“It’s evolution baby!”
Pearl Jam played an invigorated three hour set at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Sunday night. The 33 songs spanned their entire career (including 5 covers) and showed that the band still has a tremendous amount of power and sense of urgency in their art.
What surprised me about the show was how it wasn’t the radio hits that took center stage. Sure they played Evenflow, Better Man and Alive but it felt like they did it out of obligation and not out of a desire to perform them. Eddie and the guys (Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Matt Cameron) have grown older, had families and are now dealing with issues of their mortality and what it means to grow old… a far cry from their grunge roots.
The minimalist stage set up and the mid tempo songs that started the show highlighted the striped down tone and nature of the evening. On their third song, No Code’s Present Tense, PJ punctuated the mindset of the band:
You can spend your time alone
Redigesting past regrets
Or you can come to terms and realize
You’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself
Makes much more sense to live in the present tense
After the first few songs you could feel the anticipation building within the crowd. The opening moments spent experiencing Eddie’s frustration of self discovery made Corduroy feel like a declaration of victory over personal demons.
The rest of the show continued to play with issues of self understanding, the nature of human inconsistency and a desire for restoration. One moment we are led to question if our path is predetermined (My Father’s Son) followed by the encouragement to break from whatever circumstances are holding us back in order to live an extraordinary life of love (Given to Fly).
The highlight of the show was their new single Sirens. Maybe it’s the place in life that I currently occupy (relatively new father who is constantly reminded of the precious and fragile nature of life) that made this moment so impactful. Sirens is a love song. Sung from the perspective of a person who, when faced with his mortality, responds with his final words of love to those he holds closest.
We as an audience were allowed to embrace our finitude. With an understanding that death lurks just over our shoulder, we were led to respond with love and gratitude instead of fear. I want to cry every time I hear the song because it is able to communicate something so powerful that I seem to fall short in expressing with my own words. The reason Pearl Jam has found a revived sense of purpose is because of songs and moments like this and the ability to share them with their followers.
Once Sirens came to a close, the show was able to take on a celebratory nature. There were still themes of anger and disillusionment but they had been put into a new perspective. Yes life is hard but it is also overwhelmingly beautiful.
They ripped through the end of their set with flair and energy. Eddie became progressively more intoxicated, spitting aggressively between lyrics, swinging from the lanterns that hung from the stage and eventually pouring a bottle of wine over his head. The stadium lights came on for the final two songs of the night (Alive and Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World) which helped bridge whatever gap was left between the rock stars and their audience. These two songs formed a couplet of encouragement and reinvigorated the calling to fight the good fight no matter how dire the circumstances.
It wasn’t the best Pearl Jam show I’ve ever seen but it will stay with me as the most powerful. One of the reasons that I continue to follow this band is because they aren’t continually trying to recreate the success of 20 years ago. They still oblige the fan who is there to hear the radio hits but they desire to engage the person who is willing to look for something more significant.
2. Low Light
3. Present Tense
4. Interstellar Overdrive (Pink Floyd cover)
6. Lightning Bolt
7. Amongst the Waves
8. My Father’s Son
9. Given to Fly
10. Swallowed Whole
13. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
14. Future Days
15. Even Flow
16. Do the Evolution
17. Mind Your Manners
19. No Way
21. Better Man
22. Daughter (with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall )
23. After Hours (The Velvet Underground cover) (live debut)
24. Sleeping By Myself
25. Mother (Pink Floyd cover)
29. Last Kiss
30. Unthought Known
31. Love, Reign O’er Me (The Who cover)
33. Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)