A tale of two shows: Pearl Jam at KeyArena in 2002

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Certain bands are made for arena rock, and Pearl Jam is one of those bands. Experiencing Pearl Jam live is to watch arena- rock masters control their domain, both captivating and conquering audiences. For their benefit concerts at the Key Arena Sunday and Monday, the band performed two completely opposite sets, both disappointing and surprising the audiences.

The contrasting vibes of the performances reinforced the group’s image it earned in the early ’90s as an emotion-filled, angst-ridden rock band.

The set list for Sunday’s show included heavy doses of material from the band’s newer albums, with a focus on Riot Act, its newest release.

Half of the new songs seemed rusty on their first run-through Sunday night, but seemed well polished by Monday, with the Matt Cameron-written “You Are” being the only song that translated well live on both nights.

While the band excelled musically, with several songs being carried by Mike McCready guitar solos and strong keyboard strokes, energy levels remained low throughout Sunday’s two-and-a-half hour set. Attempts to energize the crowd with heavier and louder songs like “Blood,” “Evolution” and “Hail, Hail” fell short of their goal mainly because of their placement within the set; all of the songs being followed by slower, more-emotional ballads.

The addition of keyboards is an influence of the material from Riot Act.

The keys, performed both in studio and live by Kenneth “Boom” Gaspar, bring life to the newer material and add an extra dimension to some of the band’s classics like “Black” and “Even Flow.”

The band also affirmed its standing as political messengers, with front man Eddie Vedder preaching anti-war sentiments throughout the evening. During the song “Bush Leaguer,” a spoken-word criticism of President Bush, Vedder sang and danced while wearing a George Bush mask. At the end of “Wishlist,” the lead single from 1998’s Yield, Vedder crooned “I wish I was the president/ I wouldn’t go to war/ I’d communicate and negotiate/ Isn’t that what presidents are for?”

For the band’s second show at the Key, Eddie and the boys did a complete 180, changing the mood from emotional and uplifting to playful and energized. Vedder seemingly underwent the transformation from rock messiah to full-fledged rock god overnight, preaching his message of emotion and angst to his disciples.

A wine-chugging Vedder upped the intensity and emotion, opening the show with “Release” from the multi-platinum Ten, and following it with a guitar solo-infused version of “Breakerfall.”

The band continued to turn up the tempo, igniting the stage with energized performances of “Lukin,” “Last Exit” and “Brain of J.”

Both shows contained two encores that included the B-Side “Yellow Ledbetter.” During the Monday show’s encore, the band treated the crowd by performing the bluesy fan-club-only single “The Christmas Song.”

Noticeably missing from both night’s performances were several of the band’s staples such as “Alive,” “Jeremy” and “Spin The Black Circle.” However, this didn’t impact the emotion and energy reciprocated by both the band and its fans.

Both of the sold-out shows served as primers for the band before it leaves for a tour of Australia and Asia to support Riot Act.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.