When Eddie Vedder sang “There’s no need to hide/we’re safe here,” it could have been the theme of the Pearl Jam frontman’s solo turn at the Wiltern Saturday night. The first of two Los Angeles shows was a stunningly intimate perf, a low-key beauty that featured a quieter, more relaxed side of the singer than his often angst-ridden Pearl Jam persona.
With a cluttered set that could have been borrowed from a Neil Young solo tour (including guitar techs dressed in long white lab coats), and a setlist that included tunes by Pearl Jam, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Tom Petty, and an aggressive guitar style that owed much to the Who’s Pete Townshend, during the two-hour show Vedder displayed an easy command of a wide range of material. His rich baritone brought passion to his cover of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” tenderness to Stevens’ “Trouble” and a sweet playfulness to “Drifting.” He even showed a sense of humor, creating impromptu Christian rock songs to illustrate a commercial he heard earlier in the day, doing dead-on impressions of Matt Dillon and comedian Chris Rock and blaming the occasional miscue on a windowsill he banged his head into in the dressing room.
The center of the show was given over to the songs featured on the soundtrack to “Into The Wild” (the songs won a Golden Globe, which was given to the surprised singer midway through the set). Even divorced from director Sean Penn’s gorgeous images, the songs retained their lovely mix of willfulness, modesty and awe. But the real thrill was saved for the final songs of first encore, the a capella “Arc.”
Layering and looping his vocals into a reverent choir, finally adding a moaning solo that reflected his interest in Pakistani Q’wali singers, there really was no place for him to hide, but he was safe, playing the most adventurous music in a night of adventure for the aud that was willing to follow him wherever his muse took him.
Opening act Liam Finn also used effect and loops but to much less success. Performing with E. J. Barnes, and mixing live drums, vocals and guitars with tapes and loops, he brought a roaring energy to gentle folk-pop of “I’ll Be Lightening” (Yep Roc) but at the expense of his songs, which lurched from section to section. Only an instrumental performed toward the end of his set reached the kind of bracing clangor he was reaching for.