To sum it up: A Monster Show. Pearl Jam came into Pittsburgh five days before their first show of the the first leg of the Lightning Bolt Tour to support the forthcoming (Oct. 15) release of Lightning Bolt, the already deemed classic by none other than Rolling Stone Magazine. Many of the concert goers had taken advantage of the streaming songs from the new effort on iTunes, or at least were familiar with the first two releases of current smash “Sirens”, and the first released punk rocker PJ- signature style “Mind Your Manners”. What was really special, of course, was to be the first to hear most of these tunes live, besides maybe the Wrigley Field attendees who heard “Lightning Bolt” this summer. But the set list was not all chalk full of new stuff, PJ was very cognizant to play their beginning and middle catalog songs as well. And even though they have been rockin’ for over twenty years as Pearl Jam, they have not lost a single step. From the time this reviewer first saw them open up for The Smashing Pumpkins and The Red Hot Chili Peppers at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo to Lollapalooza to all the countless shows up until now, Eddie and company (including touring keyboardist Boom Gaspar) have only changed in years and hairstyle, but not energy. They bring the goods every time and play at Bruce like length, giving the fans who stay for every note their monies worth.
With a minimalist set lit by glowing balls and a sculpture-like scrap metal bird structure that held the overhead lighting, Pearl Jam hit the stage with a moody blue setting and a new subdued tune called, “Pendulum”. It was the right call for the evening, letting the crowd know that PJ was in control of the ride, they were going to experiment a bit, but it was going to be alright, trust them a bit. Going head strong into “Of The Girl”, “Nothingman”, and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” the energy built upon itself as the familiarity of those songs and lyrics left everyone rest assured that all the bases were going to be covered, symbolically played out by the Pittsburgh Pirate hats displayed on the drum riser.
The band quickly shifted back into new material with “Lightning Bolt” and “Mind Your Manners” and then back again into familiar territory with “Animal”, “Got Some”, and “Given To Fly”, continuing the roller coaster ride of melodies. Warmed up and primed, Eddie began to talk a bit more and jump around with Jeff and Mike a bit as well, spilling into the atmosphere with splayed legs in abandon. Vedder went into telling tales of going to the Warhol and Clemente museums, telling an amusing anecdote and showing off a massive bottle of Italian wine with Franco Harris on the label as the band all took swigs (and later some of the audience got a pour), and promising not to skip our town for seven years. One of the most intriguing tales was his talk with Springsteen recently and how nervous he was for the opening show, to which The Boss replied, ‘Pittsburgh? That town will be smokin’. You’ll be fine.’ And Eddie may not have been sure if it was the seven year hiatus, their rabid fan base here, or the beauty of the first evening of a tour, but it was a magical buzz he felt; and we felt it too.
And that buzz continued with such songs as “MFC”, “Faithful”, a jaw droppingly beautiful rendition of new hit “Sirens” dedicated to some Cincinatti friends, who were present, that lost their son to a tragic accident whom had interviewed Eddie atop a bridge many years ago, and then a huge cheer for “Unemployable” dedicated to what Vedder described as he thought ‘everyone in Congress should be’.
Of course, where many bands are pulling to a grinding halt, PJ is just getting started, and so they jammed on with “Why Go”, “Daughter”, “Infallible”, “Let the Records Play”, “Unthought Known”, and a blistering “Rearview Mirror”. McCready proved he is a guitar god once again, Cameron is the most the new Charlie Watts, Stone is infallible, and Ament is so dead on in the pocket he’s a rock. And Eddie…priceless as always. “The new Springsteen”. After a short break they ventured into “Speed of Sound” then “Yellow Moon” from the new one, “Future Days” and the huge crowd pleaser “Footsteps”.
And then it came. A huge Pittsburgh moment. There appeared on the stage one of the biggest Pearl Jam fans, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Jason Grilli. Decked out in flannel, t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, Grilli thanked Pittsburgh for all their backing throughout the baseball season and the playoffs and then completely rocked out with PJ on “Whipping”. And on the way off the stage he received the ultimate parting gift, to his complete surprise…Eddie’s guitar. Talk about jealousy.
Far from over, the boys launched into their second encore with powerful renditions of “Do the Evolution”, “Porch”, and “Betterman” before coming to play “Black”, “Alive”, “Rockin’ in the Free World” and then end on a perfect note with “Yellow Ledbetter”.
It was a rare opportunity to see a legendary band on a history making night. It will be some time before Consol Energy Center will contain that much energy from a concert and not a playoff Pens game. Maybe we can get Pearl Jam to come back and bookend the tour at the end and relive it once more…hey Grilli, you’ve got pull.
All photos © 2013 AWeldingphoto and Pittsburgh Music Magazine