Pearl Jam delivers sweltering Gorge sets

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GEORGE — Pearl Jam delivered a set as sweltering as the triple-digit temperatures at the Gorge Amphitheatre Saturday during the first show of the band’s two-night stint in Eastern Washington that closed the U.S. summer tour.

The band — singer Eddie Vedder, guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament — surprisingly started the show with “Wash,” a B-side from the 1990s. Vedder was in top form as he jumped and danced around the stage, taking several chugs from multiple bottles of wine throughout the show.

The more bottles of his alcoholic elixir Vedder polished off, the more fuel Pearl Jam had for its fire as the gruffly-haired singer became increasingly feisty with each progressive draw.

He put his hands against his ears and squeezed his head as if it were in a vise while swaying from side to side during “Daughter,” jumped and clicked his heels in the air after tossing a few tambourines into the crowd during “Baba O’Riley” and joked while thanking fans for the support before “Dirty Frank,” a song he called one of the band’s worst.

“Good morning, campers,” Vedder said, addressing the crowd after “World Wide Suicide.” He then mentioned the hot weather and told the fans they would be OK if they stayed “hydrated, undulated and emancipated.”

The band didn’t play much material from the four albums that mark the middle of its career, all records that weren’t received well by critics or the mainstream. But that didn’t matter because the set list, which Vedder said was put together by a friend of the band, carried the show’s momentum well.

The band blazed through 2 1/2 hours of material from its new, self-titled avocado album and an abundance of its classic material, treating the sold-out crowd to a scorching-hot set that complemented the ovenlike conditions.

The rolling riffs of “Even Flow” were preceded by “Elderly Woman” and followed by “Down,” creating a sandwich of perfectly picked songs. McCready’s solo during “Even Flow” transformed the classic into an otherworldly experience. His playing continues to add an extra dimension to the group, as does Cameron’s drumming, which also was showcased in the form of a surprising solo during the same song.

Unlike recent Pearl Jam performances, keyboardist Kenneth “Boom” Gaspar, the honorary sixth band member, had a low-key role. His playing could barely be heard all night. The same goes for Gossard, who mostly stayed stationary at his post to the right of Cameron’s kit.

“Blood” capped off the first part of the show. Vedder clenched his teeth, gripped the microphone stand and screamed out “It’s my buh-loooood” before he punctuated the end of the main set by throwing a composition book to the ground.

Like the main set, the first encore started with a rarity, “Footsteps.” Most of the songs that followed were from “Ten,” including “Once,” “Alive” and “Porch.”

Vedder found his way to higher ground to begin the second encore, singing “Last Kiss” from the roof of the sound booth, serenading the standing crowd at the top of the hill. As the hour got late and the band soldiered on, Vedder urged fans to stay for the rest of the show before diving into, appropriately enough, “Go.”

As with most every Pearl Jam show, the night ended with “Yellow Ledbetter.”

McCready’s ode to Jimi Hendrix sent the fans home smiling, fittingly ending the blistering day with one of his many white-hot solos.

Sunday night

The temperatures weren’t as high and the crowd wasn’t as large for Sunday’s tour-closing performance, but that didn’t seem to bother Eddie & Co. The show started the same way the previous night’s ended, with Vedder gulping down a bottle of wine.

From there Pearl Jam played with the fervor of a band blazing the comeback trail performing a set that matched its predecessor in intensity and quality.

Only 10 songs were performed both nights and while Sunday’s set didn’t offer any rarities, it did contain plenty of classic material such as “Rats,” “Spin The Black Circle” and “Animal.”

Prior to “In Hiding,” Vedder commented that he hadn’t worn shorts while performing in more than 12 years.

“It’s not an attempt to restart grunge fashion. There’s a reason for the shorts,” he said.

The reason?

“It’s (expletive) hot,” Vedder said with a chuckle.

Fashion statement or not, the way the band performed both nights — with songs like “Why Go,” “Jeremy” and “Garden’ popping up — it was a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the Sonics were contenders, Cameron was in Soundgarden and Vedder was the poster boy for a generation’s musical movement.

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, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.