Whither Pearl Jam? The last band still standing together from the ’90s breakthrough Seattle scene is certainly at a crossroads of sorts, what with declining album sales and the recent announcement of their parting ways with Epic, having fulfilled their obligation to the major label. But wither Pearl Jam? Hardly. Never has a band sounded more determined to forge ahead, gathering strength from, and in return rewarding, its gathered ardent faithful (yes, they remain quite the live draw).
Group chose to ease into this particular evening’s set list — their repertoire refreshingly still revolves and evolves from night to night — with the slow and sexy “Of the Girl.” The 26-song assortment was nearly evenly split from six of their seven studio albums, with nothing, peculiarly, from ’96’s underrated “No Code.”
Singer Eddie Vedder and band mates, including an added keyboard player, seemed on a mission to present some pent-up best they had to offer during this Southern California perf, an area seemingly avoided or neglected over the course of the band’s history. Guitarist Mike McCready’s incendiary leads proudly carry the wah-wah torch passed from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, while Vedder continues to convey earnestly the emotions of and to a generation, ranging from the romanticism of “Wishlist” (“I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood”) to the out and out rage of “Save You.”
Current political climate remains a topic as well, with lyrical references made to peace and the Federal Communications Commission, but apt covers of Little Steven’s “I Am a Patriot” (1984) and John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” (1971) remain far more eloquent protest songs than singer Vedder’s own pointed “Bushleaguer,” which apparently has been shelved in the wake of its recent heavy-handed Denver rendition and subsequent dust-up.
A venue curfew-busting second encore of still more covers — tunes that the band has inhabited for so long and so well that they’re played as if they were their own — included such disparate selections as Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary” and the Who’s well-known teen anthem “Baba O’Riley.”
Light cues complemented nearly every song, from subtle mood spots to accentuate a solo or floodlights to engage and elicit immediate aud response to bathing the stage in crimson during the rocker “Blood.”
Act continues at the vanguard of taking control of the nearly instantaneous merchandising of its live recordings. Its entire previous tour was made available on “official bootlegs” sold in stores, and this time around retail outlets are being bypassed entirely by offering fans the ability to order online and receive a CD copy of a concert they attended inside of a week or download the show in MP3 format within hours of the perf.