Pearl Jam - LA Sports Arena - November 23, 2013
It had been nearly 22 years since Pearl Jam last played the LA Sports Arena. As the opening act on a tour headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers with support from Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, few seemed to care about what the Seattle quintet had to offer. Back then they were a budding outfit still trying to navigate its way through the murky waters of balancing a hit record (Ten) while garnering the respect of their snarling contemporaries who were jealous of their success. On their long road back to the not-so-hallowed, decrepit arena (which was referred to the band by, of all people, Bruce Springsteen), the quintet has done more than that.
With no opening act, the band culled through its 10-album catalog to give fans on the first of two nights a certifiable greatest hits package. There were a number of songs not so surprisingly included from the band's latest collection, Lightning Bolt, which got lukewarm critical reviews. Yet among the band's diehard fan base, it's been a hit. The album started off at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, and is the band's fifth No. 1 record overall. Though they've managed to keep a low profile press-wise, "Mind Your Manners" (aka "Spin The Black Circle" part 2) and the drawn out ballad "Sirens," their two singles, can be heard regularly on radio and wisely spliced in between commercial breaks during sporting events. Like with many Pearl Jam songs, some of the newer material translated much better in a live setting, but it's hard to imagine these songs will elevate to beloved or even cult status amongst the fan base.
Per usual, the center of attention was Eddie Vedder. When he wasn't berating an unruly crowdmember during the instrumental section of "Corduroy," he was gliding through the air Tarzan-style for "Porch" and dancing with a stray dude who somehow slipped past security on-stage during "Black." That's not even to mention the anti-Zimmerman quips he went into before a thunderous rendition of the band's breakthrough hit, "Jeremy." Needless to say, Vedder is an experienced veteran at this point who can handle all kinds of strange situations like this night presented.
Between the singer's booming baritone, the perpetually, almost criminally, underrated Mike McCready's soaring solos and Matt Cameron's steady, yet pulverizing drumming, the band sounds crisper than they did at their last area shows back in 2009. Hard to believe it's been four years, but in that time, Pearl Jam has honed their live show to the point where old classics like "State of Love and Trust," the groundshaking "Do The Evolution" and the fan favorite "Footsteps" are at home with rarities like "Leatherman," "Come Back" and the sparsely played "All or None" from 2002's Riot Act.
Intertwining and cultivating a set list based on the audience has become an art form for Vedder and though this was a mostly top heavy set, the band didn't play a good number of their biggest songs. Yet they didn't need to which is a testament their vast catalog.
When the lights came on for the final trio of "Alive," a cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and set closer "Indifference," the energy level was at the point where it wouldn't have surprised too many of Pearl Jam's rabid fans if they had another hour in them. But alas, there was still another night and entirely different set to be played. So for now, it would have to do.
Critical Bias: Pearl Jam could do a three-hour set of polka songs and I'd be cool with it.
The Crowd: Seeing celebs at an L.A. show is nothing new, but seeing the raw number that were drawn to the Sports Arena was something.
Random Notebook Dump: Shout out especially to Pau Gasol, who not only rolled in an hour late, but also was rocking Nike sweatpants and sneakers like he just came from practice. Add to that his patience with taking dozens of photos with excited fans, I wish I could be as cool as a dude who can show up to a Pearl Jam concert in sweatpants and be the most popular fella in the stands.
Set list below: