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In concert: Pearl Jam at Jiffy Lube Live

pearl jamPearl Jam turned in another reliably excellent show at Jiffy Lube Live Thursday night. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Chris Richards

A Pearl Jam concert is made up of two kinds of moments: Eddie Vedder breathing in, and Eddie Vedder breathing out.

When he inhales, you have the chance to hear a reliable American rock band chip away at its 20-year songbook, earnest and workmanlike. When he exhales, that band feels small and far away, dwarfed by whatever vowels happen to be exploding from Vedder's throat. At age 45, his lungs are thrilling twin turbines that refuse to grow old.

The man roared for more than two heroic hours on Thursday evening as Pearl Jam kicked off the summer concert season at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow - the mega-concert venue formerly known as Nissan Pavilion.

Vedder's performance reaffirmed the claim made by the band's most recent album, "Backspacer": that the Seattle statesmen are ready to seethe and snarl and stomp like it's the Clinton years all over again.

But first, Pearl Jam began the evening with what felt like a big group-hug: the strummy 1993 ballad "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town." The 25,000-plus audience began singing along almost instantly. When Vedder reached the song's apogee - "I just want to scream, 'Hello!' " - the house lights flared. It felt like a big finish, but Pearl Jam's sprawling 29-song set was just getting started.

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Warm fuzzies out of the way, the band barreled into a scorching "World Wide Suicide" and a lean "Got Some." Sporting picnic-tablecloth plaid, a leonine beard and a bramble of brown hair, Vedder gained momentum with each song, reaching full gale force with "Present Tense." When he unleashed the song's most walloping "whoa," fans threw their hands toward the sky, as if trying to grab the sound as it flew past.

The band was plenty kinetic onstage, too - Vedder and bassist Jeff Ament punctuated the big crescendos with leaping scissor kicks while guitarist Stone Gossard shook his hair like a wet dog.

Lead guitarist Mike McCready, however, was a major distraction. He often marched around in little circles, executed ill-timed jumping jacks and twirled his fingers in the air as if playing an entirely separate concert inside his head - only returning to earth in time for a gratuitous guitar solo.

Tellingly, one crucial player soaked up the least amount of spotlight - drummer Matt Cameron, who provided the rhythmic super-glue necessary to keep Gossard and McCready's intricate guitar riffs from floating off to Noodleville.

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Vedder's howl had a similar effect, and remained most effective when he wasn't even singing a word. Some examples:

"EEEEEGHHH-HREEE!" (in the coda of "Black")

"MMMMRRRGGGGH!" (in the refrain of "Even Flow")

"YREAH-EY-YREAH-HEE!" (in the intro of "The Fixer")

That last song stood out. In the band's two-decade trajectory, Pearl Jam has gone from angsty rumination about paternal strife to lashing out at the powers that be (first ticketing-behemoth Ticketmaster, later the Bush administration). Today, the band seems to have taken a new tack, embracing a bristling sense of optimism. "When something's lost," Vedder sang, "I wanna fight to get it back again." He sounded like a convincingly righteous do-gooder - and not one who's ready to give up without a fight.

The band brought out its best-loved songs during two extended encores. "Alive," "Spin the Black Circle," "Garden," "Why Go," "Better Man" - fans seemed more elated with each passing chorus.
As the clock struck 11, the group ripped through the Dead Boys classic "Sonic Reducer" - and on came the house lights. Time to wrap it up, gentlemen. They eked out requisite closer "Yellow Ledbetter," and McCready fell into a moment of Hendrix-worship, offering a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" on his Fender Stratocaster.

From a band that seems like it never wants to leave the stage, this might have been the only song that had no chance of being cut off.

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By David Malitz  |  May 14, 2010; 7:55 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Pearl Jam  
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Comments

I saw Pearl Jam a few years ago and they SUCKED...it was the biggest waste of money I had ever spent. Eddie sounded terrible...it was the first concert my husband had ever attended in his 25 years on this earth and it ruined his love of the band...Pearl Jam was so awful it made my husband not want to see any more live shows from other bands because he didn't want the "bubble to burst" and ruin his love for them like it did his love for Pearl Jam!!!

