When Eddie Vedder joined Pearl Jam 20 years ago and the band released its debut "Ten," there was no guarantee how long the band would last or how well it would be received. But as evidenced by their great success since then, Eddie and his band mates proved that commitment pays off.
"I want to thank the kid me for not giving up this dream," Vedder said midway during day one of his band's 20th anniversary extravaganza at Alpine Valley Saturday.
Certainly Pearl Jam has done more than survive. While many grunge bands from the '90s have come to unfortunate ends, Pearl Jam hasn't been afraid to grow and try out new things – from its angst grunge rock beginnings to spiritually and self-discovery in latter years – all while creating a dedicated fan base. That said, Pearl Jam also doesn't abandon its roots entirely and thrives in the live setting.
Regardless of when you discovered the band, Pearl Jam's music has a timeless quality. I remember a decade or so ago when my brother helped introduce me to Pearl Jam. I remained a pretty casual fan until I saw the band open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 2006.
At that concert I learned Pearl Jam is always full of surprises and enjoys mixing hits and deep cuts in its set list night to night. Last night that was definitely true as the band dusted off some songs it might have not played in a while, as well as familiar crowd-pleasers like "Once" and "Do the Evolution." Songs spanned from "Ten" to the recent "Backspacer," providing a nice balance for those seeing the band for the first time and veterans.
Even though the day was plagued by rain, that didn't damper the band's spirits. It settled in at the Alpine Valley main stage early with everyone looking in great form. The crowd stretched up the hill and erupted in loud rumbles of clapping and cheering, and arms flailed wildly as the lights buzzed and flickered and the band rolled full speed.
During "Betterman" the crowd helped carry the song with frontman Vedder solo, escalating into the full band joining for a jam.
At the forefront of each Pearl Jam show is Vedder, who was the missing piece the band needed 20 years ago. The singer's uncanny ability to craft a variety of songs with his honest/humble/hurt sounding voice has aided Pearl's Jam ability to shift around.
A few songs or so into the set, Vedder brought out several guests, including Liam Finn, to perform "Who You Are." Finn would later join Vedder on vocals for the band's song "Education." According to press releases Vedder handpicked Finn for the celebration.
The night also featured The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, who traded off vocals with Vedder on the angry "Not For You. There were also pretty interesting pairings with of Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and thenewno2's Dhani Harrison helping shred some guitar.
The night's biggest surprise, though, came in the encore when Vedder, clearly excited, announced a very special guest ... Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. Cornell, taking over briefly on vocals, gave the crowd a glimpse of proto-Pearl Jam band Mother Love Bone with "Stardog Champion."
Afterward, he offered a song in tribute to MLB's lead singer Andrew Wood, who died prior to the band's debut release.
While some may have preferred more Pearl Jam with Vedder, Cornell provided an overall satisfying twist to the night.
Vedder returned triumphantly with a unhinged performance of The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me " in which he offered his best screeching howl.The band returned for a second encore of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" with the help of Mudhoney.
Rainy days not a problem
The threat of rain and storms loomed over most of the day Saturday but that didn't stop people from coming in large numbers. In fact, both side stages got pretty packed for most of the afternoon. For those who didn't want to get drenched, there was the pavilion where they could look at a Pearl Jam museum or sign a wall for the band.
As for the performers it would be tough to pick favorites as organizers – including Pearl Jam – did a really good job selecting bands and setting up the stages to minimize down time.
Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs was a great way to start off the day even in the soaking rain. She has a commanding and beautiful voice and, with her band, helped brighten the mood. The day's first surprise was when Pearl Jam's Mike McCready – Anna's biggest supporter – joined the band.
Thenewno2 is led by Dhani Harrison, who shouldn't hear any more son of the father talk after work with the thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy. He was able to masterfully mix guitar, keyboard and electronic sounds into a unique sound with his band. Liam Finn, David Garza, Joseph Arthur, Glen Hansard, Jason Lytle and John Doe offered a mix of full band and singer-songwriter, which along with the previous artists made for a fascinating afternoon.
Mudhoney's loud and brash rock and roll stormed the main stage and the band's influence on the grunge genre was clear. I think it would have been better suited to an indoor venue (as was the case with Queens of the Stone Age) but Mudhoney still played a good set.
Josh Homme has been pretty prolific in the past decade with several groups including Queens of the Stone Age thanks to his ability to craft his voice and guitar work into the perfect stoner rocker sound. With wild, desert sense and a bit a humor the band fired deep into its catalog with a pretty good set, really hitting its stride towards the end with the fist-pumping "No One Knows."
The Strokes' slick rock and roll brought a nice change of pace from the raw rock and roll the preceded it. The band stuck closely to its latest album, "Angles," which is a little more expansive then previous outings but seems to have won over some of the doubters. I would have liked to hear more past work, too.
Pearl Jam set list
2. Arms Aloft
3. Do The Evolution
4. Got Some
5. In My Tree
7. Who You Are ( with Joseph Arthur, Liam Finn, Glen Hansard on backing vocals and Glen Peterson on percussion)
8. Push Me, Pull Me
9. Setting Forth
10. Not For You (with Julian Casablancas)
11. In The Moonlight (with Josh Homme)
13. Help Help
15. Education (with Liam Finn)
17. State Of Love And Trust (with Dhani Harrison)
18. Betterman/Save It For Later
19. Wasted Reprise
20. Life Wasted
(For Mother Love Bone & Temple Of The Dog songs Chris Cornell sings lead. Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard sing background vocals. Liam Finn joins Ed and Glen on "Reach Down")
22. Stardog Champion (with Cornell)
23. Say Hello 2 Heaven (with Cornell)
24. Reach Down (with Cornell)
25. Hunger Strike (Vedder/Cornell duet)
26. Love, Reign O'er Me
28. Kick Out The Jams (with Mudhoney)