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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 13 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 50
Pearl Jam brings it home
Arts & Entertainment
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Pearl Jam brings it home

PEARL JAM
KEY ARENA
December 6
by Michael Price - SGN Contributing Writer

Coincidentally, it was nearly 22 years ago to the day that I saw Pearl Jam for the first time, on December 7, 1991 in Houston, Texas. The seminal band was touring small venues in support of Ten. I recall vividly that I had a genuinely visceral reaction to what I saw and heard, sensing what the group could become. I became a dedicated fan, followed them, bought their albums, but never managed to see them live again. That was until Friday, December 6 at Key Arena. Once they hit the stage and launched into one of the most incredible concert experiences of my life, that visceral reaction was back. They have truly become the band that 1991 show hinted at, and so much more.

Pearl Jam wrapped up their 24-date North American tour with the final show, a near-instantaneous sellout, in Seattle. The band was ready to be home and the fans were more than ready to welcome them. The Key Arena crowd was older than expected, proving that the core Pearl Jam fan base has aged along with the band. At this point, they have been solidly dedicated for much of their lives. It was amusing, nonetheless, to see a heavy sprinkling of gray hair and bald heads in the standing room only area flanking the stage, reminiscent of the old mosh pits Eddie Vedder was once notorious for diving into.

After a crisp opening set by proto-grunge band Mudhoney, Pearl Jam took the stage around 9 p.m. The band performed an exhausting, but crowd-pleasing, set of 37 songs - including two extended encores in just over three hours. The absolute love that passed between Eddie Vedder and the crowd was palpable. It electrified the room, turning Key Arena into an amazing place to be at that moment in time. I have attended many rock concerts, but have never experienced an event with such an emotional connection between band and audience. At Friday's performance, every single song was an event. The audience and Vedder continuously played off each other. The animated crowd stood and sang loudly along with every song; Vedder responded with unbridled energy.

The tour was in support of Pearl Jam's tenth studio album, Lightning Bolt, which, incidentally, ranked 40th in Rolling Stone's just released 'List of the 50 Best Albums of 2013.' Pearl Jam performed seven of the twelve tracks from their new album, opening with the stirring 'Pendulum,' then ranging from the high speed 'Mind Your Manners' to the dreamy 'Sirens.' The rest of the show was a broad spectrum of classics with a few covers interspersed. During 'Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,' the crowd's singing drowned out Eddie Vedder's, although he quite visibly loved it. 'Corduroy,' 'Evenflow,' and 'Rearviewmirror,' generated similar frenetic audience responses.

The band continued to feed off the audience's feverish enthusiasm. During 'Spin the Black Circle,' Mike McCready ran three times around the entire stage (from front to behind the speakers) and then managed to perform an extended solo. During 'Porch,' the bandmates swung the green glowing light fixtures hanging low above the stage and dodged past them while they played on. Not to be outdone, Eddie Vedder climbed on one and was raised up with the help of a safety strap; he continued singing while gyrating above the stage. And then there was the wine. Throughout the entire event, Vedder chugged from wine bottles, big and small, occasionally sharing with guests lucky enough to be in the rows nearest the stage.

The charm of Eddie Vedder is that he is a rock star who doesn't act like a rock star; he gives the impression of being approachable. This was evident in his numerous pauses to chat with the audience. Setting the evening's tone and somewhat taunting the crowd, he began by saying that Seattle was their last stop, they were now home, and there was no reason to hold back. Never one to forget his civic duty, Vedder urged the audience to support Seattle's Orion House (which shelters homeless teens and has recently suffered from budget cuts), by making pledges to a fundraising challenge for the facility between Pearl Jam, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Slog. He raised his wine bottle and offered two special Washington anniversary toasts: unbelievably, December 6 was not only the one year anniversary of the legalization of Gay marriage, but also the first anniversary of the certification of legalized recreational marijuana use. 'Isn't it great to be in a city and a part of the world that is on the right side of history?' he asked. The crowd went wild with cheers of approval. Toward the end of the evening he said with emotion, 'We hope we've been good ambassadors for this town.' The crowd's affirmative response was deafening.

The end of the second encore became what can only be described as an onstage party. Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden joined the band on stage. Mark Arm stepped up to the mike and proclaimed, 'It's time to 'Kick Out The Jams,' mother fuckers,' and an extended freeform cover of that MC5 classic took on a life of its own. The crowd went nuts, and so did the musicians.

The evening ended with 'Yellow Ledbetter.' The house lights came up; Eddie Vedder tossed several tambourines into the audience, and leaned out over the stage to be supported by the welcoming arms of the nearby crowd. The evening ended with the tireless Mike McCready playing yet another extended solo while Vedder and the other bandmates reveled behind the drum kit, bidding farewell to a successful tour. The exhausted band gathered on center stage for a final bow, not just for this show, but for the tour. Eddie Vedder emotionally referred to them as not just bandmates, but as his brothers. The audience was spent as well, and all quietly filed out of Key Arena in the realization that they had witnessed not just a concert, but a truly memorable event.

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