Music and message share center stage with Pearl Jam in Hartford
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s so much time put into following this band around, and in turn, so much time dedicated to music. Tickets are bought and travel arrangements are made and beers are had by strangers who become friends for the duration of the pre-show drinking and, finally, Pearl Jam goes on stage and blows the roof off the dump. And it’s all worth it because, when the band waves goodbye and everyone is floating out of the arena in a shared, delirious haze, nothing feels the same.
Pearl Jam was incredible Friday night at the XL Center in Hartford. The band came out with the lights cut on “Pendulum,” as they have most nights on this short tour, and proceeded to run through a 34-song set that wound through nearly every record in their catalog and leaned heavily on deep cuts and rarities.
More than a handful of rowdy tunes had this relic to 1970s hockey arena design rocking from its foundation. “Last Exit” and “Even Flow” had the floor and the side seats bouncing in the main set, while “Alive” and Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up” sent the place into a hysteria as the house lights were turned on to cap more than three hours of music that, save for a few scattered minutes to reset the stage and guitars, felt like a non-stop flight.
There were a few personal moments of frenzy that may or may not have remained internal. During “Immortality,” Eddie Vedder tacked on an extended introduction that I first heard on a bootleg cassette of their 1996 Berlin show 17 years ago, then heard again later on their 2006 DVD Immagine in Cornice. It’s just a little piece of music that doesn’t change the song’s trajectory, necessarily, but it’s a bit that sets a somber mood that I always found exhilarating. It doesn’t pop up often when they play the song, and they don’t play it that often anyway, but there it was, and I got to cross another moment off my seemingly never-ending checklist.
And there were some heavy points as well. After playing the combination of “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” Vedder mentioned that Andrew Wood, the late singer of Mother Love Bone, would have loved to have been in the building on this night. And before “Wasted Reprise,” Vedder launched into the serious topic of the 2012 Newtown shootings, how it effected him and how it felt to be in Connecticut for the first time since that day.
“We’ve been thinking about you,” Vedder said as Boom Gaspar softly played the organ behind him, “and haven’t stopped thinking about you that whole time until we got here tonight. Tonight I got to meet three great men — incredible fathers — of children who were lost, and it was such a powerful, um, … a very powerful moment to have a chance to communicate to somebody we had been thinking about so deeply. And to, to know that it’s okay, and not just okay but necessary, that we continue a discussion to figure out how to unravel the situation where something like that can happen, and make sure that the odds of it happening again are very slim.”
There were parts of the setlist that were dedicated to that feeling. After “Pendulum,” the band played “Long Road,” and a camera caught a Newtown ribbon on Vedder’s left sleeve (he also may have a sticker commemorating the event on his “ZINN” telecaster). “Immortality” and “Alone” popped up in the main set. “Come Back” was an audible added into the first encore. “Crown of Thorns” is a rarely played anthem in tribute to the fallen star of Pearl Jam’s predecessor. Music can be heavy, and they didn’t shy away from that.
But all these points of emotional heft were balanced with levity. After “Crown of Thorns,” the band played two arena-ready party anthems, letting Mike McCready shred on Van Halen’s “Eruption” before launching into that band’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” And after Vedder’s emotional monologue, the band turned “Wasted Reprise” into “Life Wasted,” a raucous rejection of apathy and sloth in favor of living every moment to the fullest and leaving something meaningful behind. It was a celebration of life.
And that feeling I get listening to this band in concert is what keeps me coming back. Beyond just the vague (though accurate) notion of “it’s the music, man,” it’s the simple fact that I love these songs more than most other songs, and I love the way this band plays them more than the way most other bands play their own stuff. I love the energy that they put into every night, how the setlist is never the same twice, how they can stretch songs out and flex but don’t fill entire chunks of shows with jamming. I love that the setting clearly carries importance, and wherever they happen to be playing, the band cares about that city and those fans. And I love how the fans give that back to the band.
From here, the band heads to Baltimore, while I’m already home, counting days and killing time with albums, DVDs and bootlegs until the next record and the next batch of shows, perhaps next year, or perhaps in three years. But the currency is in the moments and memories that these nights create. At that bar before the show, a few like-minded folks and I geeked out over setlists, those moments of personal connection and tangled gems from more than 23 years of Pearl Jam history. Our personal recollections of those pieces of musical alchemy always burning brightest in our retellings.
After grabbing a late dinner following the show, we dragged ourselves back to the hotel room a little after 1 a.m. and turned on the TV. It was on NBC, and Jimmy Fallon immediately announced Eddie Vedder as a guest in a previously taped spot. Before long, Pearl Jam was playing “Lightning Bolt” in the studio. The music keeps going.
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com