Eddie Vedder, Glen Hansard Jones Hall November 12, 2012
Aging grungers are the new aging hippies. When the first wave of grunge hit in the late '80s and early '90s, the world was still rife with greybeards and their old ladies just two decades removed from cultural nirvana. Before the other, bigger Nirvana.
I remember being a tiny person in the midst of the Seattle explosion while also being exposed to the nostalgia of the free-love era. Never would I have thought that the two would have so much in common.
"You know what they say about the early '90s, man. If you remember them, you didn't have a debilitating drug addiction or an allergy to fame."
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder is one of the rare survivors of the grunge era who is still standing and can still tell a tale without tremors. Yes, the g-word is less of a slur than it was 20 years ago, and thankfully Pearl Jam managed to rise above the trends and tread their own path, thanks to their own stubbornness, a punk ethos and the leading hand of Neil Young.
A lot of Monday night's gig (the second one is tonight) reminded me of Young's solo show at the same venue in 2010 on the tour behind Le Noise, from the sparse instrumentation to the set design.
You should have seen people attempting to capture the campfire and starlight onstage from the audience with their cellphones.
Vedder as a solo act, a storyteller, and a guitarist doesn't touch the level of elation that fans say they feel at a PJ show. Nothing comes close. But not that many Houston PJ fans would know what it is like to see them here on their own turf anyway.
The singer himself joked about his infrequent visits to Houston while dropping wistful odes to the Vatican and the Unicorn, departed venues that the band played numerous times on the way to becoming all-caps Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam is now a festival band, leaving behind the road-slogging to younger groups and acts out of their own grunge class that didn't quite make the same global or monetary connection they did.
Vedder's solo schtick (high-five, Mrs. Ambrose!) is heavy on his Into The Wild soundtrack stuff and various PJ nuggets. If you find the ukelele annoying or too precious, you will not be enchanted with the novelty of Vedder doing half his set cradling the baby gee-tar.
Hardcore fans, though, will be rewarded by being in the presence of one of their icons. The man seems to understand that his target audience isn't "the kids" anymore, but thirty- and early fortysomethings he's helped usher through the past 20 years. He even made a remark about the monied crowd, knowing his ticket price isn't exactly small.
This also wasn't the brooding, wine-fueled, politically-charged Vedder of the recent past. This was the PTA-member, campfire singalong, father-and-husband version of Vedder that may strike some as weak. But he's really not.
The show gets tedious, especially when Vedder tries to wrench out Pete Townsend-style flights of noise on an acoustic guitar. Towards the end of the night everything sounded like "Pinball Wizard." The times when he did pick out his electric piece were the brighter spots. I get it, the uke is the necessary evil with some of the material and you have to roll with it.
The set reached great heights with standouts like the criminally overlooked "Just Breathe" from 2009's Backspacer, a fiery recitation of "Porch" off Ten, and "Immortality" from 1994's Vitalogy.
(Thanks for "Immortality," Ed.)
The biggest crowd reaction came from the first few strums of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town" off Vs., which has been a radio staple since the first Clinton administration. If novices haven't been paying attention to PJ or Vedder since the '90s, they would have been largely in the weeds Monday night.
Opener Glen Hansard -- a marquee name in his own right -- helped out during the last half of the show, along with frequent Hansard stagemate Moji, winning out on the widescreen "Hard Sun."
Vedder and company play again tonight at Jones Hall, and I would suggest fans brush up on the Into the Wild material and Vedder's recent Ukulele Songs LP to get up to speed. Otherwise, don't scream "Animal" and "Jeremy" and get pissy.
Now if only Vedder will report back to the next band meeting and bring PJ proper around Houston. If Monday night (and tonight) was intended to be a test of PJ love around here, then I think the Bayou City passed.
Personal Bias: Don't look at me -- my favorite PJ albums are No Code and Vitalogy, which is like a John Waters fan telling you his favorite movies are Pecker and Serial Mom.
The Crowd: Folks, using flash photography in the nosebleeds doesn't magically turn your phone into a high-powered telescopic camera.
Overheard In the Crowd: EDDIE! EDDIE! GO! GO! I LOVE YOU! WOOOOOOOOOO! FUCK ME!!! COME TO MY WEDDING! PEARL JAM!!
Random Notebook Dump: From Row M, Vedder looked less like Eddie Vedder and more like Jeff Bridges circa Crazy Heart, which isn't a bad thing at all. I don't look like I did in 1994 either.
EDDIE VEDDER SET LIST Brain Damage (Roger Waters/Pink Floyd cover) Sometimes Can't Keep Sleeping By Myself Goodbye Without You Soon Forget I Am Mine Good Woman (Chan Marshall/Cat Power cover) Millworker (James Taylor cover) Setting Forth Guaranteed Rise Long Nights Picture In a Frame (Tom Waits cover) Everyday-(Buddy Holly cover) Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In a Small Town Porch
Just Breathe Immortality Society (w/ Glen Hansard) Sleepless Nights (w/ Glen Hansard) Falling Slowly (w/ Glen Hansard) Love Boat Captain The End
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Hard Sun (w/ Glen Hansard & Moji)