PORTLAND – Pearl Jam kicked off the Northwest leg of its fall tour behind “Lightning Bolt” at the Moda Center Nov. 29 with an exhilarating three-hour set. I traveled to the Rose City with my Pearl Jam podcasting pal Jeremy to catch the action and the show, which was the first of four Northwest area concerts for the band before they wrap up the tour on Friday at KeyArena, did not leave us disappointed.
Since Pearl Jam is coming home in a few days I thought it might be helpful to share some of my thoughts about the Portland concert. So in the tradition of what I wrote up after my last up close and personal Pearl Jam experience, here are 10 takeaway from the Portland concert to keep in mind for Friday night’s show.
The songs off Lightning Bolt sound great live: “Lightning Bolt” is arguably Pearl Jam’s best album since 2000’s “Binaural” and the new songs sound fantastic live. The record’s title track takes on a whole other dimension in concert, “Yellow Moon” carries more emotional heft and “Mind Your Manners” comes across more blisteringly aggressive in an arena setting, which is saying a lot because man does it sound damn good cranked up on a stereo.
“Pendulum” was practically written to be set opener: Since this is the “Lightning Bolt” tour it makes sense that Pearl Jam features songs off that album. For several of the shows this tour the band has been opening their sets with “Pendulum.” This is a very good decision. Although it replaces fan-favorite “Long Road” as the typical go-to opener, it manages to perfectly set the tone for what’s in store for the rest of the show. It lets the band hit a groove right from the beginning of the night and it exposes casual fans to a great deep cut off the new record. Added bonus: Mike McCready gets his Jimmy Page on and plays his guitar with a bow.
Mike McCready can still bring it: Speaking of “McMelty,” (as fans like to endearingly call him) in case you weren’t already aware, he is Pearl Jam’s secret weapon. Aside from playing with a bow, he pulled out his old I’m-going-to-play-“Even Flow”-behind-my-back trick, shredded on “Alive” and throughout the night he was a contagious jolt of energy that helped fuel the band during it’s marathon set.
Eddie Vedder still likes wine: It’s well known that Eddie Vedder enjoys wine. By my count he went through at least six bottles of his “alcoholic elixir,” as I called it back in 2005, and his banter and attitude seemed to be happily enhanced throughout the show which made for a very fun night.
Matt Cameron is a 51-year-old drumming machine: Matt Cameron turned 51 on Thanksgiving and to mark the occasion the band paused and Ed led the crowd in a singalong of “Happy Birthday.” Cameron, who recently announced he’s leaving Soundgarden for the summer to focus on his Pearl Jam touring duties (hooray!), was a monster behind the kit. He’s truly one of the best modern rock drummers performing today.
The entire catalog is fair game: Typically when a band releases a new album the tour behind that record heavily focuses on the new material. That wasn’t the case in Portland. Instead of the “Lightning Bolt” songs being the meat of the show they were more like the supporting legs that propped up the older songs. In fact, “Ten” got as much attention as “Lightning Bolt” with six songs from each album making the setlist and selections from nine out of the band’s 10 studio records were played during the 34-song performance (“Binaural” was the only record absent, in case you were wondering).
Boom Gaspar’s non-presence is a presence: The band’s unofficial sixth member, Kenneth “Boom” Gaspar, was very low in the audio mix but when his organ could be heard it made a noticeable impact. So be on the lookout for Boom when he appears onstage and listen carefully for the new dimension he brings to both the classic and new material.
Go for the hits, stay for the rarities: The Portland setlist was filled with its share of old school Pearl Jam staples casual fans want to hear (“Even Flow,” “Alive,” “Black”) but it also contained several hidden gems that die-hard fans enjoy and those songs provided some of the show’s best moments. The Cameron penned “You Are” from “Riot Act” got brought out to celebrate his birthday and “All Those Yesterdays,” a fan-favorite that doesn’t get much attention nowadays, also made the setlist. It’s always good to hear the hits, but hearing the deep cuts and rare b-sides are what make a show great.
Pearl Jam feeds off the energy of the crowd: This might seem obvious to most, but the band really notices when the crowd is into a show. And when the crowd is good the band returns the favor and turns things up a notch. I’ve seen Pearl Jam in concert more than 16 times and I have never seen a crowd as good as the people that filled the Moda Center and there’s no way that the energy from the crowd didn’t impact what Pearl Jam delivered onstage. So if you want a good show Seattle fans be sure to wear your game faces and scream, shout and sing along because if you’ll be getting back whatever you put in to Friday’s show.
Don’t doubt Pearl Jam:Speaking of cllunkers, believe it or not, it’s possible for Pearl Jam to have a bad show — or at least uninspired shows — and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about what type of show the band would deliver. Turns out I should have never doubted the band. In fact, it’s tough not to say that this tour is Pearl Jam in their prime, but history will make that determination. The message here is, with a 34-song setlist, new material that stacks up to the band’s classic cuts and a band that appears to genuinely be enjoying themselves onstage, you are going to be getting your money’s worth at Friday’s concert.