Eddie Vedder did something he hadn’t done in his twenty-year career last Wednesday night and it had nothing to do with his diverse variation of setlists or wide range of guests he has played with in the past. Up until this point, neither Eddie nor Pearl Jam had ever played a show in Long Beach.
With a vast demographic of Pearl Jam faithful getting out of work early and making the trek from all over southern California, The Terrace Theater hosted something far different than the symphony crowd it’s used to. Even though the capacity crowd was capped at 3,000 people, bar lines backed up as the Pearl Jam faithful scrambled for a buzz to ease their nerves following Glen Hansard’s opening act. The loyal Ten Club fan base had no idea what to expect and where Eddie was going to go with the show, and a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation was collectively felt from the orchestra to the balcony.
As seats filled and everyone waited for Eddie’s emergence, Hansard owned the stage and was an unexpected treat to those unaware of his talents, and his cover of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks drew whistles and cheers that echoed and resonated for minutes. After his encore, the patience of everyone seemed to collectively dissipate as intermission dragged on. Then the curtain rose and Eddie emerged solo, like a grizzled veteran singing songs around a campfire. No one can replicate the feeling you get when Eddie takes the stage. It makes your skin sizzle.
Like Eddie frequently does, he opened by playing the meat of his new album, Ukulele Songs. After opening with Can’t Keep, he transitioned into Sleeping by Myself. You could smell heartbreak in the air, and anyone who has heard Ukulele Songs and pays attention to the lyrics of one of the greatest songwriters of our generation knows his latest album screams of love lost and times of emotional turmoil. Eddie attested to this in between songs and then proceeded to thank the audience for attending his first ever show in Long Beach. In recent years it seems he’s stopped his political preaching, and he played an intimate show based on emotion and feeds off the energy and awe of the die-hard crowd.
Eddie started to play Goodbye, another somber melody off of Ukulele songs but he forgot the chords. Instead of regrouping like he normally does, he admitted failure, laughed it off, and moved on to the next song. The crowd giggled with forgiveness and everyone anticipated hearing at least a few of their Pearl Jam favorites. Eddie sat on stage surrounded by instruments and there was nothing but pure beauty and admiration as he played his heart out. His voice has grown better with age, and years of smoking cigarettes and drinking seem to have only added to the soul and tone of a legend.
Eddie picked up a Stratocaster and began playing Brain Damage, a cover by Pink Floyd. Finally he cracked into the Pearl Jam catalogue and played Sometimes, a slow and deep PJ classic that suited this set perfectly. He slowed it down even further by playing I Am Mine and Thumbing My Way, both off of Riot Act and although the Pearl Jam song choices weren’t the best it’s impossible to sit through his set without getting the chills.
Next up is Unthought Known, and he screamed at the end of the first verse and hit an octave only he can when he wailed, “Let the sky blanket you- with gems and rhinestones!” The song lifts a crowd when Pearl Jam plays it live, and it’s amazing how he toned it down and transitions the energy into an acoustic dream. A string quartet then joined him on stage and he surprised everyone by playing Lukin, a short, angry Pearl Jam cut as his temporary counterparts struggled to keep up as Eddie beat his guitar to hell. He then pulled a complete 180 and plays Just Breathe, a slow and well-versed instant classic off of Backspacer, Pearl Jam’s last album.
After a brief break Eddie emerged for his encore and treated the crowd to Elderly Woman. The place erupted first into cheers, then into a sing along as everyone embraced one of the classics that has defined Pearl Jam for nearly two decades. Glen Hansard joined him on stage and Eddie puts down the guitar as they work together on Falling Slowly, one of Hansard’s best that helped to put him on the map. Eddie then rocked out solo and gave the crowd what they want. His voice boomed and his guitar synched as he played Porch, a crowd favorite and one of the best Pearl Jam songs of all time.
As Eddie left the stage once again, anyone who had seen Pearl Jam knew the show wasn’t over. He emerged, this time amidst a sea of fog and a new backdrop and played Big Hard Sun with Hansard. The lights on the venue turned on in a cheesy attempt to replicate sunlight, but Eddie more than made up for it in his last choice of the night. He mentioned there might be a special guest in the building, and Mike McCreedy enters from the side stage. Pearl Jam’s lead guitar player joins him and they embrace as band members and brothers. If there is one way to close a show, it’s with Yellow Ledbetter. They do not disappoint.
Not a single person left unsatisfied, but Pearl Jam brats could argue that sets from previous nights were better. Off He Goes, an obvious choice for an acoustic set was left out but hey- Eddie does what he wants. His catalog at this point is lengthy to say the least, and he picks and chooses what suits the moment. He played for well over two hours and represented everything that is true about music.
He’s someone who appreciates his fans and plays to them, and the music world would be a different place without him. His voice will never falter, and his songs will always inspire. And as I departed and hit the 405 freeway back to Santa Monica, a bit of sadness washed over me knowing that I won’t see him again until their twentieth anniversary show in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin over Labor Day Weekend. It’s only a couple months away, but it’ll seem like years. That’s what Eddie does to you- he always leaves you wanting more.
Post by Rory Maloney