People in white lab coats wandered around on the stage, setting up equipment. An old school, one-reel recorder sat on the stage. There was a glass of water, though no bottle of wine. A set list sat inside of an open, old brown suitcase with a light for illumination. The setting was the long sold-out, prestigious, acoustic-proven Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Not a lot of rock concerts happen here. Only the special shows. A long haired man appeared on the left side of the stage. He first kissed the hand of a little girl; then he kissed her on the forehead.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder then made his way to the stage for the final show of his solo ukulele tour (supporting his recently released album Ukulele Songs), the second of two nights in his adopted home town of Seattle. “In the words of Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on,” he said just before launching into Ukulele Songs opener “Can’t Keep.” He played the first three songs in order of the album.
We were off and running. Fast.
Vedder sat alone on a stool wearing what I first thought were blue jeans, however they might have actually been blue corduroy pants. A black, worn-looking The Who t-shirt sat underneath of a long sleeved, blue button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. About all he was missing was a pack of smokes to go up in one of the sleeves. Same curly long hair; same beard.
Things got pretty as he played “Without You,” punctuating his passion into the song with his eyebrows making an almost “v” when he’s really putting a little polish onto a note. This was the song he played on David Letterman’s show recently, partially in tribute to the untimely passing of The E-Street Band’s Clarence Clemmons.
Eddie joked with the crowd how amazing it was that “a guy with holes in his shirt and a god damn ukulele could even be let into the place” before reaching into Pearl Jam album Binaural for the song “Soon Forget.” You see, he’s actually played a lot of songs with a ukulele on record and live in concert before, but that sometimes gets overshadowed until this new album. Also, a lot of people might still not understand that Vedder is actually a good guitar player. Many still think of him from 20 years ago, trying his best to snap a mic stand from leaning on it too much. Not tonight.
Next for me came one of the most power moments of the night. Vedder told a story (he told many charming tales all night) that was both funny and sad about an interaction years ago in Discovery Park with some teenage girls that were singing “Black” when he popped out of the woods to correct them (as they were obviously stunned) on how they were singing the song. But the story was also about how he struggled with the accidental overdose death of friend Stefanie Sargent from the band Seven Year Bitch. The crowd expected him to then launch into “Black,” however he threw everyone for a loop by dedicating “The Needle and the Damage Done” to Sargent. There Vedder sat alone; singing the morbid lyrics to a morbid song and the names of memory began to flow as Vedder has known people in his life to parish with the song’s relevance: Sargent, Layne Staley, Andy Wood, etc.
To me this song was kind of the “passing of the torch” so to speak from Neil Young to Vedder. Eddie Vedder is shaping up to be the Neil Young of his generation. Vedder sang the song better than Young ever could, and the crowd sat silent with jaws dropped and goose bumps forming. It was a moment. We were no longer witnessing the Eddie Vedder who hangs from scaffolding and dives into crowds. We were instead witnessing Eddie Vedder the accomplished, adult musician.
He got the electric guitar out for “The Long Road” and “Wishlist,” which brought some hyper energy back into the room. Once again he proved how the crowd was in the palm of his hand, er uke, for Pearl Jam classic “Man of the Hour” as the venue was completely silent. However he beat the hell out of an acoustic guitar with some hard and fast playing vengeance during “I Am Mine.”
Incredible show opener (and The Frames’ front man) and Ukulele Songs contributor Glen Hansard was asked to come out onto the stage to play bass, not before someone in the crowd requested songs for Eddie to play. As he tuned his guitar, Vedder joked how he felt like his young children, blocking out completely what others ask him to do. Another time during the evening, he did ask people to stop taking photos as it just looked like wild fire flies going off to him. Benaroya had a strict anti-photo policy on this evening. It was difficult as I was in the second row and I wanted to be able to look back on the experience with a photo; however it seemed respectful to honor his request.
Anyway, Hansard played along to the tune “Long Nights” from the Into the Wild soundtrack. Next he stayed on that album for “No Ceiling,” as it segwayed right into “Far Behind,” eventually hitting “Guaranteed” and eventually the mandolin laced “Rise.”
