Pearl Jam Live In Chicago Aug 23, 2009

by Anthony Kuzminski

Pearl Jam: State of Shuffle
Chicago, IL-United Center
August 23, 2009

Pearl Jam hit the windy city in all their glory Sunday night for what was originally supposed to be one of a handful of US appearances that has now evolved into a larger scope tour in support of their newest record Backspacer. The last time Pearl Jam played here, it was the headline spot on Lollapalooza in 2007. This time they brought their no-holds barred show indoors to the United Center (although it appears the band was attempting to have these shows at Alpine Valley). For over two hours, the band ripped through a muscular twenty-seven song set that left the heavy-in-attendance Ten Club (Pearl Jam's fan club) crowd in pure ecstasy.

Opening with "Long Road" from 1995 (done for the Merkin Ball/ Mirror Ball project with Neil Young) was especially poignant and featured Vedder capturing magic inside of an arena. From the first goose bump inducing notes to the final note of Mike McCready's "Star Spangled Banner" coda to "Yellow Ledbetter" the band hit all the right emotional notes for the fan club intensive crowd. However, it doesn't mean the evening was not without some pacing issues.

The show featured confounding highs; a deafening "Corduroy", the raging "God's Dice", the melancholy "Small Town", the spiritually soaring "Given To Fly and a longing "Dissident" where Vedder's vocals proved to be as incandescent as they ever have. "Come Back" featured the band evoking Motown soul in the 2006 track in a way to oozed, drained and dripped soul. "Rearviewmirror" was received with a tidal wave of rejuvenation as the arena shook while "Smile" (which featured Gossard and Ament switching instruments) was pining and passive. During a particularly concentrated performance of "Insignificance" it became evident what a tight knit group of musicians they are. When they hit the stage, they have the sway and the leeway to pull anything out from their back pocket and convey it in a performance that most acts would fall on their face doing. "Sad" reverberated with the crowd on this lost track from Lost Dogs. "Man of the Hour" was tender while a pair of Who covers lifted the roof; "Love, Reign o'er Me" and "The Real Me". Artists will often rely on covers for a money shot of sorts, but not Pearl Jam. You can tell when an artist is performing a song for a reaction or trying to emulate its inner soul. Pearl Jam does the latter. Vedder spoke of listening to Quadrophenia while waiting for the train to take him home to Evanston as a youth. The whole evening was sprinkled with cool stories and anecdotes from Vedder about his childhood and hometown adding to the intimacy. The second encore opened with Vedder performing a stunning rendition of the Neil Young song "The Needle And The Damage Done", a fresh cover which found Vedder talking about Michael Jackson and listening to him in Evanston.

The new songs had mixed results. The lead single, "The Fixer" has a stadium ready chorus with a trifecta of yelping "yeah's" in the chorus while "Got Some" and "Supersonic" were played well, but are lacking the emotional connection from the crowd. This should be alleviated once the album is released. The evening found the band is high spirits and it reflected in their performance. Drummer Matt Cameron pounded the drums like a prize fighter while bassist Jeff Ament complimented Cameron with his four finger finesse as Stone Gossard laid down the guitar grooves cementing the foundation of Pearl Jam which has never been stronger or more melodious. Guitarist Mike McCready flexed his six-string prowess with stinging solos and occasionally stealing the spotlight from Eddie Vedder. While the show was full of illustrious highs, I couldn't help but feel that there was something lacking. While the band played their hearts out and the crowd ate up every last serving, I had the overriding sense that I had seen this show before. Almost as if the band is too comfortable with the non-structure formula of their show. Pearl Jam is a band that is our generation's Grateful Dead; no two shows are alike and their fanatical fans can fill arenas alone. Pearl Jam plays their concerts like a chess game. They carefully make their moves with a free style set list while the audience makes their moves in emotive reactions. Much like the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam play to their core fans which is beyond admirable and I walk away wanting to do a deeper dive into their catalog. I can't tell you the last time I listened to "Sad", but it will now be in full rotation on my iPod. That being said, I'd like to see them branch out, try to weave themes, arcs and structures into a cohesive set list that would still allow for golden nuggets to be aired nightly. What I witnessed was powerful, but felt like listening to Pearl Jam on shuffle, which isn't bad at all, but it lacks direction and the emotional wallop their shows usually provide was missing as a result.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.

Pearl Jam: Chicago Night 1
Aug 23, 2009 Set List

01. Long Road
02. Corduroy
03. Why Go
04. God's Dice
05. Dissident
06. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
07. Sad
08. The Fixer
09. Given To Fly
(Happy Birthday To Mike Richter)
10. Come Back
11. Even Flow
12. Save You
13. In Hiding
14. Man Of The Hour
15. Insignificance
16. Got Some
17. Spin The Black Circle
Encore Break 1
18. Love, Reign O'er Me-(Townshend)
19. Life Wasted
20. The Real Me-(Townshend)
21, Alive
Encore Break 2
22. The Needle And The Damage Done
23. Rats
24. Supersonic
25. Smile
26. Rearviewmirror
27. Yellow Ledbetter (Star Spangled Banner)

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