“Live from Brooklyn, it’s Saturday night!” joked Eddie Vedder three songs into the start of the second leg of Pearl Jam’s Brooklyn stop on the Lightning Bolt tour, riffing on the one of the most famous lines in TV. An ordinary Saturday night spent between friends – give or take 17 000 or so – and the band onstage, as they celebrated the release of their 10th studio album with a bunch of new songs to boot.
If you’re someone like me who has never seen Pearl Jam play live before; someone who’s watched with envy as people shared their various concert experiences with the Seattle-born band over its 20-odd-year history in the Cameron-Crowe-directed Twenty, you’ll go into your first PJ experience expecting a lot. The kind of expectations born of the desire to hear as many of the songs from the band’s deep-welled discography.
Of course that’s not going to happen, but when you have Eddie Vedder running the show, you won’t leave disappointed. In his world, no one goes home until two bottles of wine – and some of the band’s best songs ever recorded, Even Flow, Better Man, State of Love & Trust, Alive, Given to Fly, and my personal favourite, Black – are done.
For 3 hours and 2 encores, Pearl Jam rocked the Barclays Centre with an energy belying their age, yet fully in line with their experience as stadium-rockers. The show was full throttle vitality yet filled with light-and-shade moments, and touches of Vedder’s frontman charm – whether he was swinging on one of the hanging light fixtures, throwing out a tambourine into the crowd or upgrading a 12-year old from the front row to a sweet spot in the wings of the stage.
He peppered his antics with his philosophy on life, assuring us that we’re all “a little broken.” As Vedder puts it, “it’s the people who aren’t that we need to be worried about, because broken people can be fixed.” With a few Pearl Jam songs as tonic, that’s entirely plausible.
After a spirited cover of Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, the band ended the night with Yellow Ledbetter, a B-side harking back to their debut all those years ago. It was an inspired way to finish the show, which featured a handful of tracks from new album Lightning Bolt – an apt description for the jolt of life they inject into any fan’s soul, whether that fan is seeing them for the fifteenth time, or the first.