Like all forms of art, music has an innate ability to achieve moments of transcendence. It can bring people together to experience an event that moves thousands and celebrates truly wonderful things. In my humble opinion, nothing has a greater capacity to achieve this effect more so than a live concert.
And with that in mind, it’s fitting to paint this context before speaking about Pearl Jam’s epic return to Detroit for the first time since 2006.
It was transcendent. It was an event.
Their debut performance at the soon to be a thing of history Joe Louis Arena, the legendary rockers couldn’t have picked a more ideal location for the ‘Rock City’ stop on their Lightning Bolt tour.
There’s so much to be said for setting and the visual element when it comes to a live performance. Instead of employing a large, gaudy backdrop or elaborate stage props, Pearl Jam went with a completely level, uncluttered stage show. Their lone decoration was about two dozen hanging spherical bulbs that basked the stage in a more vibrant, yet intimate lighting. Combined with the booming, noisy acoustics that prove why hockey games sound like a vicious riot, and the setting lent itself to a once in a life time arena gig.
Opening their performance with a trio of slower, deeply stirring tunes like ‘Release’, ‘Oceans’, and ‘Nothingman,’ Pearl Jam worked virtuously to build the crowd up, rather than burn them out early.
With emotions at such a prevalent high, Eddie Vedder then changed the vibe on a dime; engaging the audience before leading the group in a incredibly gnarly rendition of ‘Go’. The PJ frontman let the crowd know that he was ‘drinking the good stuff tonight’ as he frequently drank straight from a bottle of red wine. Riding this wild, energetic wave led into huge fan pleasers ‘Mind Your Manners’, ‘Corduroy’ and ‘Lightning Bolt’. It also led to some wine being showered upon fans at the front of the stage by Vedder himself.
And for those lucky few, I would imagine that will make for one hell of a story.
Storytelling was a very big element of Pearl Jam’s performance. Throughout the night, there was a very distinct aroma that would flow through various spots in the arena, and before playing ‘Get Some’, Vedder elaborated that the song was in fact about smoking weed.
He also took the opportunity to give some cheeky praise to the band’s drummer, Matt Cameron. After holding up a sign from the crowd that read ‘Matt F–king Cameron’, Eddie claimed that he was very grateful that Matt’s dad f–ked his mom. Paying homage to the Detroit fans, the band even broke out a rare performance of ‘Black, Red, Yellow’, which featured a ‘Stranglehold’ interlude.
Closing out the first leg of their performance, Pearl Jam delivered a frenzy with their hit ‘Rearviewmirror’. And speaking of hits; remember those hanging light bulb decorations? Well I guess that a moderately drunk Eddie Vedder didn’t take a liking to one of them; deciding to violently bash at it until shattering to pieces as he inadvertently stumbled to the floor.
When it comes to rock n’ roll, if the crew has to come on stage in between songs to clean up pieces of shattered glass, there’s a good chance you are doing something right.
Also, let’s go back to that open, absent of any backdrop stage design. A rare occasion, seats facing the back of the stage were also packed by the audience; and Pearl Jam took full advantage by regularly facing them directly during the show. Even going so far as to set up a second drum kit at the back of the stage.
Throughout the evening there were a handful of powerful moments which would move even the most hardened of men. Vedder and company took the time to pay tribute to fallen contemporaries and worthy causes.
Once again paying mind to the Detroit fan base, Eddie reflected on the recent passing of long time Jack White keyboardist Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens, to whom the band would dedicate their song ‘Light Years’.
After returning for their first encore, Vedder acknowledged the anniversary of John Lennon’s passing, which was last week, for which Pearl Jam performed a soulful cover of the song ‘Imagine’. Bit by bit, song by song, Pearl Jam was endearing themselves to this crowd in a way I’ve never seen a band accomplish on an arena tour in my many years of concert going. The amount of singing, shouting, and undeniable love that echoed through the building was well worth the price of admission alone.
In an interesting twist, the first encore concluded with all the stage lighting turning off and the stadium lights switching on as the group played their beloved tunes ‘Black’ and ‘Better Man’.
So let it be known throughout the land that Pearl Jam stand as an act that delivers nothing short of sheer elation on this tour. With their second and final encore the group performed a mix of their most cherished classics, such as ‘Alive’ and ‘Life Wasted’ as well as MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’.
The Detroit fans were even appeased by a ceremonial Red Wings jersey and a humorous story from Vedder about a small urinal backstage that he concluded was so low to the ground because…well, hockey players have huge d–ks. A loud, obscene, spirited, and outright beautiful evening that will leave fans talking for years to come
Review: David McDonald