Words by Casey Carlson. Photos by Joe Lemke
I don’t think there was any member in the audience that expected Pearl Jam to be seated for their first five songs. It seemed out of place for the band, whos been known for their electrifying energy and stage presence, right from their first ever shows. Even guitarist Mike McCreedy, whos live energy is something incomparable from other bands, was glued to his chair, and at times, played unexpectedly quiet and calm as the band began their set – And their tour. St. Paul has become a hub for many bands to start their tours in recent years, bypassing the gap between us and the rocky mountains that can be a logistical headache during long tours by way of the west coast. Heading east from here is much easier, and perhaps why Pearl Jam kicked off their 2-night run here.
It almost seemed like fans were attending the band’s rehearsal. The band remained seated for “Buckle Up” “Sometimes” and “Wishlist”. Lighting racks moved up and down as if the crew was trying to find the right placement. the video screens finally turned on four songs in. Had frontman Eddie Vedder not mentioned the band’s rehearsals later on in the show (Mentioning the news of Hurricane Hillary, California earthquakes, and wildfire smoke from Canada as the band practiced in Seattle) you would have thought that the whole purpose for this show was meant for the band to find their footing in their songs again before they really hit the road. Then, the slow burn turned into an explosion during “Black”, when Mike McCreedy leaped off his wooden chair mid-guitar solo, kicking it back so hard that it collapsed and nearly flew offstage into his guitar tech. Vedder joined the excitement, standing with a large smile across his face, and twirled his microphone stand as the rest of the band followed suit. The band finally achieved liftoff, quite literally, during “Given to Fly.” It was the Pearl Jam fans were waiting for.
Vedder introduced “Seven O’Clock” as a song about activism, prompting people in the stadium to grab a beer, or stand in the merch line for the song. In fact, so many people began heading towards the door that it almost seemed like an act of protest, reminiscent of viral videos where students leave a classroom when a controversial speaker takes the stage. It served as a reminder that, despite the band’s long history of charity and activism, people don’t want to be told what to think by Pearl Jam. They just want to be back in their college dorm room listening to “Vs” again for the first time, or hanging on to every note of “Ten” on cassette in their older brother’s Chevy Corsica. Pearl Jam’s music and nostalgia seem to go hand in hand, with many of their fans entering a stage of their lives now that yearns for the 90’s. Everything was better then, even the music.
It’s also apparent by opener Deep Sea Diver’s lukewarm welcome. There’s a prevailing idea that once a person reaches 30, their musical tastes solidify, making it difficult for new music to break through, even with access to entire catalogs and playlists available online via Spotify and Apple Music. It’s a shame for this crowd, because Deep Sea Diver is fantastic. Frontwoman Jessica Dobson’s effect-ridden guitar shreds, and she, like McCready, ventured atop amps and monitors to rock out. But, they’re not Pearl Jam. And die hard fans may have felt slighted that an opening act took away from another hour of music that Pearl Jam could have had to give them, Even if later, the band did go over their 11:00 curfew.
Yet, Pearl Jam knows their audience, albiet a little too well. Following the mass exodus of the crowd during “Seven O Clock”, Vedder acknowledged former Minnesota Twins player Justin Morneau in the audience, dubbing him the greatest Twins player ever before launching into “Even Flow”, clearing the beer and merch lines as fans rushed to get back to their seats in time to jam out. One of their biggest songs following one of the fans least favorite? I see you, Eddie Vedder. I see you.
Vedder himself seemed oddly nostalgic during the performance. While charismatic, he seemed to struggle to find the right words during banter between songs, cracking jokes about singing in the shower while smoking a cigarette (of which he joked that the cigarette was a lie) and speaking about the band’s MTV unplugged performance following a european tour “That i have no memory of” he joked. References to California’s recent natural disasters, including a hurricane/earthquake combo, wildfires in Maui, where Vedder has spent time added a layer of mortality to the night. During the encore, he talked about how many musicians we lost since David Bowie died in 2016. He listed off many, including Tom Petty, Prince, Sinead O’Connor, Robbie Robertson, and oddly, Pee-Wee Herman, which somehow received the largest applause of the list – even over our Prince. He dedicated a cover of Petty’s “Wildflowers” to those musicians, as well as a fan’s sudden lost of their significant other that Vedder was made aware of.
Vedder could have left us on that note with no complaints. But it wouldn’t be like Pearl Jam to not play past curfew. It’s part of their charm, after all. The band turned away from the front of the stage and faced the fans in seats behind them during “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and “Go” Then, with the Xcel’s flood lights on, lighting up the entire arena in an attempt to signal that it’s time to get the fuck off the stage, McCready launched into the Hendrix-inspired guitar intro of “Yellow Ledbetter”, which ended the night following “Alive.”
Pearl Jam is one of a few bands that has survived the 90’s without being hokey or cliche about it (See: Slightly Stoopid, Hanson, Green Day) and is one of the even fewer bands that can fill an arena while embracing spontaneity without arrogance. “We have a lot of friends in this part of the country,” Vedder said following the encore. “We haven’t been here in far too long, and your support means a lot to us.” Hopefully that means that Pearl Jam will come back to us sooner than another ten years. But even if they dont, there’s plenty of fans here who love the band enough to find them on the road again. Pearl Jam has earned that loyalty tenfold.
Given to Fly
Mind Your Manners
Dance of the Clairvoyants
Love Boat Captain
State of Love and Trust
Wildflowers (Tom Petty cover)
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Crazy Mary (Victoria Williams cover)