The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has received mixed reviews. Fans have voiced a melancholy for the days of Letterman and others have stated that Colbert gives a geekishly modern twist to the after-hours talk show. Colbert is intelligent, witty and has a solid base in the 20-40 year old demographic, but no matter how popular a show’s host, music is the key to get viewers to tune in.
Two smart moves have been made within the first 30 days of the revamped Late Show: Jon Batiste and Stay Human were hired as the house band and Pearl Jam made a rare appearance as the musical guest on September 23. One would suppose that a continuance in this direction could secure Colbert’s run as the new guru of late night but only Nielsen and his ratings will tell the tale. Pancakes & Whiskey was lucky enough to attend the September 23 taping and experience the smooth talent of Batiste and the mind-blowing performance by Pearl Jam.
Jon Batiste, a native of Louisiana, was raised from the cradle on the sounds of New Orleans jazz and blues. Listening to him perform you can almost taste the gumbo and hear the sounds of the French Quarter wafting across the Colbert stage. His trio, Stay Human, has expanded to a quintet with the band’s Juilliard training evident in the constant improvisation of jazz standards and silky transitions with nods to the blues gods above. Jon Batiste gives the late night experience a touch of class mixed with the unusual by exposing Middle America to a sound that just oozes with passion and eloquence. This style of music can inspire a generation to go back to the foundations of music, rhythm and blues, and begin a new love affair with the perfect symphony of notes mixed with a crooning desire to feel something real. “Love Riots” as Batiste has been quoted as saying, are a spontaneous gathering of like-minded folks performing music as it comes without fear of playing everything perfectly and he pulls this off beautifully. The late night crowd raucously applauded after every commercial break came to an end, not for the new host Colbert, but for the incredible performances they had been enjoying while the cameras were off. It was as if a secret concert with undeniably charismatic and talented performers had been snuck in to the studio just for the chosen people in the audience and no one wanted the music to end.
Although the crowd enjoyed the refreshing flavor of Jon Batiste and Stay Human for the first hour of taping, an electricity rippled through the air as Pearl Jam took the stage to perform in the last half hour. The audience was so enflamed with anticipation that they even started cheering the roadies tuning the band’s instruments. After a short interview with some ha-has and ho-hos with Colbert, Pearl Jam assumed their positions just a few feet away from the audience.
It is difficult to describe what it is like to be that close to a band that you have loved for more than twenty years. To see them in the flesh on the same eye-level so you can witness the mischievous glint in Eddie Vedder’s eyes as he grabs the microphone, or the whites of Mike McCready’s as they roll back in his skull during a guitar solo is mind-altering. To see the sweat dripping down the side of Jeff Ament’s face as he rocks and rolls with his bass in time with Matt Cameron’s killer drumming is enthralling and to see Stone Gossard, well, to see Stoney is to bear witness to someone who just truly loves to play.
The band, appearing ahead of their Global Citizen gig the coming weekend, was introduced by Colbert and without missing a beat launched into, “Mind Your Manners,” off their latest album, “Lighting Bolt.” The absolute full-body commitment of Eddie Vedder as he sang the first verse was astounding. Here is a man, no longer in his twenty-something prime and notorious for downing large quantities of red wine while on tour, with muscles rippling and every cord standing at attention in his neck as if music is the life force that has reanimated his soul. The crowd was on their feet for the entire performance, singing along at full voice, which caused Vedder to beam with delight at the sheer veracity of the fans. He began to allow the audience to sing the chorus for him, encouraging everyone with a beckoning wave of his hand, and set the people into a near frenzy. The energy of the band increased to a level suited for an arena performance despite the confines of the small Ed Sullivan Theater sound stage and Vedder even graced the audience with an up-close and personal view when he mounted the seats and began to crowd surf over the elated fans.
The 2 minutes, 39 seconds the band performed was not long enough for the studio audience who immediately began chanting, “One more song!” as the band took their bows. After a few moments of conference with Colbert, the host bowed to the almighty power of Pearl Jam and allowed the band to ramp up the amps and treat everyone to a sing-along version of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Thankfully, the power of Vedder’s voice drowned out what could only be assumed to be the average vocal prowess of Colbert as he joined the band for their encore, but Pearl Jam fans were oblivious to the extra group member as they banged their heads and shouted the chorus joyously as their favorite musicians brought the evening to a close.
It was an unforgettable experience to bear witness to a true-blue rock band who has survived the grunge backlash of the late nineties and continues to rise again and again into the forefront of musical notoriety. Pearl Jam has never bothered to re-invent themselves because you don’t have to modify what is already phenomenal. And to see men in their, ahem, later years still performing flawlessly with an incendiary passion is a reminder that there are still bands out there who we should never break-up with because they are living rock legends with the hearts of poets. They will never do us wrong because they are just as good as the first time we ever heard them. And no matter where you fall on the PJ fan scale, be it casual or rabid, what a simple pleasure to unabashedly love a band that continues to love you back.
Article: Hannah Soule