I think my first exposure to Pearl Jam was when they appeared on Saturday Night Live way back in the early ’90’s. Perhaps I had heard a song or two from their debut album Ten but if so I had lumped the band into the same grouping as all the other grungy bands that I wasn’t at all into, like Soundgarden and Mudhoney for instance.
But that pair of performances on SNL woke me up: this band was intense. Jacket tied tight around his waist, Eddie Vedder planted his feet on the ground, gripped his microphone with both hands and sang his guts out with his eyes slammed shut. It was glorious.
I saw the band not long after at the old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, a show with Neil Young, Blues Traveller and Soundgarden also on the bill. I oh-so-wrongly chose not to join a rush to the floor that started as soon as PJ hit the stage and instead watched their set from faraway bleachers where the sound was muddier than honey.
And then of course there was the whole Pearl Jam vs. Ticketmaster thing, a failed venture that captured my heart and my eternal respect nonetheless.
But really, this show on May 8th, 2016 was my first time really experiencing Pearl Jam and actually hearing what the band has to offer.
Which, it turns out, is a lot.
First, I really appreciate bands that play different setlists every night and Pearl Jam is firmly in this fold. Second, you gotta like a band that actively promotes it’s own charitable umbrella; for once I’m not upset by an extra ‘fee’ on my concert ticket.
But most importantly the band still delivers that same energy that reached through my television set so many years ago, only now they roll that energy up in a vast catalogue of great material and the confidence of a long, respectable (and still vital) career.
They played lots of stuff I knew (Alive, Even Flow, Jeremy, etcetera), lots of stuff I didn’t (song I don’t know, song I don’t know, song I don’t know, etcetera), and a few nifty covers too (Love Reign O’er Me and Neil Young’s F’in Up), and all of it was drop-dead fantastic.
I can see why these guys have such a rabid fanbase. They’re sort of like an American version of The Tragically Hip.
It’s great to see a band when they are still on top of their game, even if they’ve been there for a quarter of a century. I don’t know how it took so long for me to jump on this band’s wagon but I will definitely be seeing Pearl Jam again and again and as often as I can from now on.