The last time I saw Pearl Jam was at Hyde Park in 2010 and I did not enjoy the gig at all. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Pearl Jam, and it wasn’t really anything they did wrong, or their setlist. Admittedly the sound was more than a little quiet but the gig just passed with little fanfare and much disappointment.
Tonight in Manchester I was there to exorcise some demons. Of course I was nervous that it would be the final nail in the coffin of experiencing a band I’ve loved since their debut single. The mix of nerves and excitement was building quietly inside and by the time they arrived on stage at 8:45pm – like most of the 21,000 capacity crowd – I could hardly contain myself. Perhaps fitting then that they started with a version of ‘Release’ from Ten which was perfect in every way.
The acoustics in the M.E.N. were as good as they’ve ever been and only highlighted how strong Eddie’s voice was; after 20 years of albums and touring there is little to distinguish between the original recording and what I was hearing tonight. We were off to a good start, and it only got better! ‘Do The Evolution’ kicked things up a gear, followed by ‘Corduroy’ and then ‘The Fixer’ we quickly spanned the band’s career in four songs, all showing how consistent Pearl Jam have been in their songwriting.
Up next was ‘Given To Fly’ which holds special memory for me. In 2000 when I first saw the band in Glasgow there was a crowd collapse down the front of the stage after the first chorus of the song. It was the first time I’d ever fallen over in a crowd jumping around and generally going crazy. There were many people lying on the floor, and more than a few on top of me – it took a long time to get everybody up. If you listen to the Bootleg Series recording of that show you can hear the verse riff repeating and repeating as Eddie makes sure everybody is up off the ground before effortlessly continuing into the second verse. Ominously it was 27 days before the Roskilde tragedy when the same thing happened, killing nine.
Tonight ‘Given To Fly’ went without any incident and we were on to ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town’ with the signature “HELLOOO!” scream from the crowd at just the right moment. This was turning into an amazing night, everything falling into place and with it being the start of the European Tour, Pearl Jam clearly loving playing live for the first time in many months.
For the remainder of the main set we were treated to some outstanding tracks, ‘Nothingman’ and ‘Why Go’ sticking in my memory. It had passed so quickly and I couldn’t believe an hour and half and gone! Of course, this is Pearl Jam and they often play virtually as long in the encores. Tonight was no exception.
Returning to the stage with a beautiful version of ‘Just Breathe’ once again underlining how amazing the band have sounded all night, we were also treated to a Joe Strummer cover, the amazing ‘Black’, ‘State of Love and Trust’, and ‘Porch’. An early fan’s dream frankly. It was perhaps even more surprising that as part of their second encore Manchester were also given ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Alive’ from that same album! In all, seven songs from Ten were played tonight – and ‘State of Love and Trust’ which frankly should have been on Ten.
When ‘Alive’ finished they main arena lights came on and it was clear that it was goodnight. It was already 11:05pm (after curfew) but the band didn’t want to leave. So they started playing a blisteringly fast – though somehow still almost ten minute long – version of ‘Keep On Rocking In The Free World’. With all the lights on it made for a perfect ending watching the band, seeing all of the crowd ecstatic and a crowning moment to what proved to be two and a half hours of sheer joy!
A few thoughts which occurred to me during the show. Exactly ten days previous I saw Matt Cameron playing drums with Soundgarden at Download Festival as if that was where he truly belonged. Tonight he sat behind the drums and played as if this was his true home. Apparently three days after finishing the European Pearl Jam tour he rejoins Soundgarden; seriously amazing drummer.
The second thought was the amount of bald heads in the audience (those who know me will shout something about pots and kettles), the huge amount of old tour t-shirts and simply just how old some of the crowd are looking. Have I aged that much too? I was 16 when Ten came out, and went to Uni listening to Vs and Vitalogy, and it goes on. For so many like myself this band have clearly shared some of the most important points in our adult lives.
Tonight’s show felt like a sharing of emotions, a coming together of a joint history, a celebration of a band important to so many, and a band who gave back everything as if in acknowledgement.