Pearl Jam Live in Oakland

Pearl Jam
Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
November 26, 2013

By Dan Wall

Set List: Pendulum, Nothingman, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Why Go, Hail Hail, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Dissident, Faithfull, Setting Forth, Corduroy, Even Flow, Sirens, Daughter, Unknown Thought, Let the Records Play, Down, State of Love and Trust, Better Man.

Encore 1: After Hours, Yellow Moon, Last Kiss, Just Breathe, Thin Air, Given to Fly, Untitled, MFC, Big Wave, Do the Evolution, The New World (with John Doe), Porch.

Encore 2: Smile, Crazy Mary, Black, Alive, Fuckin’ Up, Indifference

3 hours, 20 minutes.

Jeb: Dan, I just got an e-mail stating you wanted to tell me about a “Pearl Jam” concert… Really? They suck as a band.  They suck as musicians.  They are terrible songwriters.  Their new album is embarrassing and they have no singer.  You are losing your good taste in music.

Dan: How do you really feel?

Jeb: OK, all kidding aside… are they really considered ‘classic rock’ cuz they have been around over 20 years?

Ace Collins: I have three of their CD’s, covered in dust, so they must be classic rock….

Jeb: Shut-up Ace… OK, Dan… tell me about your little soiree in San Jose….

Well, it took the boys awhile to get there, but by the time Pearl Jam broke into “Alive” (nearly three hours into its marathon concert on Tuesday night), just about everyone in the massive crowd had heard what they came to hear.

This set was not for the mild mannered, walk-in-off-the-street-for-a-couple-of-songs Pearl Jam fan. No, you have to own every record, most of the B-sides and even have a rudimentary knowledge of its cover catalog to know all of the 37 songs that were performed on Tuesday in Oakland.

The band played some grunge, some punk, a lot of rock, a few middle-of-the-road ballads, a couple of acoustic numbers and a number of covers. For the most part, the full quintet played together, but vocalist Eddie Vedder did a couple of songs by himself on guitar just to make sure every facet of the band’s 23-year career was covered.

Considered by some to be one of the most influential American bands of the past decade, and quite possibly this generation’s ‘Led Zeppelin’ due to the group’s mix of heavy (electric) and soft (acoustic) elements. Pearl Jam showcased their alternative rock influences as well as many others during the lengthy set.

To be fair though, I think you have to add a few more bands to the mix when mentioning this band’s major influences. One band the group has a lot in common with is the Grateful Dead, because Pearl Jam rarely plays the same set twice. You could go see these guys on Sunday and Monday and there would be 15 different songs in the set each night. Move on to Tuesday, and there would still be a number of new tunes and some covers thrown in for good measure.

Other bands represent punk rock, those being The Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Pearl Jam often displays the brash, snotty attitude of the Pistols, and also the melodic punk ranting of The Ramones, sometimes in the same song.

The star of the show, aside from the songs and music, is Vedder, of course. One of rock’s great frontmen, Vedder spent most of the night singing in his compact drone, moving between the hard rockers like “Hail Hail’ and “Why Go,” while also acing the softer side of songs like “Sirens” and “Thin Air.”

Vedder spent most of the night singing and slugging red wine straight from the bottle (he shared much with the front row), but when he addressed the crowd, he was charming and funny. Eddie is truly one of the icons of his generation and is beloved in the Bay Area, not only for his stature as a spokesman for his peers but also for his (and the band’s) constant involvement in Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit concerts.

The interplay between guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready is definitely a highlight as well. Gossard is the tall, stringy guitarist, positioned stage left. He spends most of the show providing the delicate touches and underlying runs that spell the underrated McCready’s frightfully fast solos. His partner in crime is the total opposite, of course. The band’s only true rock star, aside from when Vedder feels like being one, McCready is the shorter of the two, with spikey hair and a mile of tattoos. McCready constantly plays to the crowd, and his solos in “Even Flow” and “Alive” are some of the best rock guitar moments from the “grunge” rock era.

The rhythm section of bassist Jeff Ament and former-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron is as solid a pairing in rock. Ament, sometimes animated and flying but often anchored in one spot, held down the bottom while Cameron was machine-like and powerful during the set’s faster numbers.

The main set of 19 songs was all over the place as far as song selection goes, with a number of new songs making their live debut in the Bay Area. The new album’s title track, “Lightning Bolt” is the best of the bunch, but “Sirens” is a song that will be long remembered even after this touring cycle, and the punky “Mind Your Manners” evokes the attitude and snarl of the band’s youth. Other main set highlights included “Corduroy,” a lengthy “Even Flow,” “State of Love and Trust” and the set-closing sing-along to “Better Man.”

The band did just about every style in its songbook during the 75-minute first encore, with a tribute to Lou Reed (“After Hours”) and a song with X guitarist John Doe (“The New World”) aiding trashy versions of “Do the Evolution” and “Porch” as a set-up for the finale.

The middle section of encore two was the real highlight, with a dark, brooding “Black” followed by the grunge national anthem “Alive” and a cover of good buddy Young’s “Fuckin’ Up.” The evening ended with the house lights on and the band doing “Indifference” at the lip of the stage, acoustically.

One thing that is clear is that Pearl Jam can still draw over 15,000 fans without the help of a multi-million selling album. The Oracle was packed to the rafters and tickets were going for five times the face amount online. In 20 years, I have a feeling we will still be attending Pearl Jam shows, in big venues, screaming for “Alive” and hoping that the band includes it in a marathon set.

Jeb: Really?

Dan: I could be wrong.