Pearl Jam made its return to St. Louis after a six year absence by playing an energized set of old, new, obscure, and well-known songs that may stack up as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Band of Horses opened the night with their brand of alt-country/bluesy/rock that is obviously hard for me to categorize. I had only first heard of this group when they were announced as the opening band for this concert. After some research, I felt like I knew what I was in for. After soliciting advice from trusted council, it seems this band would sit well with the My Morning Jacket crowd. Band of Horses’ recordings are pretty good, and the band translates them really well live. Singer Ben Bridwell’s voice comes across as strong but smooth; confident yet grounded. The only problem I had with their set was the backdrop, which alternated between nature stills, rapidly changing pictures of the band playing live, and trippy sequences of more nature stills being twisted and distorted to match the music. I found it interesting but distracting. Perhaps that’s the band’s intention. Perhaps they are best observed live while on hallucinogenic drugs. Regardless, Band of Horses sounds great live and I’d see them again, if for no other reason than to hear more of their catalog.

But this show was about Pearl Jam, and as soon as the house lights went down the Scottrade Center crowd went berserk. They led off with “Sometimes,” a slower song from No Code that builds up a little steam at the end. But from there, as Eddie Vedder said while quoting Marvin Gaye, it was time to “…get it on.” They pounded out spectacular renditions of “Corduroy,” “All Night,” “Do The Evolution,” and “Why Go” before Vedder produced his trademark bottle of wine, took a swig, and addressed the crowd again: “Kansas City raised the bar pretty high (last night)…but we’re gonna be in good shape.”

If Pearl Jam has any of the brooding, grungy, angry-at-the-world stereotype left in its system, it certainly didn’t show on stage Tuesday night. Vedder was a madman, playing to both side crowds as well as the floor and bowl seats up the middle. He owned the venue. During the inevitable sing-alongs for “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Even Flow,” “Daughter,” “Jeremy,” and others, Vedder paused his singing at just the right times to let the crowd voices rise to the level of the music. Is this an “arena rock” band tactic? Maybe. But it was fun, and the band looked like they were genuinely enjoying themselves. Line of the night: While addressing a fan who had taken his shirt off to wave it around over his head, Vedder asked the crowd if he “smelled like teen spirit.” I thought, for a second, they were going to go into a cover of the Nirvana/catalyst for 90s rock classic, but they did not. I also thought Vedder was eyeing the crowd a couple times for a spot to make one of his trademark stage dives, but I think the 40s version of Eddie Vedder knows better than to attempt all of the craziness the 20s version could pull off.

The visual aspect of a Pearl Jam show might be best described as “delightfully minimalist.” They featured a benign backdrop of an old typewriter keyboard with the home row changed to the letters P-E-A-R-L-J-A-M that stayed the same (other than the lighting on or behind it) until the first encore. The stage lighting was simple yet appropriate to the mood of the song being played. But missing from the stage were lasers, video screens and jumbotrons, and overused smoke machines…unless you count Vedder’s occasional trips to the back of the stage to puff on a cigarette. Vedder even made his own light show during the solo of “1/2 Full” by reflecting the spotlight directly over his head into the crowd by bouncing it off his guitar. I have to say, while laser shows are cool, sometimes it’s nice to just be able to focus on the music, the band, and their interaction with the audience and each other. Pearl Jam masters this atmosphere.

Pearl Jam has released two studio albums since their last live appearance in St. Louis, 2006’s Pearl Jam and 2009’s Back Spacer. Both were well represented in this show, but that didn’t stop them from playing a number of somewhat surprising tracks from their 90s heyday. I was shocked to hear “Garden” from Ten, “Glorified G” from Vs., and “Pilate” from Yield. The band was tight musically, hitting all the right notes and adding an extended jam only where it seemed OK to do so. The crowd was even treated to a little bit of improvised blues by lead guitarist Mike McCready, after which Vedder commented it seemed appropriate “in the home of the St. Louis Blues.”

Honestly, though some of their albums could be considered better than their others, I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Pearl Jam record. I can sing along with “Jeremy” just as easily as I can with “Unthought Known.” But for those that only know the Pearl Jam radio hits, their live show will go a long way in convincing you to check out some of their lesser-known albums. This is the best rock band of the last 25 years, and they continue to nudge their way up the “of all time” list. Tuesday was the fourth time I’ve seen them, and the live show just seems to get better and better each time out. I attended with two buddies who had never seen Pearl Jam live, but had literally been to hundreds and hundreds of other concerts between them. They immediately ranked Tuesday’s show near the top of their respective lists.

Whether it’s this tour or the next, do not pass up a chance to catch Pearl Jam live.

photos by: Egan O'Keefe

Pearl Jam @ Scottrade Center - May 4th, 2010

All Night
Do the Evolution
Why Go
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
In Hiding
Even Flow
Unthought Known
Save You
Severed Hand
Not For You
Glorified G
½ Full
The Fixer

Encore 1
Inside Job
Just Breathe
Got Some

Encore 2
Baba O’Riley
Yellow Ledbetter

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# Scott
Wednesday, May 05, 2010 3:52 PM
I think the 2nd encore would have sufficed as an entire show for me. Long Live Pearl Jam
Trusted Council
# Trusted Council
Wednesday, May 05, 2010 8:18 PM
What a show!!! Great review, you pretty much nailed it. Band of Horses sound like they have great potential, but not quite ready for the big time. I hope to hear more from them in the future.

But Pearl Jam. Wow. Can't believe it took me almost 20 years to see them, but I'm glad I finally did. Eddie seemed at times to really be embracing the legacy of past arena-rock bandleaders such as Roger Daltry and even Jim Morrison, and enjoying every moment of it. Glad they are still around. Can't wait for the next one!
Anonymous User
# Anonymous User
Monday, February 11, 2013 3:12 PM

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