Posted by: BarbaraChesapeakeStreet | May 14, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Damn, missed it...

No "Just Breathe".....?

Posted by: davemichelle09 | May 14, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

no, they played Just Breathe in the first encore. Show was amazing. That's the only band I'll drag myself to that god-awful venue for.

Posted by: FlyersSuck | May 14, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The fact that the band named themeselves after a teenage euphemism for oral sex tells you everything you need to know.

Posted by: tbreen23 | May 14, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

@tbreen23

No they're named after a basketball player, Mookie Blaylock, whose nickname was Pearl Jam. The euphemism came from their name.

FWIW, McCready has behaved like that during their shows since the beginning. I remember noticing the circles that at a show in SF in 1993.

Posted by: SuperG5 | May 14, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

@tbreen23 and SuperG5:

Actually, you are both wrong. Mookie Blaylock was the original name of the band. They changed it to Pearl Jam because:

Ament and McCready explained that Ament came up with "pearl", and that the band later settled on "Pearl Jam" after attending a concert by Neil Young, in which he extended his songs as improvisations of 15–20 minutes in length, a practice known as jamming.[1] .

@tbreen23: I like Pearl Jam, not my favorite band, but a good one. Why dweebs like you seem to feel the need to hate on things you personally don't like is beyond me. If you think they suck so bad, why did you read and comment on the article?

Posted by: joemomma3 | May 14, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

actually - according to "Pearl Jam - Date, Place", they were asked to not use "Mookie Blaylock" by Mookie himself. Then Eddie was with family and his Aunt Pearl gave him some preserves and he shared them with the band. They loved the preserves, they played with names, they became "Pearl Jam". There it is.

Posted by: horizons00 | May 14, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

There is no real "canonical" story behind the name Pearl Jam. In various interviews over the years, Vedder has given different explanations from the band liking the two words to his aunt Pearl to the allusion to male ejaculate.

Most likely, I'll go with "they were throwing words around and those two sounded good together" but has no real significant meaning.

Posted by: mstrfly | May 14, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

These photographs from the concert are amazing. They very clearly show us the emotions of the band, and the color and focus are great. Kudos! Who's the photographer?

Posted by: ifanous | May 14, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Pearl Jam is aware that Jiffy Lube is a run-off of the Bush Oil Cartel?????????

Posted by: merf-1 | May 14, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

These are especially great photos from our freelancer Kyle Gustafson. He sent me 9 to choose from and I had to use every one in the post, they were all that good. Check out his photo site, lots of fantastic shots over there.

http://photokyle.com/photoblog/

Posted by: DavidMalitz | May 14, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Photos are by Kyle Gustafson.
http://photokyle.com/photoblog/

Posted by: Hemisphire | May 14, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Hmfph Last time I saw them a few years ago I was bored and wrote them off as having lost their edge. Saw them on SNL recently and fast forwarded through it.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

Posted by: theobserver4 | May 14, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I went last night and I thought they were great. Didn't know as many songs as I thought I would but I enjoyed it and the crowd was rocking out. I do wish they had played Corduroy though. It was also the fastest I've ever gotten out of Nissan's (Jiffy Lube, whatever) parking lot.

Posted by: sammyliz01 | May 14, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

That was an amazing gig last night. The only thing hindering it was the cold May weather. Band Of Horses was a great opener. Pearl Jam put together a great setlist packed with gems from Ten and heavy on songs from 1998's Yield. Alive, Sonic Reducer, and Yellow Ledbetter closed it out.

This gig was just as great as the 2006 Verizon Center show and much better than the 2008 one in the same venue. Even if Backspacer isn't what lots of hardcore fans expected, they still bring it in concert every time.

Some people just aren't satisfied unless its only radio hits all the time. Sad. 20 years into their career, McCready still bounces around like a maniac, Stone Gossard is as intense as ever, and the rhythm section still packs a punch. With one of the best lead singers around in Vedder, you can't ask for anything more.

Best. Band. Ever.

