After staying away from the public eye, Pearl Jam's return to the concert stage has been warmly received across the country. Their triumphant show Sunday at the Forum was as masterful as it was long and the former Seattle grunge leaders performed as if they wanted to be all things to all of their fans.
After staying away from the public eye, Pearl Jam’s return to the concert stage has been warmly received across the country. Their triumphant show Sunday at the Forum was as masterful as it was long — nearly three hours — and the former Seattle grunge leaders performed as if they wanted to be all things to all of their fans, blending hits, obscurities and a healthy dose of tunes from their new self-titled disc, an album that can stand up with their best work like “Vitalogy” and “Ten.”
It’s hard to tell whether Pearl Jam entered this tour with an agenda, but they have struck a clear balance among the elements that brought them a dedicated fan base in the 1990s; despite an off-putting sound mix that was never exactly right, the band appears committed to delivering a top-notch show.
Opening block of 17 songs was powerful without being grandiose, a showcase for new, dark songs — “Worldwide Suicide,” “Severed Hand,” “Inside Job” — alongside warhorses such as “Jeremy” and “Rearviewmirror.” Body of the concert had a solid classic rock feel to it with no signs of past Pearl Jam crimes — jam band noodling, political grandstanding or playing of obscure material for obscurity’s sake. This night was Pearl Jam doling out hits (10 of the night’s 29 tunes have had some chart success) and playing material rooted in the ’70s rock sound of the Stones (“Given to Fly”), the Who (“Unemployable”) and the Ramones (“Whipping”).
The compact punchiness of the set reminded, not incongruously, of the Who’s “Live at Leeds,” when Pete Townshend and company were attempting to integrate the thematically tied tunes of “Tommy” into a raucous show based on the quartet’s earlier and rawer material. Pearl Jam doesn’t have a masterwork that it wants to squeeze in among their early gems, but it does want to make clear to the sold-out crowd that the band has not changed nor wavered in its commitment to any aspect of its past: Eddie Vedder is clearly appreciative of the fans’ support, and ensuring a strong bond between artist and audience seems oddly paramount to him.
Show included two lengthy encore segments, the first of which allowed Vedder to aim for a quieter and more nuanced series of songs, including his rewrite of Phil Ochs’ “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” which he performed with Tim Robbins. Final seg started with J. Frank Wilson’s “Last Kiss” and ended with “Yellow Ledbetter” — the only moments that kowtowed to the band’s impression of what the audience might expect of them.
Seg also included a blazing version of “Comatose” and a reading of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” that was more of a tribute to the way rock ‘n’ roll concerts used to be than a nod to Townshend; Vedder, for all his reclusive behavior, seems to want a return to an era when established stars pushed each other artistically, mingled socially and brought about social change through common concerns and actions.
Pearl Jam is about one third of the way through a 70-concert world tour that began in May and ends just after Thanksgiving. They are performing with a host of different acts on the bill, among them Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. L.A. shows were opened by Sonic Youth, the experimental New York band that has released its most accessible and melodic record, “Rather Ripped” (Geffen), in their 23-year career. Performing in near darkness, they delivered a focused set weighed heavily toward mid-tempo melodic rock.