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Live Review: Eddie Vedder in Long Beach, CA

Pearl Jam's formidable frontman brought his magic to the Terrace Theater in Long Beach July 7 for an unforgettable night.

 

Eddie Vedder did something he hadn’t done in his twenty-year career 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.

Hansard 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 (which we called a "long-awaited moonlit gem"). After opening with "Can’t Keep," he transitioned into "Sleeping by Myself". You can 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 attests to this in between songs and then proceeds 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 plays an intimate show based on emotion and feeds off the energy and awe of the die-hard crowd.

Eddie starts to play "Goodbye," another somber melody off of Ukulele Songs but he forgets the chords.  Instead of regrouping like he normally does, he admits failure, laughs it off, and moves on to the next song.  The crowd giggles with forgiveness and everyone anticipates hearing at least a few of their Pearl Jam favorites. Eddie sits on stage surrounded by instruments and there is nothing but pure beauty and admiration as he plays his heart out. His voice grows better with age, and years of smoking cigarettes and drinking seem to only add to the soul and tone of a legend.

Eddie picks up a Stratocaster and begins playing "Brain Damage," a cover by Pink Floyd. The crowd shows its appreciation and remarks from people carry in between silent moments as Eddie reacts and speaks to his followers. Finally he cracks into the Pearl Jam catalogue and plays "Sometimes," a slow and deep PJ classic that suits this set perfectly. He slows 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 aren’t the best it’s impossible to sit through this set without getting the chills.

Next up is "Unthought Known," and he screams at the end of the first verse and hits an octave only he can when he screams, “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 tones it down and transitions the energy into an acoustic dream.  A string quartet then joins him on stage and he surprises everyone by playing "Lukin," a short, angry Pearl Jam cut and as his temporary counterparts struggle to keep up Eddie beats his guitar to hell. He then pulls 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 emerges for his encore and treats the crowd to "Elderly Woman". The place erupts first into cheers, then into a sing along as everyone embraces one of the classics that has defined Pearl Jam for nearly two decades. Glen Hansard joins 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 rocks out solo and gives the crowd what they want. His voice booms and his guitar synchs as he plays "Porch," a crowd favorite and one of the best Pearl Jam songs of all time.

As Eddie leaves the stage once again, anyone who has seen Pearl Jam knows the show isn’t over. He emerges, this time amidst a sea of fog and a new backdrop and plays "Hard Sun" with Hansard. The lights on the venue turn on in a cheesy attempt to replicate sunlight, but Eddie more than makes up for it in his last choice of the night. He mentions 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 is 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 plays for well over two hours and represents 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 depart and hit the 405 freeway back to Santa Monica, a bit of sadness washes over me knowing that I won’t see him again until their "PJ20" 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.

Review by Rory Maloney