It may be true that I can be prone to hyperbole. The latest album I’ve heard can instantly become the best album ever. Well, until I’ve really thought about it. The same with movies and burgers and gigs. But if I tell you that the 3 and a quarter hours I spent with Seattle’s finest knocked last year’s Springsteen gig off top spot, it’s not mere post-gig enthusiasm.
With Eddie Vedder giving us a solo acoustic version of ‘Porch’ before first support band, OFF!, and Mike McCready jamming with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the anticipation in the mighty impressive National Bowl in Milton Keynes was high. The band, as is their way, strolled on stage at 7.45 and cracked straight in. A subdued but sublime start saw them go through ‘Pendulum’, ‘Wash’, ‘Nothingman’ and an astounding version of ‘Black’. As McCready broke your heart with a stunning guitar solo, Eddie’s impassioned vocal tried valiantly to hold it together. And then, from that, the band seemed to drop a gear and just floor it. Out came a snarling, spitting version of ‘Go’. In all my years of gig-going, I’ve never seen a change of pace like it and the fluidity of the band to pull it off was jaw-dropping.
From there, the band launched through song after song, played with energy, skill and passion. I can sound twee, but they looked like they were having a blast. A group of mates who just o happen to be able to chuck out songs like ‘Save You’ and ‘Hail, Hail’. The pace slowed slightly for ‘Nothing As It Seems’, which apparently they hadn’t played for 14 years. This was followed by the sublime ‘Given To Fly’ and ‘Sirens’ which didn’t sound out-of-place at all among a set full of Pearl Jam classics. ‘Corduroy’ then gave way to ‘Even Flow’. Again, the passion and energy they put into the song, you wouldn’t believe they’ve been performing it for 20 years. When they closed the main set with ‘Rearviewmirror’ we were left wondering how they could possibly come back out and top what we had just seen.
The answer was, with subtlety. Fittingly, with a glorious full moon hanging in the sky, facing the stage, they came back out with ‘Yellow Moon’. This was followed by Simon Townsend joining Eddie for a version of ‘I’m The Answer’. After ‘Footsteps; and the Mother Love Bone one/two of ‘Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns’ we had an epic sing along version of ‘Better Man’. ‘Jeremy’, ‘Lukin’ and ‘Porch’ left us, again, agog as the band left the stage.
Coming back out for the second encore, with Dhani Harrison to do a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ we had gone past the 10.30 curfew. But there was still time for ‘Daughter’ and ‘Blood’ followed by ‘Alive’. Sung word for word by 65,000 people, it was incredible. Spine tingling and I’m getting goosebumps just now, remembering it. The band finished with Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ joined on stage by members of OFF!. It was a quite euphoric end to an unbelievable performance.