NEW YORK, NY—New York City’s Beacon Theatre is pristinely ornate and although acoustically crisp and lively, it offers an intimate experience, so there couldn‘t have been a more befitting platform for Eddie Vedder to display his latest solo work, Ukulele Songs. The voice of Pearl Jam admits that he would have climbed the shit out of the theater back in day, but now sans band and armed mainly with an instrument that many would dismiss as a mere prop from the set of Hawaii Five-O, the rock icon proves that he can elegantly scale heights of a different kind.
On a Tuesday night, which marked the beginning of summer, he proved to be no less effective than Pete Townshend shredding on a Strat and after all, playing a guitar with a few strings missing was something Joe Strummer excelled at as well. Eddie Vedder modestly and sweetly dove into the new record with “Sleeping By Myself” and “Without You,” and it’s nothing short of amazing of how many ways this man has found to say “I love you” over his 20-year-career. On this trek to New York, it’s through a medium that is majestic in its simplicity and yet chillingly powerful in Eddie’s masterful hands.
A brick background went up and Eddie plugged in his electric guitar to tell about his first ever concert experience: Bruce Springsteen in the late ‘70s. He described how the E Street Band’s saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, shone onstage even when the spotlight was aimed directly at Bruce. He dedicated “Long Road” to the deceased musician whom he also saluted the night before on his Letterman appearance by writing “Clarence” on his ukulele. Vedder said that it was still difficult to believe that his hero had passed and it looked as if he was fighting off tears.
He shifted gears into some Pearl Jam favorites with “Better Man” and “I Am Mine,” which the crowd eagerly embraced. Keeping his social conscious and caring about the plight of every man he played James Taylor’s “Millworker.” Eddie then took out what he called, “The older stuck-up brother of the ukulele: the mandolin.” He acknowledged a couple of people in the audience who helped the West Memphis Three case by delivering “Rise,” a song from the 2007 soundtrack for Into The Wild.
He introduced the small string ensemble nestled beside him for “Just Breath” and after the crowd thought that they couldn’t be more thoroughly satisfied, a standing ovation was the only proper response to Pearl Jam’s “Unknown Thought” from the Backspacer album, and the more vintage “Wishlist.”
After opening the show with his sweet Irish sorrow, Glen Hansard of the Frames and Swell Season came back out for a duet with Eddie on the song “Sleepless Nights” from Ukulele Songs. Its tender melody was spot on, although Eddie stated it was only the second time playing it on tour together.
“Society” also from the Into The Wild soundtrack romped through the venue with its insightful will of intentional release from maddening doctrines. Then an unannounced but very welcomed guest joined the party. Crowed House’s Neil Finn sat in on piano for “Throw Your Arms Around Me” and then curled up by Eddie on guitar and dictated chord changes for the Split Enz’s “I Got You.” Eddie remarked that the same song can be played several different ways but since Finn wrote it, he’s right.
For the classic declaration of “Porch” that Vedder did write, the sold-out crowd soaked up every note while purging their souls to the cathartic lyrics. Neil and Glen then came back out in long white lab coats like chemists of sound for “Big Hard Sun” with the stage donning an ocean backdrop.
Finally, Eddie then discreetly took center stage to kiss the crowd goodnight with the gentle and breezy ukulele staple “Dream A Little Dream.” There are musicians, there are storytellers, there are showmen and rarely there are modern day sages, Eddie Vedder is clearly all of the above.