Glendale, AZ — Pearl Jam’s concert at Gila River Arena, with support from Pluralone, has been in the making for some time. You could say it’s been since the original date in May of 2020 as part of the Gigaton Tour, however, for me this show has been overdue since December of 1991, when I got a copy of Ten. I fell in love with Pearl Jam, only for the chance to see them live evade me for nearly thirty years, living in my mind through their MTV Unplugged performance, playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young at the MTV Video Music Awards, various talk show appearances, and multiple live albums and videos from over the years. At the show, though, I met fans who were well into double and even triple digits for seeing the band. I was assured repeatedly that it would be an unforgettable evening.
Considering his status in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, it was surprising for the show to open with Eddie Vedder strolling out alone without any undue fanfare and simply introducing himself to the crowd with, “Hi, I’m Ed.”
Anyone who follows Pearl Jam’s setlists online for each tour stop would have been aware that he’s been doing this on the tour, treating the crowd, so far, to solo covers of Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While” during the tour opener in San Diego, and a double dose of Tom Petty with “I Won’t Back Down” on night 1 in Inglewood and “Wildflowers” on night two. For Arizona, he played his own “Far Behind” from the soundtrack he did for Into the Wild. Vedder’s voice is so powerful, so transcendent, that even for those who might not be familiar with his emotional score for the film were quickly enveloped in its beauty. As he wrapped up the song, he gave an introduction to the show’s opener Josh Klinghoffer, heaping praise on him.
“I’m really excited to be here, but I’m gonna play a song that doesn’t sound like I am”, Klinghoffer greeted the crowd, following Vedder’s introduction. Billed under his project Pluralone, the talented multi-instrumentalist filled the arena through a variety of instruments, even if he took moments to jokingly chastise some of the more complicated electric instruments for not working properly. Mid-set, he gave a shout out to one of Arizona’s greatest bands, asking, “How can I be in Phoenix, Arizona without paying homage to the Meat Puppets?!”, before launching into a cover of “Backwater” from their 1994 album Too High To Die.
Most are familiar with Klinghoffer for his time with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but if you are not already, it is well worth your time to check out the music he is making as Pluralone. The sounds he is able to produce solo would leave anyone believing they were listening to a full band if they only closed their eyes as they took it all in.
He closed out his set with a cover of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” noting that it was Victory Day in Russia. “I don’t know why they call it that since they’re the ones starting all the wars.”
He got the crowd to join in on the chorus and played around with the lyrics, even working in a tribute to the departed Taylor Hawkins with “Everybody talkin’ ‘bout Taylor Hawkins… Taylor Hawkins… man I miss Taylor Hawkins,” which elicited cheers from all corners of the arena. “This might be presumptuous of me, but I thought we’d just keep singing it until Pearl Jam comes out in 30 minutes. If you do, I’ll cover Jane’s Addition,” he jokingly offered before exiting the stage, leaving the crowd to solo acapella the final run through the chorus.
Every Pearl Jam show has a completely unique setlist. While a lot of bands are comfortable with having the same set night after night, with little variation, every Pearl Jam performance is completely fresh. This is why “Wash” was a shocker as a show opener. First appearing as a B-side on different editions of their first single “Alive,” it’s a darker song and not what you might expect from Pearl Jam, but it still crackled with an electricity, as the band performed bathed in a blue light. It was like a prayer cast from darkness and despair just hoping for salvation. As the song faded, they immediately launched into “Given to Fly” from Yield, which brought the few people who weren’t already standing to their feet.
After over 30 years, Pearl Jam is still anchored by founding members Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament, and hasn’t had any changes since Matt Cameron took over the drums on the band’s fifth album Yield. The touring band is filled out by Boom Gaspar, a Hawaiin native Vedder met through C.J. Ramone, and by Klinghoffer pulling double duty throughout the tour. Collectively, they are as tight a band as you are going to find in this or any generation.
“I don’t know how it feels out there, but it feels pretty good up here,” an enthusiastic Vedder told the crowd. Pearl Jam’s performance came almost exactly on the two year anniversary of when it was originally scheduled, in May of 2020 to support their 11th studio album Gigaton. “Good things come to those who wait. My good friend Tom Petty used to say the waiting was the hardest part,” he added. Pearl Jam never makes any stop on their tour feel like just another show for the band and throughout the night, Vedder launched into several monologues with the crowd that showed how Phoenix was a special stop for them.
One such moment came when Vedder told the story of Tom and Avis. In 1988, when Eddie Vedder wasn’t “Eddie Vedder the lead singer of Pearl Jam and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” but was just a young, directionless kid like any of us at that age, he was driving through Arizona on his way back to San Diego and his car broke down in Gila Bend. Stranded and with no money, he was taken in by an older couple named Tom and Avis who gave him a place to stay while his car was being repaired. Today any of us would be more than willing to let Eddie Vedder crash at our place for a day or two, but to take in a broke, stranded kid named Ed Vedder speaks to the inherent good we sometimes forgets still thrives in the world, even when everything else seems, at times, to be relentlessly awful.
