MANHATTAN, NY—The lights shined a soft, bright yellow in Madison Square Garden as a sold-out crowd of fans decorated the seats like sprinkles on a sundae—plentiful and colorful. Pearl Jam commenced the stage just after 8:30 p.m., immediately setting the tone to sublimely happy while walking out to R.E.M.’s “It Happened Today”.
They opened with “Go,” a fitting preliminary to what would be a whopping three hours of high-octane energy and musical camaraderie. Eddie Vedder sounds as raw, intense, and magical as you’d hope he does. They quickly delve into “Mind Your Manners” as heads with long hair across the arena rocked back and forth to the beat.
A close by couple FaceTimes with their kids who are bopping up and down to the timeless rock. One may criticize the act for not living in the moment, but it was symptomatic of the multiple generations this music has touched, and continues to impact.
Vedder graciously greets the crowd, thanking Billy Joel for taking a night off so Pearl Jam could perform. He sported a careless plaid shirt draped over a tee—true to his usual grunge-worthy, effortless-cool.
Four songs in, Vedder raises his bottle—his poison uncertain—and takes a dramatic swig.
A few songs in they kick it with “Even Flow,” during which Vedder throws the mic to a guy on the barricade who sings for a bit before throwing it back. He thanks Kenneth, the enthusiastic singer, and suggests that if his voice goes after two and half hours Kenneth might have to come up. “I’m glad I have back up,” Vedder quipped.
Pearl Jam perfectly personifies the term “seasoned vets.” They play as if they are immersed in the peak of their career—instrumentally experienced but elementary in spirit and energy. They even jump in unison to mark meaningful moments in their songs.
During a light lull, Vedder tells the crowd that he looked up the first show the band ever played in New York—in 1991 at The Marquee Club. He says he has no recollection of that night but already felt like he’d remember this show.
“Why Go” kicks things back up as bassist Jeff Ament takes front and center attention. His buttery bass lines are smooth and enveloping. The boys bring in “Rearviewmirror” in an all-encompassing concert high as fans sing along in solidarity.
On a politically infused, alternate version of “Wishlist” Vedder lyrically expresses interest in running for President, confident he could do a better job than Trump or Cruz. He is feeling “The Bern,” he says, and encourages the young fans to vote and stay politically active.
Marking the moment of the night, the sporadic “Jeremy” brings together a chorus at the Garden. Like a bunch of erratic owls the crowd chants, “Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo! Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo!”
After the encore break the band does a quick switcheroo to give the crowd in the back of the house some love. A touching rendition of “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” brought sentiments and glee. Light bulb-looking fixtures hung randomly dispersed above the stage to offer a vibrant boost. During “Alive” guitarist Mike McCready goes all over the venue to commemorate his solo.
After escaping his sweaty plaid shirt, Vedder calls out a birthday in the house. “It’s your 26th birthday,” he cheers. “Shit’s about to get real hard for you. But also some of the best times of your life, so enjoy it.” Sage advice and a crazy demanding vocal set—that’s Eddie Vedder for you.
They closed the show with “Rockin’ In The Free World” and “Indifference” as drummer Matt Cameron played guitar and McCready signed tambourines and handed out picks.
If you’ve ever loved Pearl Jam, then get to a live show. Beg, borrow, or steal to find a way to cross this off the list of epic, must-see concerts. After 33 songs in three hours, you won’t even know what to do with yourself.
Show date: May 1, 2016