Eddie Vedder’s very brief solo tour through California found him stopping in Los Angeles at The Wiltern for a two-night stand. He very easily could have played it safe that first night, appearing as Eddie the Rock Star offering up a collection of Pearl Jam hits, the ones shouted out by the unimaginative nostalgia seekers in attendance thinking they were going to relive their youth from the ‘90s, but Eddie is no longer that twenty-something Gen X-er. Instead he chose to stretch as an artist and revealed another aspect of himself, which made the evening all the more compelling.
With no band to support him, he sat center stage all alone, alternating instruments between acoustic and electric guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and even banjo. The set was comprised of songs from soundtracks, covers, and Pearl Jam rarities (only one song from the band’s first three and most successful albums made the cut) in what he likely considered a musical experiment as his guitar tech wore a white lab coat. In fact, he seemed almost cautious to not get people’s hopes up, and in the middle of his first song, a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Walking the Cow,” he stopped the proceeding and asked people to sit down and relax since we were in a theater. That’s why he wore the sports coat, he explained.
He sounded in fine form both singing and playing. Being surrounded by two talented guitar players like Mike McCready and Stone Gossard doesn’t leave much room for Vedder’s own playing, but he delivered a dynamic performance covering Bob Dylan’s “Master of War.” The strength of the material appears to have an impact on him because he also tore it up on acoustic guitar during his version of James Taylor’s “Millworker.”
During the first half of set, Vedder played a five-song block from his Golden Globe-winning Into The Wild soundtrack. At one point, the guitar tech set up an extra microphone, and in what appeared to be a surprise and the cause for sleight embarrassment, a gentleman presented the award to him since he never accepted due to the ceremony being cancelled.
Vedder had funny asides throughout the evening although some people would have laughed at anything he said. He spoke about a commercial he saw for an album of Christian music and the lack of inspiration for life that songs titled “God Is In Control” and “Limit Yourself” have.
He also riffed on the idiocy of American Idol watchers inspired by something he read about thousands of people misdialing and incorrectly calling a carpet store. Sure, we all enjoy feeling better about yourselves by thinking we are cooler and superior over others by putting down what’s popular, but Vedder’s fanbase has plenty of its own idiots. Forget those dopes who yelled out requests between each song, but sitting behind me were two twenty-something knuckleheads who flew in from Dallas. When one wasn’t off at the bar bringing back the next round, they talked at the beginning of almost every song as they no doubt asked themselves, “This isn’t Jeremy, is it?”
However, the queen idiot was the chubby, 40-something, sloppy drunk who babbled with the young Texans in some deluded attempt to fool herself into thinking she was still attractive. Towards the close of the opening set over the course of four songs she announced at the end of each one her “need to pee.” She also couldn’t stay focused for longer than five minutes. During the second encore after Vedder dedicated Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up” to his brother because of how often he played it in his bedroom, a quieter moment during the song was broken by her screeching, “Is this a Dylan song?” I am no fan of the voting portion of American Idol, but Vedder shouldn’t assume he’d come out ahead in a comparison of fans.
He closed out the first set with a number of covers. He started with The Beatles “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” which he recorded for I Am Sam. He stayed in the world of film with two Cat Stevens songs from Harold & Maude. “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” was particularly jubilant with Vedder’s banjo-playing and the crowd singing along. The duet of artist and audience continued with the more familiar “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the set-closing “Porch.”
The first encore was filled with serious material. Vedder was joined by opening act Liam Finn on guitar for Jerry Hannan’s “Society” about the trappings of greed. The anti-war “No More” became a group declaration as the audience joined in. He closed with “Arc,” his most impressive performance of the evening as he created a series of vocal loops that brought to mind the late Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Vedder returned for a final trio of songs: the reflective “Growin’ Up,” the frenzy of Pearl Jam’s “Lukin,” and “Hard Sun” where he was joined again by Finn, this time on drums, and Finn’s cohort Eliza Jane Barnes. Vedder exuded joy and abandon the whole time, and it was difficult not to get caught up in it and take that feeling home with you.
What with a Pearl Jam tour starting in June, Vedder likely didn’t have much time to expand the tour past the few scheduled dates. It’s too bad because unless it was recorded for posterity only a lucky few will know how successful his experiment was.
Walking the Cow
Around the Bend
I Am Mine
Masters of War
Man of the Hour
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out
I Won’t Back Down
Society w/Liam Finn
Throw Your Arms Around Me w/Liam Finn
Hard Sun w/Liam Finn and Eliza Jane Barnes