No matter how many times you’ve seen them, it’s hard to imagine how it will really feel until you’re soaked in their sound; palms shaking, pulse racing to match theirs, muscles coaxed into motion by Pearl Jam’s invigorating presence. Before last night’s performance in Boston, it wasn’t just Fenway Park flooded with jammers anticipating that rush, but the whole surrounding area, the balmy breeze carrying PJ hits blasted by local bars mixed with ecstatic pre-show conversation. You could curate an exhaustive museum of Pearl Jam tees using the night-one crowd’s attire alone: from tiny shirts that said “My First Pearl Jam Show” to threadbare collectibles from the nineties. It would be an intimidating swarm if everyone weren’t so genuine and caring – the types of strangers who are excited for you when the setlist veers into favorites or rarities – and Pearl Jam gave the Boston audience an awesome dose of both.
While the show started late and then seemed to fly by, their set was over thirty songs strong and peppered with nice surprises. Some of the most-discussed moments were “Army Reserve,” dedicated to the late John McCain and all military veterans, a gripping “I Am a Patriot” that surged in tempo after the first verse, a meaningful cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” a flawless “Tremor Christ,” PJ’s live debut of “Taillights Fade,” played with Buffalo Tom’s own Bill Janovitz, and a bone-rattling “Blood” at the end of the first encore – not to mention the unexpected “Out Of My Mind,” in its first appearance since 2009. The crowd also flipped for “Daughter,” which morphed into a mesmerizing “W.M.A.” and “It’s Ok,” as well as a special “Black” that had Vedder lyrically riffing and bursting into a tag of “Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones. Several recognizable figures could be seen rocking out in the audience, including Peter Gammons, Kenny Mayne, Kevin Youkilis, and actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin). There were even some lyrics Eddie personalized just for Boston – like “He made it out to Fenway” in “Given to Fly” and “I’m going to Fenway, I’ve got a spot at Fenway!” in “Lukin.”
PJ Boston Night One 2018 Setlist
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Mind Your Manners
Given to Fly
Amongst the Waves
Daughter (tags: “W.M.A.” and “It’s Ok”)
Do the Evolution
I Am a Patriot (Little Steven cover)
I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
State of Love and Trust
Black (tag: “Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones)
Taillights Fade (Buffalo Tom cover) (live debut by PJ)
Out of My Mind (first time live since 2009)
Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)
Note: “Life Wasted,” “Wasted Reprise,” “Better Man,” and “Sonic Reducer” were crossed out on the original setlist.
Of course, the songs they select are one thing; how they serve them up is something else entirely. Even the smallest details of Pearl Jam’s performance were engrossing last night. Ed’s voice soared from soothing to stormy and every color between, and whether he was on electric guitar or acoustic – or sprinting across the stage with a leap like it’s 1992 – his outpouring of pure love was more palpable than anything. Stone was all smiles, all night, and didn’t shy from the spotlight as the essential-Stoney grooves oozed from his fingertips – especially in his show-stopping solo during “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Jeff was a dynamic engine on his own, alternating between standard, fretless, and upright bass, and playing like a true extension of the drum set while locking right in with Boom – who triggered the traditional “BOOOOM” cheers with his cool flourishes on the keys. Matt was on fire with stick-splintering drum breaks and insane tempo control, as always, and Eddie even discussed how it felt to have him in the group. “Of all the bands in Seattle, two of the luckiest ones were this one and Soundgarden,” said Vedder, “‘cause they got to play with Mr. Matt Cameron.” All the while, Mike was taking us to other dimensions with his searing and nimble solos – several of which occurred with his guitar behind his head – and his sound was indescribably strong. It was more goosebump-inducing than a splash of cold water. McCready was more powerful than Superman.
Eerily, it’s worth noting that Vedder changed the lyrics, “This land is free” to “This land was free” during “Do the Evolution,” and delved into serious subject matter between songs. Movingly, he discussed the “fucking hot” environmental changes and reiterated the importance of voting (a longstanding Pearl Jam tradition), spoke about his friendship with Tom Petty – getting visibly choked up when the crowd sang along so passionately to “I Won’t Back Down” – and made a heartfelt dedication to U2’s Bono (who recently lost his voice on tour), among other unhurried interjections. In joyous moments interacting with their fans, Vedder pointed out a homemade “100th Show” flag with every prior date listed, and duly rewarded those holding a “Tambourine Here” sign decorated with a large target. Just as you would expect, the cheers at Fenway Park were so all-encompassing, it felt like the sound waves alone could lift the massive crowd right into the air. And for the entirety of Pearl Jam’s show, that was exactly how the music felt too.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley