Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pearl Jam @ Manchester Arena

Wednesday, 20 June 2012. I traveled from London to Manchester for the first time, for Pearl Jam's first show of 2012. The gig took place at Manchester Arena, more commonly known as the MEN Arena, as it was previously called. PJ last played there in '09. It's a huge venue. I was sitting at Section 112, not too far, not too close. The front half of the floor, filled with many Ten Club members, was already very packed early on. The opening band, X, came on punctually. They plowed through half an hour's worth of their back catalog. I enjoyed them immensely. It's a pity the crowd didn't go wild for them, which kinda sucked. I thought they deserved more respect. Maybe that's why Eddie Vedder didn't come out and do Devil Doll with the band, like he frequently did last November during the South American tour.
The signature Philip Glass tune, Metamorphosis, played over the PA as the lights went out. As soon as the opening riff of Release started, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I've always wanted to hear PJ open with this, and for a brief moment I fell into a dreamlike state. As expected, the crowd knew and sang along to every word. I was amazed how strong Eddie's voice was; I mean really really good, the best he's ever sounded in the past decade. The onslaught began with Do The Evolution, followed by several more crowd pleasers, all of which I've heard the first time I saw the band live. But unlike the Perth crowd in '09, this UK crowd were much more into the performances; almost everyone in the seats were standing up and rocking to them.
Eddie asked how everyone was doing, and he went on to say that he meant it in an individual sense, not as a collective. Funny, but heartfelt; don't think I've ever heard any frontman or singer say this before. After the awesome singalong in Small Town, the next song was introduced as being written by Jeff Ament, and there was Pilate. I mean, wow! What were the chances of getting that song twice in a row? Not a fan of it, and it was one of the very few songs that flew over most people's heads that night. Even Flow (Mike McCready on fire as always) and Unthought Known followed; again I've heard those before, and in my mind I was going 'give me something new!' Don't get me wrong, it was all good so far, I guess I was expecting something unexpected. And then came Nothing Man, and I was in stoke mode again. Another fantastic singalong. 1/2 Full and Insignificance, were considered deeper cuts, and I took in every second of it. Love it when Ed exclaims 'what the fuck?!' during 1/2 Full. After a brief improv Buzzcocks cover came my first 'holy shit' moment. I went crazy when Ed strummed the first notes of Immortality. But then he stopped before Matt Cameron could enter with the drums, and realized he had been playing the wrong guitar! Yes, it did sound kinda weird without the Fender Strat. So they took it from the top again and it sounded magnificent. The outtro to that was pure rock & roll bliss.
The main set was short, but the best was yet to come. Just Breathe opened the first encore, and it was goddamn beautiful as it could ever be. Ed stood and plucked this time (he used to sit a few tours ago). Then Stone Gossard strummed the first chords of Black and the crowd reaction wasn't as deafening as one would think; they sounded stunned if anything. Still, it was a great version that prompted another mass singalong. State Of Love And Trust had the floor back to bouncing up and down, and there was some mild moshing going on near the front, and the occasional body surfing. Arms Aloft was my second 'holy shit' moment. I've heard a few versions on bootleg but it was mindblowing to hear it live. Ed sang the hell outta that. He talked a bit about Joe Strummer and how he has been gone for quite a while now, but since we listen to his music all the time, it still seemed recent. He went on to talk about the recent tragedy where a Radiohead stage in Toronto collapsed and took the life of a crew member. When he mentioned how PJ and the crew were like family, he was being sincere about it; I could tell in his voice he was extremely grateful for the men and women who work behind the scenes to make the tour happen. Porch ended encore no.1, complete with the middle jam that seemed to never end. Great stuff. By the way, I'm glad Eddie's right hand is working well again.
The band came onstage to another tremendous roar. I knew Better Man would be played at this point. The crowd sang every word, and it was nice to hear Eddie sing along with us too (very often he just lets the audience take the first verse and chorus on their own). Come Back was a request and it was my highlight of the show. I've never heard Eddie sound this good before. And Mike, in his usual self, gave us another blistering solo. I was hoping Ed would pay some tribute to Adam Yauch, nevertheless I was thinking of him during Come Back. Third and final 'holy shit' moment was Jeremy. Doesn't get played as much as the other stuff from Ten, so what a treat it was to finally witness it in person. Played at breakneck speed, this was the show's best crowd participation. Alive might be one of PJ's most played songs, but it's one of those no one ever gets sick of. After Alive, the show could either end with Yellow Ledbetter or something else. During Rockin' In The Free World, the house lights came on. X's John Doe came out to provide background vocals. Eddie broke a few tambourines in the process. Ass-kicking ending to an ass-kicking show. Good vibes all around. Band chemistry was high throughout the night. On paper, it isn't the best of setlists (night 2 trumped night 1), but when you are there, it's a whole different thing altogether. I walked out of the venue a satisfied customer. After every time you see Pearl Jam, your love for the band just gets stronger.
1. Release
2. Do The Evolution
3. Corduroy
4. The Fixer
5. Given To Fly
6. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
7. Pilate
8. Even Flow
9. Unthought Known
10. Nothing Man
11. 1/2 Full
12. Insignificance
13. Why Can't I Touch It?
14. Immortality
15. Got Some
16. Why Go
(Encore 1)
17. Just Breathe
18. Black
19. State Of Love And Trust
20. Arms Aloft
21. Porch
(Encore 2)
22. Better Man / Save It For Later
23. Come Back
24. Jeremy
25. Alive
26. Rockin' In The Free World