Concert date: 04/05/2008
Run date: 04/18/2008
It’s just a couple blocks from beautiful downtown Santa Cruz to the local civic center, where Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder held court for the first American show of his first solo tour (following a pair of dates in Vancouver.) Tickets are curiously priced about $20 higher than for Pearl Jam’s most recent tour in 2006, but this didn’t have an effect on sales – the show was completely sold out and some patrons paid double the face price for their tix. Such is the lure for one of Generation X’s most beloved icons.
Security restrictions at the venue are unusually tight for a Bay Area venue – signs posted outside warn that there will be no ins and outs, no smoking section and that anyone caught smoking will be subject to being “cited/ejected.” Inside, beer is available but the means for dispensing it are so twisted that it can take a half hour to obtain one and patrons are not even allowed to take their beverage into the auditorium. Hence, Liam Finn’s solid opening set was heard from the hallway by many.
When the lights went down around 8:45, most quickly gave up on the beer line and retreated inside. Many were unsure of what to expect – would Eddie have a band? Would he play any Pearl Jam songs? There was no band, as it turns out; it was an intimate evening with Eddie and his guitar (and ukulele.) The crowd remained seated but enraptured for most of the show, demonstrating a strong attentiveness throughout. There were indeed a few Pearl Jam tunes thrown into a set expectedly heavy on songs from Eddie’s 2007 solo album, the soundtrack for Into the Wild, along with a few choice covers.
But it almost doesn’t matter what he played – for many fans, Vedder is the voice of a generation, one of the most soulful singers to emerge from the alternative rock explosion of the early ‘90s that forever altered the landscape of popular music. He may be a “reluctant warrior” (as Rolling Stone pegged him in a 2006 cover story), but his longstanding commitment to integrity in both rock ‘n’ roll and socially conscious values has deservedly made him one of the most admired artists of his generation. Hence, the audience hung on his every word and guitar strum.
Early highlights included “I am Mine” (from Pearl Jam’s 2003 Riot Act album) and “Dead Man,” from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. The songs from Into the Wild were played with soul and conviction, but while they were uniformly well received, most of them failed to spark a particularly memorable vibration with the crowd.
The tone of the evening moved to a decidedly higher level toward the end of the set, however, when Vedder broke out “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” the beloved Beatles classic, which inspired the first mass sing-along of the evening. Eddie’s impassioned vocals clearly strike a chord and for the first time during the show, the crowd’s collective consciousness started to approximate the legendary vibe of a Pearl Jam concert.
A couple of songs later, Vedder scored again with a moving cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which also struck a deep chord with the faithful. Back in the ‘60s, they used to say don’t trust anyone over 30, but Gen X seems determined to change those parameters. Vedder is 43, but still singing with the passion he had in his 20s, providing a ‘forever young’ boost to an entire generation. The feeling was furthered when he followed with a rousing rendition of “Porch,” one of the hardest-rocking tunes from Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut, Ten. The power of the song lost nothing, as Vedder dug deep into the well for a spectacular one-man version of the fan favorite to close the set.
Vedder is known for his singing, but he throughout the night his guitar playing was well above average. It’s abundantly clear that Vedder has long studied the classic rock roots of artists such as Pete Townshend, John Lennon and Neil Young, and his rhythmic attack demonstrates a powerful homage to those roots.
The crowd was pumped up after “Porch” and demanded more, chanting “Edd-ie, Edd-ie!” There aren’t many modern rock singers who inspire such a chant these days, recalling the classic rock mojo of seminal rock shaman Jim Morrison. With the crowd chanting his name, it’s hard not to draw a parallel between Vedder and Mr. Mojo Rising. But unlike Morrison and his own contemporary Kurt Cobain, Vedder has admirably stuck around to grow up with us, and is all the more beloved for it.
Vedder returned to entreat the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, followed by a moving rendition of “Society,” one of the most stirring songs from Into the Wild, depicting the protagonist’s bitter farewell sentiment to the modern world. Liam Finn joined in for some rich harmonies.
Eddie then informed the audience he’d deliver another sing-along, but that the crowd had to then sing along to the song after that. The first song is a typically brief but raucous “Lukin,” the Pearl Jam song depicting Vedder’s experiences being stalked by a deranged fan, followed by the new “No More,” an anti-war song written for paralyzed Iraq war vet Tomas Young (which appears on the soundtrack for the documentary “Body of War.”) Vedder had no problem moving the crowd to sing along on the chorus, as the anti-war sentiment runs strong in Santa Cruz. The song received a rousing ovation.
Vedder then donned a lab coat, as his roadies wore throughout the evening, conjuring visions of a brilliant mad scientist at work. He took the opportunity to play with some looping technology and recorded samples for a smashingly psychedelic take on “Arc,” and then exited the stage once more.
Vedder then returned for a second encore, during which he informed the crowd that he skipped Santa Cruz’s famous surf that day in order to write a brand new song, entitled “Pulling into Santa Cruz.” No mere toss-off, the song depicts a true passion for the town’s famously laid-back vibe and beautiful weather. It earned, of course, yet another massive ovation. Finn and his backing vocalist, Eliza Jane Barnes, joined Vedder for the final number, “Hard Sun,” the single from Into the Wild. Finn played drums and Vedder took the electric guitar, closing out the show with powerful energy -- in true rock ‘n’ roll style.