and they never phone it but this is the first time it hasn’t felt like an event. I should never live so long that one of the worlds best rock and roll bands just standing their knocking out mediocre songs for home runs won’t thrill..  Still, just a couple more songs as great as “Corduroy” might make all the difference.

Grade: B+

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