Pearl Jam, very much alive

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Eddie Vedder, in fine voice at the Wells Fargo Center Monday. "My only wish is to wish for nothing," he sang. "Who could ask for more?" (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

When Pearl Jam performed "Wishlist," a song from 1998's Yield, during its three-hour sold-out show at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, Eddie Vedder added some lyrics not in the original.

"My only wish is to wish for nothing," the leader of the enduring Seattle band sang. "Who could ask for more than that?"

Then, before pushing off to "Sirens" from the sturdy new mortality-contemplating Lightning Bolt, Vedder, 48, elaborated on his Zen grunge idea. He told of being a 15-year-old "idiot" who used to grind up cheap speed pills known as "Black Beauties" on his first Fender Stratocaster.

Which led him to consider how far he and Pearl Jam, scheduled to play a second sold-out show on Tuesday, have come.

"What more could you ask for than what you're doing now?" Vedder wondered. "Playing loud music with a bunch of your best friends for a bunch of your best friends that you don't really know? . . . We're just so, so grateful."

That captured Pearl Jam's relationship with an equally grateful audience.

It's been a long time - two decades - since the band stood at the center of popular culture. But while others faded, Pearl Jam stuck and stayed, and continue to command an enormous cult audience.

With sonorous-voiced Vedder, guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron augmented by Boom Gaspar on keyboards, Pearl Jam are the gracefully aging grungers that keep on giving.

On Monday, that meant a 34-song set finely calibrated through its first third, which opened with the ruminative "Pendulum" from Lightning Bolt before capping with the howling "Animal."

Vedder, with "ROCKY" emblazoned on his shirt, then addressed the crowd.

"You were probably here when we tore down the Spectrum, right?" he asked, referring to the band's closing 2009 stand at the venue. "Let's tear down this place, too. Let's make a long evening of it."

True to his word, the band went on to mix in covers like Pink Floyd's "Mother" (during a so-so acoustic segment), and Victoria Williams' "Crazy Mary." When Vedder spotted a "Gabba Gabba Hey" banner in the rafters, fans holding it were brought to sit stageside, and the band played the Ramones' "I Believe In Miracles."

Vedder remains a bona fide rock star with a stentorian, clarion-call voice, and the band gives him rough-edged, sharply focused support.

Over a long night, the music can get leaden, though, particularly in drawn-out assaults like "Leash" and "Porch."

There are correctives to those ponderous stretches. In sweeter, contemplative moments, Vedder let his rich, grainy voice hang in the air. And the band delivered compressed jolts of fury like "Lukin" and "Sonic Reducer" (a Dead Boys cover) that made it clear that after all these years, Pearl Jam is very much alive.

 


215-854-5628 ddeluca@phillynews.com
@delucadan.
Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.inquirer.com/inthemix.