September 13, 2011

Pearl Jam Live 2011 Toronto - Why They're Still Great

It's a funny thing about those bands who've been around for twenty years. They tend to get a lot better - especially those who take what they do seriously. Pearl Jam is no exception. Their discography - which spans two decades - exhibits, if anything, a clear progression in both musicianship and creative process. 

Their music is thoughtful, diverse, and genuine. It translates from the studio to live settings the way all good music should: with a bombastic ease that hides all their hard work. Such was the case this past weekend in Toronto, when they took the stage at the Air Canada Centre

When your catalog of songs is as long as Pearl Jam's, it has to be nice to choose the ones you love and drop the ones you're a little tired of. Not sure if they'd admit to being tired of certain songs, but I can only imagine their sped up version of Daughter and their electric version of Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town were indicative of acknowledging the crowd favorites but wanting to move on as well.

What's interesting though, is how well those songs still translate. The stories they present, the concrete imagery - the sense of longing and awareness. It's remarkable. On stage, the songs carry that same weight, but there's an added context of nostalgia too. I don't think I've ever heard a louder crowd in my life, all the voices singing in unison for entire songs - remarkably on key. At one point Eddie Vedder casually compliments the crowd with "That's some good singing out there," - which, unlike comments from other front men, who pander to the crowd for the sake of noise, seems a sincere compliment. 

And you have to like Eddie Vedder as a front man. He doesn't spend a lot of time talking. A quick welcome at the beginning. The occasional quip here and there throughout the concert, and a heartfelt thank you at the end. It felt like the band was up there for the music. When Neil Young came on stage at the end of the concert, to jam with the band on his own song Rockin' in the Free World, the only person more elated than the frenzied fans was Mr. Vedder himself. How can you not admire that?

Of course, there was a bit of promotion too. With the Cameron Crowe directed PJ20 documentary (and and book and soundtrack) around the corner, they wanted to get the word out. But again, unlike say, Iron Maiden, who made their audience repeat the release date of their new album out loud several times during their concert in Vancouver, Vedder presented PJ20 as an opportunity for them to organize two decades of musical clutter and paraphernalia into a unified "it". A means to move on to the next two decades.  

The stage set-up seemed simple. Band equipment, lighting, the requisite microphone in the center of the stage. The sound was immense - even for a venue with such bouncy acoustics. McCready's solos were fantastic. Ament, Gossard, Cameron all doing their thing. It was simply a quality show by quality musicians.

It's great to love bands from when you were younger, but at some point nostalgia has to wear off. So, it's even better when those same bands progress through the years the same way you do. They get better, they change, they don't try to be who they were twenty years back. They're motivated by their experiences and by their music. Anything else would be disingenuous.


MightySally said...

Well said! I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and I'm looking forward to the next 20 years of PJ.

Lucy said...

Soooo, I'm a little late in reading this...but I have to agree...Well said. Although my experience isn't from coming from Toronto, the Vancouver concert was an experience I'll never forget - to see PJ perform live *faints*!!