Fresh off an electrified performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Pearl Jam took the stage at Kansas City’s Sprint Center ready for the long haul. “We’re gonna be here a while,” Eddie Vedder told the nearly sold-out crowd as he sipped his customary bottle of wine. It doesn’t take much to make a Pearl Jam fan happy, but nevertheless, this was a welcome announcement.
As the band celebrates twenty years together, it is impossible to forget the path they’ve followed. From the dawn of Seattle grunge in the early ‘90s, as they scared uninformed mothers everywhere with the video for “Jeremy” to Presidential elections (who could forget Vedder running around on stage wearing a plastic George Bush mask at a 2003 show in Denver?), Pearl Jam has never shied away from making a statement. Vedder even offered a toast to “The fine folks at BP” during their New Orleans Jazz Fest performance after the recent oil spill.
On stage, they cannot be stopped. Vedder goes from screaming, flailing, ecstatic rocker to poignant storyteller in a matter of milliseconds, and he never gets enough. He was born to do this job. Guitarist Mike McCready lights fire to his fretboard on nearly every tune, and as you watch the entire band interact on stage, it is clear that they are not far removed from the band they were twenty years ago, perhaps only minus the stage diving and mounting of rafters.
On this night, songs ranged from the new, such as “The Fixer”, the single from their latest album Backspacer, to old classics like “Even Flow” and everything in between. “Animal”, “Elderly Woman” and “MFC” were definite highlights until Vedder and crew tore the roof down playing “Do the Evolution” to close their set. But it wasn’t just the setlist that made this performance standout – it was the personal touch and myriad song dedications that did it. Mid-set, Vedder stopped the show to congratulate their drum tech on his recent marriage before dedicating “Amongst the Waves” to the couple – made appropriate by their nautical nuptials. A Pearl Jam fan is no stranger to the sentimental side of Vedder, who acts as spokesperson for the band, but this, and everything to come, seemed especially close to his heart.
To kick off the first of what would be two encores, Vedder dedicated the song “Off He Goes” to Damian Echols of the West Memphis Three, who he’d met with just a night earlier in Little Rock, AR. To start the second encore, Tomas Young joined Vedder on stage for the song “No More”, a song Vedder wrote for the documentary Body of War. Young, who was featured in the documentary, is a Kansas City native who was paralyzed from a bullet to his spine within one week of serving in Iraq. It was a somber moment for Vedder and Young, who sat side by side – Young in his wheelchair and Vedder on a metal stool - as Vedder played the song alone on his acoustic guitar.
And no more than five minutes later, the band took center stage in celebration to sing “Happy Birthday” to their tour manager Mark Smith. But even that wasn’t all, as US Bobsled champion Curtis Tomasevicz took the reins on bass guitar, letting Vedder wear his gold medal, for “Yellow Ledbetter” before McCready yet again took center stage to play a close-but-not-quite rendition of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”.
It’s not hard to guess where they’ll be going from here, as they embark on a US followed by a European tour: Pearl Jam will be rocking, proud to be where they are, and never afraid to take a stand.