By GENE STOUT
It was a Pearl Jam homecoming concert like no other.
A buoyant Eddie Vedder led the iconic Seattle rock group in a raucous, playful and often moving performance Friday night, Dec. 6, at KeyArena to celebrate the close of the group’s fall tour. Taking the stage just before 9 p.m., the band played well past midnight, finally wandering off stage in glorious disarray, grinning widely. (Seattle’s Mudhoney opened with its own rambunctious set at 7:30.)
The Seattle music community that has followed the band since its beginnings on the early ’90s grunge scene was there in force. Someone provided a magnum of red wine, which Vedder shared with fans in between hearty swigs.
The beer supply line also flowed freely and constantly, with concertgoers scurrying down the stairs to the main floor carrying sloshing pints of beer. It was like a bucket brigade of beer.
And where was the fire? It was on stage, of course, where Pearl Jam kicked off its incendiary show with “Pendulum” and “Nothingman.” What looked like a giant Christmas swag hovered over the stage, sometimes flapping like a bird. Huge green lanterns also swung from the rafters. Later in the show band members batted and kicked the hanging orbs.
In addition to Vedder, the band included guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron, as well as keyboardist and organist Boom Gaspar. Each offered an extraordinary performance.
A few songs into the set, Vedder greeted the crowd affectionately, saying, “We don’t need to travel anymore, so we can give it all we got.” Indeed they did, performing dozens of songs, including a fiery “Lightning Bolt,” the title song of the band’s new album, followed by such songs as “Garden,” “Even Flow,” “Do the Evolution,” “Black,” “Spin the Black Circle” and a moving “Better Man” that prompted an audience singalong.
“Lukin” was dedicated to original Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin, who was at the concert like so many from the music community. Vedder said it was the first time the band had played the song in concert with Lukin known to be present.
Vedder playfully challenged Seattle rap star Macklemore to a charity competition, saying, “He’s young and he’s handsome, but f**k him.” The crowd roared with laughter. He also received a cheer when he told the crowd, “I hope we’ve been good ambassadors of this town.” He had said the legalization of marijuana and same sex marriage had put Washington state on “the right side of history.”
During the first encore, Vedder invited a young woman, Ashley Baxter, to the stage, saying she had saved his life years ago in Hawaii when the canoe he was riding in had capsized in rough seas. Baxter was only 7 at the time and had told her dad to stop their boat because she heard voices. The amazing story introduced “Future Days.” (Read more about the near-drowning incident here.)
The first encore began with the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours,” followed by two Mother Love Bone covers for the Seattle crowd: “Chloe Dancer” and “Crown of Thorns.”
The second lengthy encore featured “Supersonic,” dedicated to the basketball team that is no longer here, “Got Some,” “Rearviewmirror,” “Alive” and a wild version of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” (with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney” and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden).
“Eruption” by Van Halen and the classic “Yellow Ledbetter” closed the show. At the end, only McCready continued to play after everyone had left the stage. It was the final glorious solo in a spectacular show.
Seattle photographer Jim Bennett took the accompanying photos (not shown are Cameron and Gaspar). Visit Bennett’s website here.