|Pearl Jam - Manchester, MEN Arena - 20th June 2012|
|Written by Jamie Richards|
|Saturday, 30 June 2012 04:30|
Connected is the word, and make no mistake about that, because that is simple the only word to describe the feeling at a Pearl Jam show, even though in an enormo-dome that houses 20,000 people, some of whom inevitably indulge in the arena rock distractions of popcorn and candy floss, the electricity between band and audience is undeniable, and tonight was to be no exception.
Opening band X performed their obligatory warm up slot to a more than half full arena and with pretty much everyone in attendance having little or no knowledge of the band or their material, you have to say they did an admirable job. Polite applause grew throughout their set of American pop punk, which could be predictably described as Ramones meets Blondie, and eventually becomes genuine enjoyment throughout. It's a tough job for X, perhaps a thankless task even, but they were pretty tight and I could easily imagine them providing a 'gig of the year' experience in the correct venue, sadly this place is not that venue.
Forty minutes after X leave, the lights dim on the most modest of back lines in the arena rock world - no Marshall stacks here, just the same basic and personal selection of cabs and monitors any Pearl Jam fan would recognise anywhere, and the sedate piano intro heralds a welcoming and expectant roar from the now packed house as the five conquering heroes (six with keys man Boom Gasper) enter as nonchalantly as they ever have done. Without a word, and with the excited roar still ringing around, the recognisable chords of 'Release' herald the start of the next chapter of Pearl Jam; because every show really is a chapter.
Unlike pretty much every other band, Pearl Jam play a different set each night, which they apparently draw up in the hour or two before the gig. Sure there are staples, but the band do pride themselves on mixing things up; hence a stomping 'Do the Evolution' rolling out as second number, closely followed by the slickness that is 'Corduroy'. The band obviously energized, and focussed on this first night of the European tour just plough through the first five songs before frontman Eddie Vedder addresses the crowd with his usual warmth, "how are you? We ask it collectively, but mean it as individuals, really, how are you?" It's met with 20,000 roars, and Vedder amusingly points out that he's sure one guy way out in the sea of admirers has responded "well, I'm okay now...but a few months ago I had a bit of a tough time...". 'Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town' from the band's second album, 'Vs.', provides the first big sing-along, closely followed by the night's first real rarity in the form of 'Pilate' from the 'Yield' album; I will admit that being in the seats you do encounter more 'greatest hits' fans, and a little piece of me dies when a couple of popcorn munchers park themselves back down until they hear a song they know. The part-timers didn't have long to wait though as a monumental 'Even Flow' threatens to shake trains from tracks at next door's railway station.
'Unthought Known' from the excellent 'Backspacer' album follows before the band treat the hard core to a trio of delights in the shape of 'Half Full', 'Insignificance' and an unfamiliar song that turns out to be a Buzzcocks cover. 'Immortality' which is surely an underappreciated modern rock classic begins, and stops as Vedder realises he is in fact playing the wrong guitar, hastily re-aquainted with his trusty, battered Telecaster he informs us that "as good as that guitar is, it will never be the friend to me that this one is," and he replays the intro.....and he's right, of course. Like any Pearl Jam show, the pace changes on a whim and gentle acoustic songs like 'Nothing Man' and 'Just Breathe' rub shoulders with monsters like 'Why Go' and a piercing 'State of Love and Trust'. Lots has been written about the 'deconstruction' of the band's fame over the years, but maybe what isn't reported on, principally because only people who've been present at Pearl Jam shows over the years would have noticed, is that along the way they have also been building possibly the most complete rock 'n' roll show you could see in this day and age. I say complete, meaning no bullshit but just the right amount of friendly banter, no explosions but just the right amount of flashy lights, and no bells or whistles to distract you from the sight and sound of five guys playing great songs with all the enthusiasm of a hungry break through act.
The first set of encores is highlighted by Joe Strummer's 'Arms Aloft', and Eddie's moving tribute to the recent tragedy that befell Radiohead, that culminates in a crushing version of 'Porch'. Once again the band leave the stage, returning for a finale that would leave the crowd pretty much helpless, the radio friendly 'Better Man' followed by 'Come Back' played as a request from someone packed in the sea of bodies at the front. Then it's the killer blow of 'Jeremy' and 'Alive' that see the place rocking from front to back.
As is now traditional at these Pearl Jam events, the house lights are on for the final song, which they have tonight decided will be a near ten minute celebration of Neil Young's 'Rockin' In The Free World', which sees singing, grinning, sweaty, no holds barred delirium spread throughout the illuminated Manchester Arena. Two and a half hours, twenty six songs; a more joyous experience I could not imagine.