Given its status as one of the biggest bands in the rock world, Pearl Jam has always been incredibly unwavering in its embrace of the small-is-beautiful aesthetic. While just about every band of its magnitude has succumbed to the siren song of spectacle, the quintet has steadfastly eschewed pyrotechnics, visual displays and showmanship — and, perhaps as a consequence, managed to keep ticket prices lower than virtually any other veteran arena act extant.
None of this would matter, of course, if Pearl Jam weren’t capable of letting the music do the talking — but the band eminently proved that it could at this sinewy 2 1/2-hour perf. Alternating between radio hits and relative obscurities, Eddie Vedder and company bobbed and weaved through more than two dozen songs that covered virtually every part of the emotional spectrum.
Oddly, the band seemed more at home wallowing in the darker corners of its catalog — grinding out impressively aggressive takes on “I Got Id” and “The End” (an unsparing examination of mortality culled from their self-released “Backspacer” album) — than setting lighters ablaze with standards like “Alive” and “Jeremy,” both of which were dutifully loosed here.
Yes, there were nods to the importance of playing the Garden — a string quartet was summoned for a suite of songs that opened the first encore, a mini-set highlighted by the impressively taut “Lukin” — but by and large, the band members did their utmost to convince themselves (and the aud) that this was nothing more than an oversized bar gig.
To that end, they reached a zenith of sorts on the passel of covers that peppered the encores. In both a languid take on Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary” and a spirited version of the Ramones’ “I Believe in Miracles” (dedicated, of course, to the late Joey Ramone), Pearl Jam shunned the cult of personality and let the music do the talking. And talk, it did.