Pearl Jam has a history of playing Wisconsin’s open yet intimate outdoor gem, Alpine Valley. So it’s only appropriate they chose the venue for a two-day festival comprising their only U.S. dates to kick off the tour celebrating their first 20 years.
The last time I saw Pearl Jam in said venue was the first time I had ever seen them. A virgin experience for us all, it was the second year of Lollapalooza (when it was still a traveling show.) It was August 29, 1992—a day that marked the one-year anniversary of the group’s debut album, Ten.
Well into Pearl Jam’s nine-song, 50-minute set, frontman Eddie Vedder gave the cloud-gazing crowd something to pay attention to. Amid a ferocious jam on the backside of “Porch,” Vedder leapt into the crowd, scaled a huge amphitheater column and swung down into a pit of fans—only to reappear unscathed, wrapping the tune in just over ten minutes.
Also burned into my memory from ‘92 was a side-stage event where Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden) performed impromptu during Ice Cube’s main-stage time. A few hundred lucky friends and I were treated to some afternoon magic in a diminutive set that included “Hunger Strike,” a Vedder/Cornell duet from Temple of the Dog project album.
Twenty years later, the scene was familiar—just a bit more rain-soaked. The players were there, too. Just a bit more experienced.
Saturday night, under a sheath of blue light, a sharply silhouetted Pearl Jam opened their premier set of PJ20 with the final song from their debut, “Release.” It was an homage of sorts, for not only enduring the day’s rain but for riding the wave along with the band through every peak and valley of time gone by.
The opening would set the tone for a 28-song set pulsing with deep tracks, fair-weather favorites and album B-sides. Songs like “State of Love and Trust” and “Breathe” from 1992’s “Singles” soundtrack and the first live performance of “In the Moonlight,” as well as “Help Help,” a nugget from 2002 ‘s Riot Act.
But the night was hardly devoid of people pleasers. The band also played to the crowd with the likes of “Betterman,” “Not for You” and “Rearviewmirror”—the lone salute to the band’s college-radio-happy sophomore album Vs.
At key intersections of the night Vedder extolled years worth of thanks. Gratitude spilled out to Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Dhani Harrison of thenewno2, as well as John Doe and Liam Finn who had all played parts earlier in the day’s events.
Vedder also went on to thank someone else very special to him.
It’s hard to imagine, when you’re a kid, you think that music is the most powerful thing in the universe. Adults around you, being practical, say that ain’t gonna happen. Get a nice construction job,” Vedder said. “We didn’t listen. I want to thank the kid I was for hanging onto his passion.”
Throughout the evening Pearl Jam was accompanied on stage by friends from the Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age, but there was one more friend who audience diehards eagerly awaited. Throughout the evening rumors buzzed about a cryptic tweet from Pearl Jam compatriot and Soundgarden frontman Chris Corrnell: “Just landed in Chicago. Now what?”
The dropped clue soon manifested itself in the first encore, as Cornell joined PJ onstage in a quartet of songs. Aching cries, wailing guitars and sludging bass filled the evening air with a three-song tribute to departed lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood.
And in the fourth song, my own 20-year story came full circle as Vedder and Cornell together tied an end on the subset with “Huger Strike” from the Temple of the Dog project.
The group ended their encore with a left-hand jab, right-cross combo. First with Vedder taunting the heavens in a fiery rendition of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.” And then harkening back to their original Alpine Valley performance with the fan favorite, “Porch”.
The third and final encore began and ended with another tribute, “Kick Out the Jams,” an MC5 cover, during which Pearl Jam was joined on stage by longtime Seattle cohorts, Mudhoney.
With a smile, my mind drifts upon the two Pearl Jam shows I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, while at the same time I dream ahead to their return to Alpine Valley in a not too distant summer. See you at PJ40.
Pearl Jam Setlist from PJ20: September 3rd, 2011
2. “Arms Aloft” (Joe Strummer cover)
3. “Do the Evolution”
4. “Got Some”
5. “In My Tree”
7. “Who You Are”
8. “Push Me, Pull Me”
9. “Setting Forth”
10. “Not for You” (with Julian Casablancas)
11. “In the Moonlight” (with Josh Homme)
13. “Help Help”
15. “Education” (with Liam Finn)
17. “State of Love and Trust” (with Dhani Harrison)
19. “Wasted Reprise”
20. “Life Wasted”
22. “Stardog Champion” (Mother Love Bone cover with Chris Cornell lead vocal)
23. “Say Hello 2 Heaven’ (Temple of the Dog with Chris Cornell lead vocal)
24. “Reach Down” (Temple of the Dog/Cornell vocal)
25. “Hunger Strike” (Temple of the Dog/Chris Cornell + Eddie Vedder duet)
26. “Love, Reign O’er Me” (Who cover)
28. “Kick Out the Jams” (MC5 cover with Mudhoney)