For many veterans of the early ‘90s grunge movement, the limelight seems to have faded over the last 20 years. Some acts have reformed after the passing of one or more of its members, while others have dissolved all together. For Seattle heavyweights Pearl Jam, that’s never been the case.
23 years and 10 albums later, the band has remained mostly intact (take away a few drummers) and continues to deliver some of the most energetic and crowd-friendly concerts to date, including a 35-song epic show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Monday, Oct. 22, the first of two sold-out shows at the famed arena in support of its recently released album, “Lightning Bolt.”
Kicking off the night, sans opening act, around 8:30, the band dove into its new album by delivering a dark and thumping take on “Pendulum” before dipping back to 1995’s “Merkin Ball” two-song LP – which they recorded with Neil Young – for an extended take on the slower “Long Road.” Following a driving run through “Low Light” from 1998’s “Yield” album, the band elicited one of its most well-known traditions – crowd interaction – in the form of the softer sing-along “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” from the 1993 album “Vs.” For the legions of fans, the cut becomes an almost ritualistic louder part of any Pearl Jam concert, and on Monday, the case was no different with 30,000 people emphatically screaming, “I just want to scream ‘Hello,’” in unison, to which frontman Eddie Vedder replied, “It’s gonna be a good one tonight.”
After a rousing take on the early era favorite “Why Go,” the band reverted back to the new album for the title cut and a tight run through the lead single “Mind Your Manners,” featuring some nice guitar work from Stone Gossard and Mike McCready. For a band who has been one of the few survivors of the grunge movement, “Lightning Bolt” seems a bit darker than its previous offerings, but it is also one of the more musically complex albums the band has released in recent years.
Not being ones to bombard the crowd with all new material, the band pacified its longstanding fans with older gems like 1993’s “Animal.” Once again, the song was a shining example of how loyal the band’s fans are with nearly everyone in the audience doing the hand motions for the opening line of, “One, two, three, four, five against one.” Seeing the way the group involves its audience is an incredible site to witness, and judging by the smiles from the band, it’s something they strive to maintain.
Throughout the rest of the main set, the older hits were in abundance, including a fiery take on “Even Flow” from its thunderous 1991 debut “Ten,” and a pristine run through the melancholy “Wishlist.” After two more offerings from “Lightning Bolt,” the radio-friendly “Sirens” and the drum-heavy “Let the Records Play,” the band dipped back into its extensive back catalogue for a thumping “Spin the Black Circle,” before ending the set proper with a speedy run through “Rearviewmirror.”
Along with the energy of its live shows, another aspect Pearl Jam has become synonymous with is its encores. Contrary to most touring acts, a Pearl Jam encore is not just one or two songs. For Monday’s show, the first encore was almost a second set, with 10 songs covering everything from the somber “Man of the Hour,” which Vedder dedicated to our Armed Forces, to a spot-on take on Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” before wrapping up with a pounding run through the early favorite “Porch.”
As is the case with most shows, the house lights came on, but Pearl Jam wasn’t done (Vedder still had a decent amount left in his second bottle of wine, so why end?) Kicking off a second encore with their semi-famous cover of Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary,” the band kept the energy going by segueing into one of Gossard’s more recognizable riffs and possibly one of the grunge scene’s most longstanding anthems, the always ripping “Alive.” Following an energetic take on the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” the band paid a final homage to the “Vs.” album with a haunting “Indifference” before calling it a night.
More than two decades into its critically acclaimed career, Pearl Jam is standing above the test of time for most rock bands. They are a band who continues to put out good music, continues to gain new fans with each year that passes, and, if Monday’s show was any indication, continues to be one of the best touring acts out there. If there is any sign of them slowing down, it has yet to be seen.