If nothing else, Pearl Jam’s triumphant homecoming show here, the band’s first arena show in Seattle in three years and the start of a 12-date, 11-city North American tour, proved that no amount of distraction can come between the band and its fans.
Having survived last year’s highly publicized, scrappy ticket-fees battle with Ticketmaster as well as the replacement of their long-time drummer, Pearl Jam circa 1996 is a tight and considering contemporary competition uniquely exciting performing unit whose musical accomplishments are finally catching up with singer Eddie Vedder’s otherwise dominating presence. And, with help from small ticket company FT&T, they’re selling the tickets themselves.
Powered by the relentless drive of their latest (and best) drummer, Jack Irons, the band was in a loose mood, laughing and kidding around throughout the two-hour-plus show. But the quintet also executed the songs, taken mostly from their four Epic albums, with a previously lacking cohesiveness and in-the-pocket flow. After opening with the somber “The Long Road,” Pearl Jam launched into two songs from their latest “No Code” album: “Hail, Hail,” a punked-up love song of sorts, and current single “Who You Are,” a celebratory tune inspired by Vedder’s recent collaboration with Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, demonstrating the breadth of their current, less-commercial approach.
Meanwhile, the scene on the floor of the sold-out arena was pure pandemonium. Crowd surfers constantly spilled over the security barrier, which attempted but failed to contain the fans’ elation.
The 26-song set, which Vedder said was for their Seattle “friends,” featured a few surprises , including a revamped “Jeremy,” an encore of non-album track “Yellow Ledbetter, ” which the crowd picked over a song from “No Code,” and “Black,” a sentimental favorite of Vedder’s that’s not often played. Of the songs from “No Code,” “In My Tree,” which builds from a low-key chant to a U2-like cry of freedom and comfort, was the evening’s highlight.
The show’s highest point, though, was one of those rare concert moments that actually transcends artist and event. During the regular set-ending “Alive,” Vedder reached into the swirling sea of fans and plucked a shocked young man out and onto the stage.
As the capacity-crowd roared its approval, the singer offered his microphone to the fan, who was overcome by the unexpected, face-to-face meeting. Instead of singing along, he slumped to the stage, head in his hands, while Vedder and band finished a ferocious, hysteria-fed version of the song.