Pearl Jam has been on the road for almost twenty years now, yet not a hint of rust or wear and tear was showing as they began their two-night stay at the Garden. Their super fans have been in on the secret for a while now and are as rabid and loyal as any known to man. But to the occasional concert goer, albeit one lucky enough to score a ticket to either of these sold out shows, witnessing this band from opener to encore is like joining hands with the forces of nature of a musical kind.
The band opened the May 20th show brazenly with three deep cuts: the low-key but passionate “Sometimes” from the 1996 album No Code, the abrasive rush of “Breakerfall” from Binaural, and the push/pull of Vitology’s “Last Exit.” This triad gave one the sense that the band could cull songs from any album, any era, and the extreme fans would devour them just as lustfully and in tandem with the rest of the crowd, who finally settled in with the band's youthful take on 90s FM playlist favorite “Animal.”
But if you still listen to the radio, you would know that Pearl Jam aren’t just some dinosaur grunge holdover who continue to tour and bring out old chestnuts for a spit shine in every city. They continue to write popular rock songs. They’ve had two hits from each of their last two albums. Who knew, right? “The Fixer” and “Just Breathe”( for which they even rolled out a string section) were in the set list, and from the looks on the faces of the faithful and the frat boys, people knew every word.
Lead singer Eddie Vedder has a perfect combination of chops, charisma, and compassion. He’s as serious about his dedications as he is about making sure everyone has a good time. He will fawn over sons getting their sick fathers to the show and give shout outs to veterans before blazing into “Army Reserve.” When he chugs from his obligatory bottle of red wine, and hangs back while guitarist Mike McCready explores a sprawling solo during “Evenflow,” you feel like you could be the next guy he passes that bottle to while you scream out the chorus slightly off key. The stage is a bare bones affair and is lit economically, which makes the crowd focus even more intensely on any back story or stumping he may let loose with.
The songs never suffer. In fact, according to their fan club, this and the following night’s show (also at MSG) were heralded as two of the best ever seen by many. This band easily traverses the energy and the dispersion of emotion needed to seamlessly roam through a 35 song set, night after night, year after year.
To say Pearl Jam are at “the top of their game” or “have never been better” might give someone a hint as to why they’ve been around so long. But it is much simpler than that. With passion, dedication to their fans, and a very non- grunge, diverse songwriting palate of great rock songs sung with conviction and entwined with a virtuosity that was on full display for the evening, they continue to amaze as they entertain, which can only help to germinate new allegiance even twenty years on.