It was late summer 1991, I remember the buzz surrounding this new alternative band that all my friends were talking about called Pearl Jam. I grew up in small town Northern Ontario and the only radio station in town, although multi-genre, would never play anything by a band like Pearl Jam so I took a leap of faith and bought their debut album…Ten. I was hooked, I loved everything about it. The sound, the lyrics…everything it was, at the time anyway, groundbreaking. On Sunday night Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Dave Krusen took me and about 15,000 other fans on a trip down memory lane at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
The show started with the house lights still on and only midway through “Lightning Bolt” did the lights go out to reveal flashing lightning bolts on the back of the stage. From that moment on not a single seat was used in the arena for at least the next hour.
It wasn’t all pomp and circumstance for Pearl Jam, Vedder took to the stage wearing a shirt that said “Every Mother Counts”, in honour of Mother’s Day, and told the audience that Donald Trump running President, the fires in Alberta and Canada not having a team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs feels like the end of the world.
The energy and intensity with which Vedder can perform at 51 is unmatched. It came as no surprise that there were numerous short breaks in the nearly 3 hour set. It was cool hearing Vedder setup some of the songs and tie them to current events. At one point Vedder returned to the topic of the fires in Alberta, “We’ve been watching intently about what is going on down in Fort McMurray, down in Alberta and hopefully some of this weather coming might help with the situation.” he goes on to say that “unless you are suffering a real tragedy like those in Alberta and someone ask how you are you should say you are great. The next song is about realizing that sometimes things are actually good.” Which lead the band into “I Am Mine” followed by “Evenflow”
After the first encore break Vedder told the crowd, as I’m certain he says everywhere he plays, “I swear on my passport that this might be the best sounding building on the tour, and we are getting near the end.” He tells the crowd that it’s a special show as his brothers are in the audience “Do you know how many wrong notes those guys had to listen to while we were growing up?” Again leading into a song he told a story about a news story his brother may have misheard about a theft involving five million bees “On mother’s day I think this is what a great mom would tell her little girl. It is called “Bee Girl.””
After “Bee-Girl” the full band returned to the stage and performed “Speed of Sound”, a song Vedder said they haven’t been playing but felt the room sounded right so they decided to give it a try. A few more songs and then one final break after which the band closed out the night with an acoustic verse of U2’s “All I Want Is You”, “Wasted Reprise”, “Life Wasted”, “Black”, “Alive” (worth noting that this brought the already supercharged crowd to a whole new level, they sang along so loudly I’m certain Prime Minister Trudeau could hear them downtown) and finally Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up”.
I have to say, even though I didn’t follow Pearl Jam as closely after Ten, I was beyond thrilled that they sounded equally (if not even a little bit better) live than I could ever have imagined! What more can a music fan ask?
There’s still a few chances to catch Pearl Jam on their current tour although tickets to their remaining dates are hard to come by. Tomorrow the group sets up residence at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for two shows, May 10 and 12 (the original May 11 show had to be rescheduled to the 12th due to the Raptors’ postseason success).
Following Toronto Pearl Jam will take a short breather before regrouping to perform at a few festivals starting with Bonnaroo on June 11, then Telluride, CO for Ride Festival and then back to Canada for the Pemberton Music Festival in BC in mid-July.