Though nearly 23 years into their career, Pearl Jam remains as one of the more misunderstood rock acts on the globe. Perhaps it’s the nature of the society we live in, wherein artists are most often associated with one seminal work. Yet, the Pearl Jam of 2013 is so far removed from the ’90s grunge tag that often plagues them. (“Jeremy,” the genre-defining track featuring Eddie Vedder’s obscenely baritone vocals, was absent from the evening’s set).
While it would be foolish to expect an innocent bystander to be familiar with their entire back catalogue, which now stretches nine-full length studio albums (and a soon-to-be-released 10th, Lightning Bolt) and a barrage of covers in their arsenal, the Pearl Jam of 2013 must be seen to be understood. With the average age of the five core band members in the late 40s, Pearl Jam demonstrated the kind of energy and enthusiasm that would make many bands half their age paltry by comparison.
Arriving in London for a one-off show (one of only three this summer), the band’s two-hour and 45-minute set took the ecstatic, sold-out crowd on a journey that was as relentless as it was enjoyable. Pearl Jam relied equally on the two ends of their spectrum throughout their main set and two encores: deep cuts were performed to satiate their rabid followers and keep the band’s approach fresh, from a delicate “Parachutes” to the Neil Young-esque “Smile,” which featured guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament switching instruments with Vedder on harmonica. The crowd favourites often had the voices in the smallish arena drowning out Vedder, including a rousing “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter” and “Alive,” which was enough of a barnburner to make guitarist Mike McCready take off his shirt and toss it to an adoring fan just so he could remain nimble.
It’s a shame that many still hear the words Pearl Jam and think of a scowling, reticent lead singer and a cassette copy of Ten that one-time fans eventually grew out of. Those in the know might assert that perhaps Pearl Jam’s greatest legacy has been how loyal they remain to the fans that have stuck by them. Case in point, this one-off show comprised largely of fan club members.
Yet, that would also be selling the band short: simply arriving on the tour bus to the places their fans want them to be isn’t enough. It was the pure passion and dedication to their craft, which was so evident in every facet of their set that it became damn near palpable. Forget what you know about Pearl Jam until you see them live and then it may be clear: they still remain contenders for the greatest modern rock band on the planet.
Review and photo by Joshua KlokeAB, Alberta