Posted by: will2099 | May 14, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I like to think I approach life with my glass half full. I took my 15 year old son to see his first rock concert last night and thoroughly enjoyed myself as did he. He's still thanking me. While I haven't been to a show in a large venue in a long time I consider myself a veteran rocker from the 80s and 90s. Our night ran smooth as silk and the band was top notch. Getting in and out of the venue was easy. The chilly weather to me was perfect. Eddy's voice was superb. Did I know every song? Certainly not but that took nothing away from a very good night.

Kudos to Kyle Gustafson (a fellow photog and one I liked to meet) for his excellent photos.

Posted by: dgphoto | May 14, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Its very clear from many of these comments that some folks don't know what they are talking about. At all.

This show last night was easily better than their last 3 performances here in DC. The previous 3 were all at the Verizon Center, and the sound there is just horrible.

While Jiffy Lube Live may be out of the way, the sound is SO much better out there, and at the end of the day, that's what really matters.

People who complain that they don't know many songs, may not understand what Pearl Jam does. They typically play anywhere from 25 to 30+ songs, and they play a mix of radio hits like Alive, Corduroy, Betterman, and mix them with deep cuts like Garden, Fatal, All Those Yesterdays, Tremor Christ, and In My Tree. I guess not everyone will know every song, but when you go to a PJ show, you get your fill of hits, classics, and new songs.

Last night, they seemed to focus on the new album Backspacer, Ten (their debut and most popular album), and Yield (underrated gem). All of their albums got represented as songs from Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Binaural, Riot Act, and Pearl Jam (Avocado) were all played, With very few bands that can capture and captivate audiences world wide, Pearl Jam is a rare treat in today's music scene. They're big enough to give you an excellent arena rock vibe, but so true to themselves and personable with the crowd, it almost feels like they're playing at the 9:30 Club.

If you've never seen Pearl Jam, or don't know much of their music, check them out next time they come to town.

If you new to them, or don't know where to start, try getting their greatest hits called 'Rearviewmirror' from 2003.

Recommended albums:

Ten, Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Backspacer.

Posted by: pcook52 | May 14, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I waited a long time to see that band. Tried many times during the mid 90's with no success.

They were certainly worth the wait. Incredible show last night.

Posted by: jboyle2 | May 14, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

As a person who knows most of their music I like the way they mix up the setlists. My favorite songs are Brain of J and Spin the Black Circle so I like hearing those live. I also like knowing that I am not going to hear the same setlist filled with hits every night like other bands.

Another reason they mix it up is so fans can buy multiple bootlegs to get different setlists instead of just one per tour.

Lastly to settle the Mookie Blaylock issue. The album Ten is named that because 10 is the number Mookie Blaylock wore when he played.

Posted by: bgpowelll | May 15, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

"I saw Pearl Jam a few years ago and they SUCKED...it was the biggest waste of money I had ever spent. Eddie sounded terrible...it was the first concert my husband had ever attended in his 25 years on this earth and it ruined his love of the band...Pearl Jam was so awful it made my husband not want to see any more live shows from other bands because he didn't want the "bubble to burst" and ruin his love for them like it did his love for Pearl Jam!!! "

This is one of the dumbest things I've ever read. Not that you didn't like a show, that I can see, but that one bad show completely ruined a band for your husband. What is he, three? Does he not understand the nature of live performances? That sometimes things can go bad, or not the way you'd like them too? That a guy who's been singing at the top of his lungs for something like the past 20 years of his life can have an off-night with his voice? And now he can't even listen to the band? Krikey. Tell that guy to grow up.

Posted by: grimesman | May 19, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

In the last review I read by the Post about Pearl Jam live (I think it was 2006 or 2008), Mike McCready was criticized for "noodling" during the Even Flow guitar solo. Now he's criticized for being a distraction and his body movements were in question. Huh? I thought this was a Rock Music concert, not a commentary on what was most visual appealing or unappealing. Your review was basically positive, and I agree with it because I was at the show. But your review lacked cohesive musical critique and technical details.

God I miss Richard Harrington.

Amy Maloney
Silver Spring, MD

Posted by: amymaloney1 | May 19, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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