Pearl Jam Revisited: A Fan’s Faith Is Renewed

Sixteen years ago, Pearl Jam released Ten. They shot to stardom, fell out of music’s good graces a few albums later, and then climbed back to the top with their self-titled 2006 release. The way Rolling Stone praised it, you could have assumed Jann Wenner had a financial stake in the matter. But that wasn’t the case. Pearl Jam had allegedly reclaimed their place in rock ’n’ roll.

In 2000, Pearl Jam performed at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. I was there and thrilled for the show. But it was October in Wisconsin, and whoever thought it wise to book that outdoor concert had obviously never lived in that part of the country. The show was stellar despite the frigid temps, but I had had my fill of Pearl Jam fandom.

Fast forward eight years. I met someone who is in for the Pearl Jam long haul. When tickets went on sale for the band’s DC gig at the Verizon Center Sunday night, an $82 gem was purchased in my name, and I was on my way to seeing Pearl Jam live for the first time in nearly a decade

One set, two encores, and some political jumble later, my 1990s faith in Eddie and the gang has been somewhat restored. But not without a few observations:

1. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are a decent band. But this opener was the classic case of a misplaced act in a giant arena with bad sound and few fans. But don’t give up on them yet. Download a few tracks and check them out in a hole-in-the-wall bar or basement venue.

2. The PJ crowd has changed. I didn’t get the beach-attire memo, but the rest of the middle-aged attendees did. And out came the Hawaiian shirts. Vedder was similarly clad in flowing white pants while standing in front of a wave background on the very minimalist set. Questionable fashion decisions aside, the crowd has aged with the band members as well. Carding was unnecessary at the beer stand. Where were the high-energy teeny boppers? Despite the annoyance, they have their place.

3. The political speak is unnecessary. Eddie, we know you dislike Bush, lean to the left, and love to vocalize your opinions to the thousands who’ve paid to see you. But that absurdly overpriced ticket purchased in my name was to hear music, not your views on oil prices. However, playing “Green Disease” after the rant complete with blindingly bright green lights was well placed.

4. You lost me with “All Along the Watchtower.” Leave the bad covers for Dave Matthews and pick something more original.

5. Overall, Pearl Jam still rocks. I know the ’90s have passed and grunge is dead, but the band played 31 songs, stayed onstage for more than two hours, and packed that venue. How they still play “Daughter” with a smile is beyond me, but I give them credit for recognizing the songs that made them and playing them for the masses. Just throw in a few B sides or lesser-heard tracks for the devoted fans. But please, keep touring. Word is that this was a pre-recording-studio tour, so perhaps some new tunes are in the works.

They may have made a rejuvenated fan out of me. It’s time to dust off those old CDs.

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