On the first of their two sold-out Brooklyn shows, Pearl Jam performed with vibrant, youthful energy working through a lot of heavy hitters from their catalog (“Given to Fly”, “Daughter”, “Rear View Mirror”) and only occasionally dipping into rarity territory (“Sleight of Hand”, “Chloe Dancer”). Though hardcore fans likely were the majority of those in attendance, newer fans should have been drawn in by the band’s diverse sound that drew on decades of rock experience and history. Plus there was an even bigger reason for the band to be so enthused. Pearl Jam’s latest and tenth studio album Lightning Bolt was released earlier in the week and it’s expected to claim the #1 sales slot.
The crowd in the pit at the Barclays Center, members of the 10Club (Pearl Jam’s fan club), could be thanked for helping propel the album’s sales. By this show, they were already familiar with the lyrics, though the album was offered as a stream at least a week before. Several of these 10Clubbers came with banners declaring their loyalty and one in particular caught Vedder’s eye. He pointed out a sign that said it was a man’s 100th show and, after getting the fellow’s name, the frontman sent him a bottle of wine. As cool as that sounds, physical rewards shouldn’t be expected in exchange for fandom. The band’s powerful music will win you over. Pearl Jam performs a different show each night, drawing on so much material that, to even see half of their catalog, you would probably need to go to a half dozen shows. They played over 50 unique songs across the two Barclays Center nights. (Though I didn’t go, based on the setlist the second night catered more to hardcore fans as the band performed deeper cuts—a trend I’ve noticed in NYC.)
Like they were doing on the other recent tour dates, Pearl Jam started off the night with the dark “Pendulum” from Lightning Bolt, before following up with the powerful and understated “Release” and the sing along favorite “Elderly Woman”. These slow burners warmed up the crowd for the energetic fourth song, “Lightning Bolt”, and you could tell the band was excited to perform the new material. Throughout the set we heard a few other new tracks, including the punk riffs of “Mind Your Manners”, the ballad of “Sirens” and the bluesy stomp of “Let the Records Play” which sounded the most different from the band’s normal material, but was a fun song to see live.
Pearl Jam also performed several of my favorites—though in reality I can’t say I didn’t like any—including the slower “I am Mine” which was dedicated to New Jersey and the Sandy devastation and post-Sandy blaze on the boardwalk. It was a treat to hear “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns”, the Andy Wood tracks from the pre-PJ band Mother Love Bone. And they let it rip with the riotous “Do the Evolution” which resulted in people behind me screaming the lyrics.
Periodically, various stage props cycled up and down from the rafters, including a metallic bird sculpture whose wings moved during “Given to Fly” (another favorite). Echoing his younger days, during “Porch” Vedder scrambled atop a light lowered down on a cable and used it to swing over the crowd while still singing. Precautions had already been taken to ensure his safety - this particular light had an extra strap for Vedder to hold on to. But there were no soft landing spots for him every time he jumped into the air, off a speaker, off a riser or whatever he could find; no shield for when he battered his microphone stand, accidentally shattered a bulb or deliberately spilled wine. Such ferocious antics could belong to a younger man, but here they are from a man immersed in the joy of his life.
The band hasn’t shied away from experimentation and they have explored the classic-rock styles of their forefathers and peers—bands such as The Who, R.E.M., Soundgarden and more, as they have matured. Rolling Stone even went as far as to say, “Unlikely though it seems, the grunge survivors are now—Bruce Springsteen excepted—America’s foremost torchbearers of classic rock”, and I can’t disagree with that, especially after this performance and the diversity of material on Lightning Bolt.
Even if the band has “99 problems”, as Vedder joked while thanking Jay Z and the builders of the Barclay Center, and “a place to play ain’t one”, thanks to their fans, Pearl Jam won’t ever have the problem of not selling out shows. I expect the band will play for decades to come. I’ve only seen twenty shows.
Happy 23rd birthday Pearl Jam.
Setlist for October 18, 2013 (official fanview forum thread):
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Mind Your Manners
I Am Mine
Given To Fly
Eruption (Van Halen)
Spin The Black Circle
Chloe Dancer \ Crown Of Thorns (Mother Love Bone)
Let The Records Play
Do The Evolution
Sleight Of Hand
Setlist for October 19, 2013:
Mind Your Manners
State of Love and Trust
Given to Fly
Better Man (‘Save it for Later’ tag)
All Those Yesterdays
Do the Evolution
Leaving Here (Edward Holland, Jr. cover)
Black (‘We Belong Together’ tag)
Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)