Things shifted into some creativity as a string section, including Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron’s wife, was invited out for three songs including “The End” and “Just Breathe” with “Just Breathe” being played nearly twice. Vedder felt like an amp had gone out about halfway through the song and he stopped it dead in its tracks. He debated re-starting the song somewhere in the middle but when he asked the crowd if they wanted the song to start over fresh from the start, of course they said yes!
The first standing ovation of the night came after Backspacer tune “Unthought Known” as Vedder played the song in a furious blaze and with some really high notes at the end. The pleasing continued with a set-closing of “Betterman,” adding the lyrics “don’t run away” as a call and response, over and over to the crowd, with Vedder eventually giving a growling yelp ala Bruce Springsteen.
“Well it’s our last night here so fuck it, we might as well keep playing” Vedder quipped as he returned to launch into Pete Townshend’s “I’m One.” Hansard was eventually invited back out to duet on what I felt like was the other amazing moment of the night. Hansard and Vedder walked out from behind the microphones, up to the front of the crowd and began to play “Sleepless Nights.” The entire room made not a peep in order for everyone, even in the back of the room, to be able to hear these two men sing together. I had to stop writing into my notes as the sound of my pen touching my paper was too loud. I was about to become THAT asshole. A common thing to happen all night was my friends and I just saying “WOW” after each song. The same held true after this duet with my friend making a good point that it’s rare for the public to ever hear Eddie Vedder without a microphone involved. He gave us this gift on this night.
Hansard hung out to help play “Society” and while that is one of my all-time favorite songs by Vedder, it really couldn’t live up to the perfection on album. A bluesy surprise of Springsteen’s “Open All Night” kept the still-standing-ovation crowd alive on their feet, only to be capped off with a huge sing-along on “Porch.” I can’t really poke fun at donors of Benaroya Hall as they help keep the place functioning, however they get the first couple of rows at these shows and it was kind of funny watching rich white people have no clue what the lyrics to “Porch” were as the rest of the crowd sang them.
And so came and went the next encore break with the crowd refusing to sit in their seats. This time Vedder returned wearing one of the white lab coats that his staff had been wearing all night and Hansard came out in the middle of “Rockin’ in the Free World” wearing a white lab coat also. Hansard’s job was to help the crowd yell the chorus back at Vedder. As he sipped on a beer, Vedder made sure to again let the crowd know how happy he was to finally be home with his family (he repeated this all night) and that he felt like his band does its part to represent the city of Seattle and that “ this will always be home to me and I’ll never leave!”
Glen Hansard played acoustic on “Hard Sun” as the stage backdrop became a sunny ocean painting and a smoke machine sent smoke crawling all over the stage. All the lights eventually came on in the venue (perhaps because it was getting late at nearly three hours long) with Vedder having the crowd clap and sing along to the chorus for one big jubilee party.
Finally but sadly, the night had to come to an end, with Eddie Vedder sitting alone on a stage with his ukulele, singing “Dream a Little Dream” in a peaceful, calming voice, slowly bringing all adrenalin levels back down again so people could safely drive home late on this Saturday night.
So that was it, about 33 songs later. Vedder played his ass off, charming the crowd, joking with the crowd, soothing the crowd and just flat out performing for the crowd. He kept his political rages inside (except for one displeasure with GE) all night, and even though he did look a little weathered from the road, he just seemed happy over all. Like my friend said, not everyone gets the chance to hear him speak without a microphone involved. And while it was tempting to take many pictures, it just felt like it would be defying the request of a friend as he (and his management in an email) asked for no photos to be taken. That’s really what the show was like: a bunch of friends gathering to watch a friend perform for his friends.
But honestly, I don’t need a photo or a microphone to re-visit that experience.
You just had to be there, man.
Sleeping By Myself Tonight
Longing to Belong
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
The Long Road
Man of the Hour
I Am Mine
I’m One (Pete Townshend)
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Society (Jerry Hannan)
Open All Night (Bruce Springsteen)
Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young)
Hard Sun (Indio)
Dream a Little Dream (Mamas and the Papas)