After a little indecision, Eddie Vedder chose to address us about where and why and when we were, “We have played New York 37 times and in comparison we have played Seattle 50 times, but we can only remember around half the times we played Seattle, we remember every time we played New York”. That was a very charming and gracious thing to say on 9-11 to an audience packed with friends, family, people who had travelled a long way to be here two and a half years after the concert at Madison Square Garden was meant to be performed. There were a whole lotta people here, from Venus and Serena (the only black people there who weren’t serving you chicken tenders) to First Responders 21 years after the Twin Towers toppled. Vedder then suspected that this might be the best performance to date. Even in my limited purview, it wasn’t.
The last time I saw Pearl Jam they performed a 31 song mega-set at MSG in 2016, six years later they scarper after 25 songs and while the first nine songs were better than we have ever seen them they failed to maintain that level of greatness and hardly for the first time what hurt was their lack of great songs. The palpable energy and excitement of those nine songs was an overwhelming joy, the entire MSG was rattling the building. The proof of their greatness was an outstanding take on 2006’s “Come Back” which seemed to appear from nowhere and take over the beginning of the evening. Four of their first nine songs were from 10 culminating in a dynamite “Even Flow”. And then not so much.
Pearl Jam are the oddest Arena rockers, they don’t have the songs, and after their third album, they don’t have the sales either. When the band first emerged from the Seattle grunge scene , no less a personage than Kurt Cobain, called them out as fakers, and listening to their debut album Ten, even today, you can hear what annoyed Cobain. With Eddie’s overwrought and husky vocals, the bands pseudo-punk hard classic rock sound and creepy singalongs to suicide, they both tried too hard and smelled of business spirit. Vs was about the same and it wasn’t till Vitalogy, with Cobain dead, and a million copies sold in the first week, that the band’s true nature emerged. Eddie had a major meltdown, they had an allergic reaction to success and nearly came apart at the seams. Strange as it seems to stay it, they remained true to punk idealism, and sort of do till this day. Among other things, Pearl Jam fought Ticketmaster (and lost, but they lost because they were fighting the wrong entity, they acted as though TM worked in a vacuum from, and not in collusion with, the pop music industry) but before they lost Pearl Jam played Randall’s Island in the summer of 1994 and became live legends.
Last night they weren’t the band where Eddie performed MSG after 9-11 and drank three bottles of wine, the loudest MSG has ever gotten, they were energetic last night (Mike McCready never stopped moving) and they cut Gigaton to a mere three songs – an album born to be performed live, and while it made an interesting bookend to Eddie’s solo set at Beacon earlier this year (here), it just wasn’t the best the band are capable of. For all the excitement, Eddie over promised and after the 0-90 opening he couldn’t do it. It is like comparing the Yankees April through July to the Yankees in August this year…. well, not that extreme but you grasp the concept. And on a personal level, they skipped many of my faves, no “Yellow Ledbetter” and no “Lukin”, and no “Mind Your Manners”, “Corduroy”, “Spin The Black Circle”… not even a “Last Kiss”.
Pearl Jam can make a riff stand on its head and twirl but they have problems with melodies and with Eddie’s overwrought and husky vocals, the bands pseudo-punk hard classic rock sound and McCready’s guitar chops, and creepy singalongs to suicide, they are not even the first ring of rock bands, but last night they weren’t at their best and yet they were the greatest live band in the world; the intense give and take with the audience and the skill set that has them pushing every song to eleven is a joy to listen to and it is hard to imagine another band that can do it, that can manage their audiences expectations with that much grace.
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