When you walk out on stage and get a standing ovation from 10,000 people before you’ve even begun, it’s hard to imagine that not playing tricks with your mind. With an exceptionally reverent audience, sparse lighting (bar for arms-raised-in-a-v moments!) and for once a dearth of smart phones, the Three Arena presented an oddly intimate amphitheatre. As Vedder proceeded in a workman-like fashion that suggested he is still grounded enough to deal with the now unconditional adulation at his concerts, I got a pretty comprehensive answer as to why the faithful had parted with such an exorbitant fee.
The tragic passing of Vedder’s musical brother, Chris Cornell, loaded what would have already been an emotionally charged evening. Vedder spoke of his friend indirectly, and his response to the existential sentiment most of us encounter at some point in our lives, “What’s the fucking point”, was a sustained assault on apathy. Politics were on the agenda too, evident in the concert announcers request for everyone to not be a Trump and also as Vedder spoke about climate change.
The music as always spoke for itself. Vedder delivered intimate portraits such as ‘Elderly Woman behind the counter in a small town’, frenzied versions of Once and Lukin, a stunning rendition of Jeremy, a song once again very apt as vulnerable young minds across the globe continue to express themselves through violence, and an impromptu audience collaboration for black, once an arm wrestle was dealt with! ‘Society’ brought the house down and ‘Hide Your Love Away’ served as the rousing send-off.
There still is a freneticism to Vedder, he may not be climbing scaffolds but his guitar comes in for some serious treatment at times. The Pete Townsend windmill came out and Vedder seems very at home as a bonafide rock star. The guest thing wasn’t overdone either, there was some minimal backing at points and Red Limo Quartet provided plaintive accompaniment where required.
The demographic of the audience was striking, predominantly people in their thirties or older. The Vedder/Pearl Jam fan is now a particular musical beast and no longer a young one. Vedder was keen to stress Ireland’s connections with Seattle and spoke eloquently about there being something about music in cold coastal towns. He also stressed his own personal Irish Connections, his wife and what seems to be a considerable friendship with Glen Hansard. The ‘Auld Triangle’ went down pretty well in Dublin too.
One thing you are guaranteed, the songs will always be about something, there will always be substance, and they are delivered with the same energy and sincerity I’ve seen from Vedder at every Pearl Jam gig I’ve been to over the years. His voice is in great shape, the songs are still coming, and his guitar playing is now quite assured and accomplished. There seems to be an acceptance that deeply personal art must be allied to entertainment to some degree, he does work the crowd, and there is an effort to give the incidental pundit their money’s worth; the set is lengthy, unrelenting and there are multiple encores.
There is a hint of Bruce about Vedder these days, a comparison that would have once been odd to me, they have both delivered a stinging critique of the American dream with its ‘highways jammed with broken heroes’, there’s always something eating away at them. Vedder continues to dissect. He reports back to us from that edge and often from some very dark places; the reason Vedder commands a standing ovation before he has begun is he bears himself emotionally every time. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, whom Vedder attributed a different quote to during the gig: ‘I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the centre’.
If you’re in Cork tonight, you’re in for a rich experience, I’m not sure anyone is worth the guts of a hundred euro, but Vedder justified it more than most. The irony of having to fork out to Ticketmaster for a Vedder concert was not lost on the hardcore. We’re still holding out for change.
Mind yourselves and each other.