As a self-identified Pearl Jam nerd I take a lot of flack from my more hipster friends. I like to think I still have my fingers and ears tuned to what’s considered hip and genre-shifting and challenging. But for me, sometimes I just need to hear good, gut-level rock n’ roll that is powerful, gritty, uplifting, and not at all concerned with having the proper tilt of a trucker’s hat.
Somewhere along the way, though, despite giving the finger to MTV, despite trying (and, yes, failing) to battle TicketMaster for the rights of the fan, despite consistently putting on one of the best, most raucous live shows, despite always putting their fans first, despite turning those same fans onto previously unheralded bands like Dead Moon or The Fastbacks, despite remaining shockingly consistent over nine albums, and despite establishing a new business model for releasing music (either through the own label or via their website), they have been deemed "uncool" by the hippest of the hip music websites. This is bogus of course. Give me even the weakest Pearl Jam record (that would be Riot Act) over the fey-moaning of Grizzly Bear or the electronic car crash of Animal Collective (except for "My Girls," which is an effing rad song) that you’d have to be absolutely stoned out of your gourd to truly enjoy.
The only BAD thing Pearl Jam ever did was spawn painfully bad imitators like Nickleback. It earns the band a free slug on the arm, not derision.
To the contrary, they should be celebrated. Because long after the hairy beast known as grunge has been slain, Pearl Jam still remains. And their latest album, Backspacer, (a 35-minute slice of punching and kicking punk songs and punk anthems) shows that even as they enter their 40s they’re still one of the best American bands around.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying, you either like Pearl Jam or you don’t. And if you don’t you’ve already stopped reading.
So I’ll just go ahead and get to the actual "local angle" of Pearl Jam’s stop near Portland on Saturday night at the Clark County Amphitheater. (Rightfully, in a show billed as a Portland stop that was actually taking place in Washington and with the band’s personalized concert posters featuring a rendering of the St. John’s Bridge, Eddie Vedder looked around early in the evening and asked, "Where the f—- are we?" Ridgefield he was told.)
Anyway, YES the show was awesome. YES they played a lot of new songs (which when they’re as good as "Got Some" or "The Fixer" or "Unthought Known" or "Amongst the Waves" this is NOT a problem). YES I absolutely lost my mind when they dug out some chill-inducing anthems like "In Hiding" and "Present Tense," and NO they didn’t play "Alive" or "Jeremy" (thank god) but still, not one ass hit the sit all night long. The entire crowd stood and sung along. For 2 and a half hours. It was like church … except with the smell of pot floating through the air.
The unquestionable moment of the evening though was during the first encore when Vedder brought out Portland’s own Corin Tucker, ex-Sleater Kinney shrieker (and my own personal crush object). With just him on guitar they lurched into a cover of John Doe’s "Golden State," a lovely give-and-take duet that frames love in the annoying way it effects each member of the couple ("You are the pain in my neck/You are something in my eye/etc."). The song had, at least according to the band’s well kept setlist database, never been played before, making the extreme rarity a treat. What made it even more special for the ladyfriend and I was the fact that the song had a starring role in our wedding DVD … so naturally when Vedder and Tucker launched in, there was much crying (from her, not me … as far as you know) and weird looks from our fellow concert-goers … we were the only ones singing along to every. Freaking. Word.