Pearl Jam Celebrates 23 Years at Wells Fargo Center in Philly
“Happy birthday to us!” With that, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder chugged from a champagne bottle and the band broke into “Alive,” song number 32 of an amazing 34 song set. One which included some old, some new and plenty of vintage Pearl Jam for a more than eager fan base.
Two shows in support of their latest disc Lightning Bolt rocked Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center earlier this week; the latter falling on October 22, twenty three years to the day that the band began their march towards rock’s elite status.
Opening up the evening on a mellower note with “Pendulum” and “Wash,” it didn’t take them long to get the already fever pitch crowd into the vortex that would become this monster three hour show. Vitalogy’s “Nothingman” was up next and the boys never looked back as they ripped into tune after well done tune. Even a hit such as “Corduroy” was only a mere springboard for what was to come as the place exploded only a few songs later when the opening distorted slide and the ensuing unmistakable riff of “Evenflow” split the brief darkness several songs later. This was one of the hottest and most tight live versions of this classic from their Ten record that I have ever heard.
The set was vintage Vedder, although on this evening, whether it was the wine or the champagne or the joyous occasion of a “birthday;” Eddie was in a seemingly happier place. Gone was the darkness that had at times seeped into some of the past tours, smiles crossed his face as he told some very funny anecdotes, one about a show in Jamaica and a rather large “cigarette” that he was handed on stage stands out in particular. “It was the end of the tour and this gentleman handed me the largest joint I’d ever seen. I mean it had his name, address, city, country, PO Box all written on it….” and as his voice trailed off and he smiled, there was no denying that this was surely a special night.
Just prior to ”World Wide Suicide,” Vedder acknowledged “Pete,” a member of our military, who on this night, was stationed to the side of the stage. In an area kept separate from the rest by yellow caution tape, Eddie thanked him and spoke of his service to our country, walked up the steps, shook his hand, a salute aJust prior to ”World Wide Suicide,” Vedder acknowledged “Pete,” a member of our military, who on this night, was stationed to the side of the stage. In an area kept separate from the rest by yellow caution tape, Eddie thanked him and spoke of his service to our country, walked up the steps, shook his hand, a salute and a bottle of wine were exchanged and then returned to the stage, leaving a now beaming serviceman to brief chants of USA, USA.
Citing several of their influences as “The Who, The Kinks, Zeppelin,” the third accompanied by a teaser of “Living Loving Maid” by Mike McCreedy, Vedder admitted to the Philly crowd something that all of them already knew. “When I think about the bands that have come through Philly, I mean bands like The Ramones, local guys like Springsteen ( as the crowd erupted into a long Bruuuuuce), we know that you guys here don’t give it up easy. That’s why we’re grateful for the relationship that we’ve forged with you.”
A rollicking version of another Vitalogy classic, “Better Man” rounded out this set of the first twenty offerings; they were however, nowhere near done. The “first set” was an hour and a half in length and a sweat drenched group was in need of a break.
Literally only a five minute pause later, the men from Seattle were back at it in what was deemed their “first encore.” While they briefly rested, their top notch road crew rearranged some chairs and brought out the “acoustic” set up; along with those chairs, stools were used to create a relaxed atmosphere as they kicked back and took a load off. Within seconds they launched into an approximately fifty minute, eight song set, that was once again interspersed with Vedder’s musings.
Now, slightly before 11 p.m. they walked off to thunderous applause only to make the still thirsty crowd wait seven minutes before they reemerged. An obviously pleased Vedder next announced to the capacity crowd that they were going to start the “second encore” by “playing a song for the people in the back.” Turning around to behind the stage, where there was an entire other drum kit and amplification, they replicated their hit cover tune, Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss.” Vedder could’ve put down his microphone as the crowd took over the lyrics from the start. Upon the song’s conclusion, Eddie took the time to thank the people who helped Pearl Jam along the way; the DJs who played their music. “I want to dedicate that last one to Nick and Pierre of WMMR and all of the great Philly radio personalities who have helped us by playing our records. Funny thing, if you call a radio station, you actually get a human and if you ask them, they may even play a song for you. Thanks to real live people, behind real live radio stations; we turned 23 today!” The mention of long time Philly radio personality Pierre Robert drew a huge response, causing Vedder to pause momentarily, only to say, “I remember when our first album reached number 5 on the charts, we were like, wow, ok that’s great and we really didn’t pay much attention…yet. Then it reached number 3 and we were like, ok maybe we should pay attention; oh yeah, then it hit number 1 (laughing) and that’s all thanks to radio people.”
Several songs later, the unmistakable opening of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” filled the arena and as if on cue, when the house lights came on, much like when they closed the Spectrum as the last act ever to perform in that legendary building; they kept on playing. One would be hard pressed to find anyone not singing along as Vedder ran about every bit of the stage throwing tambourines to the crowd.
Once the raucous audience noise faded, McCreedy hit the now famous opening notes of song number 34, “Yellow Ledbetter.” One of this writer’s personal favorites, not even the slip and fall of Vedder off of a stage monitor could dampen the mood of the evening. Eddie didn’t miss a note, despite the pained expression on his face as he pulled himself off the floor and equipment.
Just like that, exactly three hours after they started, Pearl Jam’s “Lightning Bolt Tour” had finished its stay in Philly. Like all good parties, this one came to an end; leaving one feeling tired, happy and wanting more….