The story of Tom and Avis was followed with a soulful rendition of “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and quickly followed by “Corduroy” and “Quick Escape,” the latter off of Gigaton, showing that the new work stands toe-to-toe with the band’s back-catalog classics.
“You have the freedom to fuck up and learn and grow from fucking up. If anyone tries to judge you for fucking up it’s probably because they’ve fucked up and are trying to divert attention form their fuck ups by making you feel bad for yours,” Vedder told the crowd; though attributing the words to Jeff Ament. They then dipped back into Ten, the band’s run through “Why Go,” which had the crowd air guitaring and shouting the lyrics into the rafters. Vedder shouted out the Arizona Coyotes for loaning the band their arena for the night and acknowledging Coyotes players Christian Fischer and Clayton Keller, who were at the show. He dedicated Gigaton’s “Superblood Wolfmoon” to them. “I figure Wolf is close enough to Coyote.”
All across social media prior to the show was an ADOT highway sign reading “Even Flow on the gas. Keep left to pass,” which amused the band. “Shoutout to the pot-smoking employee who made that sign. Life’s incredible, so keep eating those edibles,” Vedder laughed. The moment of amusement was followed by the band performing “Even Flow,” which featured Mike McCready doing an extended mid-song guitar solo behind his head in one of the most awe-inspiring moments of the night. Following “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” Vedder talked about the band’s friend, retired astronaut Scott Kelly. At Kelly’s request, the band played “Black,” arguably Pearl Jam’s greatest song.
Afterwards, Vedder talked about the band’s admiration for former state representative Gabby Gifford and her husband Senator Mark Kelly (twin brother of Scott Kelly). He then turned his attention to the recent Supreme Court decision on Roe V. Wade, punctuating his expression of frustration about the decision with a performance of “Daughter,” tagged with a rare performance of “W.M.A.,” (both from Vs), tweaking the lyrics to “Police shot my daughter again…” It was one of the night’s highlights. They followed it with “Porch,” which was the song the band closed their 1992 MTV Unplugged performance with and Vedder took a sharpie and wrote “Pro Choice” on his arm.
With the crowd riding the high wave of “Porch,” the band exited the stage briefly, returning with haste. “We’re having too much fun to be gone for too long!” Before playing the first song of the encore, Vedder put a spotlight, literally, on his niece who was at the show (missing her graduation from ASU to do so) and dedicated the No Code gem “Smile” to her.
“We lost so many wonderful people in the last few years, like my friend Tom Petty. We also recently lost Eddie Van Halen who was a friend.” This set up Mike McCready to show off exactly why he is one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, as he busted out a solo cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption.” Following “Do the Evolution,” Vedder told the story of a woman he had met who had lost her sister to COVID. With her in attendance, he dedicated a gorgeous rendition of “Better Man” to her. “This is for all the badass women out there and all the badass men who support them”, Vedder said as a set up to the band’s cover of Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Home.”
As “Leaving Home” faded out, they shifted into performing “Alive,” a song that seems to take on a special significance over the years as a reminder that even in the worst of times, to appreciate your continued survival. The crowd sing-along was the connective tissue of the night, bringing everyone together for a beautiful moment. In those moments, the personal, philosophical, political, religious, and whatever difference that tragically gets too much focus in our day-to-day existence vashined, as the chorus echoed from every corner of the arena and collectively rose to the heavens. If “Wash” started us in darkness and despair, then “Alive” pulled us out, refreshed, and renewed like a musical baptism.
As they closed out the night with the grace and beauty that is “Yellow Ledbetter,” the “Jeremy” B-side-turned-beloved-live-show-staple and bonafide Pearl Jam classic, we were each sent out into the cool desert evening knowing that even in the most dire of times, there are the Tom and Avis’s of the world passing along simple acts of kindness to a stranger and there is a good fight to be fought, because even the smallest of us is capable of so much more than we think. It was a night worth the two-year wait. It was a night worth my 30-year wait.
Pearl Jam Setlist from Phoenix 5-9-22:
- Wash (tour debut)
- Given to Fly
- Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
- Quick Escape
- Why Go
- Superblood Wolfmoon
- Alright (tour debut)
- Even Flow
- Dance of the Clairvoyants
- Black (with “We Belong Together” tag)
- I Got Id (tour debut)
- Red Mosquito (tour debut)
- Sleeping by Myself (Eddie Vedder song) (tour debut)
- Daughter (with “W.M.A.” tag)
- Smile (tour debut)
- Eruption (Van Halen cover) (tour debut)
- Do the Evolution
- Better Man (“Save It For Later” tease)
- Leaving Here (Eddie Holland cover) (tour debut)
- Yellow Ledbetter