Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Pearl Jam lets music do talking

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The defining moment of Sunday's Pearl Jam concert came at the start of the second half. Lead singer Eddie Vedder returned alone to the stage and reminisced about the last time the band had played Riverbend, on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour.

        But it was a different Cincinnati rock 'n' roll event that was on his mind, the 1979 Who concert in which 11 people died. Who singer/guitarist Pete Townshend had called to offer consolation after nine people were killed in a crowd crush during at a Pearl Jam performance in Denmark.

        “Cincinnati came up a few times in the last (month), y'know, for some difficult reasons,” Mr. Vedder told the sellout crowd, explaining that was not why he was going to play the next song. He then launched into a solo version of the Who's “The Kids Are Alright.”

        A more typical rock star would have made a big deal of the two tragedies using them for dramatic effect, but Mr. Vedder stayed true to his low-key persona, making an oblique reference and then letting the music speak.

True to its roots

               Pearl Jam also stayed true to its punk/grunge roots when it came to the all-important bottom line. Pavilion tickets were $36, one of the lowest big-name rock concert prices of the summer; T-shirts were $22 when many bands charge $30.

        The band's defiantly pro-fan, anti-industry stance has earned it one of rock's most loyal followings. The crowd, ranging from young teens to 40-somethings, stood throughout the 2-hour-5-minute concert, singing along on material that spanned the nine years between 1991's 10 and the band's new disc, Binaural.

        The hits, including “Jeremy” and the driving rockers “Better Man” and “Even Flow,” drew the most enthusiastic singing, but the crowd was familiar with lesser known tunes such as “Wishlist,” from 1998's Yield.

        Pearl Jam also lived up to its reputation for unusual covers. Sunday night, Mr. Vedder enthusiastically led the group through Arthur Alexander's “Soldier of Love.”

Strutting its stuff

               With former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron on board, Pearl Jam has never sounded better. Sunday, the band was in top form, as Mr. Vedder showed his Who influence in Townshend-like leaps and windmills. Mike McCready has developed into a guitar hero of the old school, alternately tossing off soaring solos or digging in for wah-wah sounds he drew from another Seattle guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.

        Mr. Vedder showed his own instrumental versatility, returning for the first encore armed with a ukulele. A bit shaky from the exhausting performance (or maybe the red wine he'd been drinking all night) he warned the crowd not to throw him off beat by clapping along. He then strummed through his new “Soon Forget.”

        Pearl Jam's non-commercial attitude extended to its opening act, Sonic Youth. Expanded to a quintet for the big summer tour, the group played 45 minutes of gloomy distortion experiments to a largely uncaring audience far removed from its artsy club following.


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