Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pearl Jam Puts on Quite a Celebration for Their Fans and Themselves -- Concert Review

Concert Review

Pearl Jam
with Mudhoney, Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes
PJ20 Destination Weekend
September 4, 2011
Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI

It's rather impressive just that Pearl Jam has been together long enough to celebrate its 20th anniversary, as it did with the "PJ20 Destination Weekend" this past Saturday and Sunday at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI. (I attended on Sunday only.) As noted by special guest Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden singer who sang four Temple of the Dog songs each night, not many bands make it to 20 years.

Of their 1990s' alt-rock brethren, including Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Jane's Addiction and Stone Temple Pilots, only Radiohead and Green Day have steadily stayed intact for a similar duration (sorry, Nine Inch Nails doesn't count). And in those 20 years, Pearl Jam has released 9 studio albums and, somewhat remarkably, has now toured--or at least played a handful of live shows--in 18 of 21 years (including '91 and '11). Besides their studio albums, hundreds of concerts have been released as official bootlegs and many can be heard for free at PearlJamLive.com.

But as they showed during a 190-minute performance on Sunday (following one of similar length the night before), longevity isn't all that remains impressive about the Seattle quintet.

With four of five original members--singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarists Stone Gossard & Mike McCready--plus Soundgarden's Matt Cameron as their permanent drummer since 1998, all of who are now in their mid-to-late 40s, Pearl Jam still sounds as good as ever.

No, they're not as hirsute nor as frenzied onstage as they were in their youth, but they are still incredibly tight as they deliver completely a unique shows at every gig. And despite being an erstwhile smoker, Vedder remains one of the best vocalists in rock history.

Temple of the Dog reunion with Chris Cornell
I don't know if there was anyone from Antarctica at PJ20, but I'm pretty sure every other continent was represented. I wasn't aware of festival passes being sold as each day featured the same lineup of Pearl Jam-chosen bands--The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Mudhoney and more--but of people I spoke with, to have made the pilgrimage "just from Chicago" and for only one day seemingly put me in the great minority. 

Although I have all their albums, several of the "official bootlegs" and have now seen Pearl Jam 14 times (plus a solo Vedder show), among this crowd I'd probably count as a casual PJ fan. Thus, though I probably would have appreciated Saturday's show, where the setlist dug deep into lesser-known album cuts and cover songs, I certainly relished the more hit-filled show I attended on Sunday (setlist).

Though a good number of relative rarities--"Pilate," "Satan's Bed," "Red Mosquito" among them--were sprinkled into the 33-song set, the band seemed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Ten (to my mind, still their best) by playing "Even Flow," "Jeremy," "Black" and "Alive."

As an avid Soundgarden fan who loved their reunion tour show in Chicago this July, I certainly wasn't unhappy to get a redux Cornell appearance. But other than "Hunger Strike," sung with Vedder, I was largely unfamiliar with the Temple of the Dog material Cornell had recorded in 1990 with Ament, Gossard, McCready and Cameron following the death of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood (Ament & Gossard had also been in MLB).

Along with numerous guest appearances on songs by other festival performers--including The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, Dhani Harrison (George's son) of TheNewNo2, John Doe, Liam Finn and Glen Hansard--the Temple of the Dog material somewhat diluted the pacing compared to a regular Pearl Jam show. But as the band flew past a presumed Midnight curfew to play "Alive," a guest-loaded "Rockin' in the Free World" and their classic set-closer "Yellow Ledbetter," I really have nothing to complain about.

Well, actually, that's not true. Though this gripe has nothing to do with the  music itself. Each day of the festival was set up so that the four top acts played on Alpine's main pavilion stage starting at 5:30 or 6:00, but with numerous other artists playing on two adjoining stages on the concourse. After hitting a lane-closure bottleneck getting into Wisconsin, I didn't get to Alpine until 2:50 and caught just the end of TheNewNo2, with Dhani Harrison looking and sounding eerily like his dad.

Though I would have liked to have seen--or even just heard--sets by Liam Finn, Glen Hansard and John Doe, I got into line for the Pearl Jam Museum, a collection of band artifacts and such that was housed inside Alpine's indoor expo center. It took 2 hours to get through this line and while I enjoyed what I saw, I also rued the music I missed. And even had I arrived at Noon, I would have faced this unfortunate choice.

But anyway, at right is yours truly next to the woodcut of PEARL JAM used for the Ten album cover.

And this is a link to a YouTube clip of Vedder singing Falling Slowly with Hansard, which I didn't see.

But other than this little snafu, as far as celebrations go, this was a pretty damn good one. And Pearl Jam certainly did their legacy proud with a concert for the ages. Here's to another 20 years. Let's hope we're all still "Alive."

And here's a bit of "Jeremy" shot by me:

No comments: