Forgive me, Vedder, for I have sinned. It's been more than a decade since my last idol worship. In my mid-teens, I lived and breathed Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, and I had the bootlegs and Monkeywrench Radio recordings to prove it. But somewhere between the Ticketmaster debacle and the occasionally maddening musical shift that accompanied the No Code and Yield years, I just lost interest.
It's been more than a decade since my last idol worship. In my mid-teens, I lived and breathed Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, and I had the bootlegs and Monkeywrench Radio recordings to prove it. But somewhere between the Ticketmaster debacle and the occasionally maddening musical shift that accompanied the No Code and Yield years, I just lost interest.
After the band's barnburner Monday night at the Sprint Center, however, I might consider coming back to the fold.
"We put this song on the setlist just so you could warm up your voices," Vedder announced early in the night, right before launching into the singalong-friendly "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town." "We're gonna be here for quite awhile tonight, so I suggest you warm up," he said. He wasn't exaggerating.
After Band of Horses -- whose ultra-jangly guitars (sometimes three at once) and crystalline vocals sounded just as sanguine in the arena as they do recorded -- finished its commendable nine-song opener, Vedder, lead guitarist Mike McCready, guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt "Foo" Cameron spent the next two and a half hours tearing through a 30-song, double-encore setlist with the kind of intensity and stamina that would make a tantric Sting jealous.
"This next song is called 'Mixed Metaphor'," Vedder joked before McCready launched into the opening licks of "Even Flow," a highly caffeinated tongue-twister that showcased the two elements that made Ten-era Pearl Jam so great: Vedder's deep, gritty vocals interspersed with McCready's sprawling, free-for-all guitar solos.
With a setlist larger than some bands' entire catalogs, it wasn't surprising to hear samples from Pearl Jam's entire 20-year history, from other grunge-era classics like "Black" and "Porch" to the band's latest all-acoustic single, "Just Breathe."
The band's new single has been getting far too much radio play in Kansas City, and it showed. Although the crowd was thrilled to hear it, they seemed equally interested in older, less-beaten-into-the-ground tracks like "Do the Evolution" -- although that may have had something to do with the band's frenetic, near-flawless execution that made it the perfect final track before the first encore.
There's a reputation for self-importance that's dogged Vedder for years, but other than a little hometown pandering in a Royals jersey (not too surprising for an arena show), it wasn't apparent. One of the most touching moments of the night was at the start of the second encore, when he brought paralyzed anti-war vet and Northland native Thomas Young onstage for "No More," a song written by Vedder for "Body of War," a documentary that chronicles Young's struggles after returning from Iraq.
Like so many tours before it, the second encore careened to a close with the one-two punch of "Yellow Ledbetter" and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." As the latter reached its squelching guitar apex, the house lights gradually came up, revealing thousands of fans screaming and fist-pumping in unison. Even after such an epic set, the audience still seemed ready for more.
A lot has changed in the Pearl Jam universe since Ten hit store shelves 20 years ago, but Monday's show made one thing obvious: song after song, the band commands its live shows like a preacher from the pulpit.
In the name of the Vedder, and the Stone, and the McCready spirit. Amen.
Band of Horses Setlist:
The First Song
The Great Salt Lake
Is There a Ghost
The General Specific
No One's Gonna Love You
Ode to LRC
Pearl Jam Setlist:
Of the Girl
World Wide Suicide
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Amongst the Waves
Do the Evolution
Off He Goes
Given to Fly
Happy Birthday (for tour manager Mark Smith)
Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young Cover)
Star Spangled Banner (Jimi Hendrix version)