EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- During Pearl Jam's mid-concert rendition of their
early hit "Even Flow" (RealAudio excerpt) at the Continental Airlines Arena in the
Meadowlands, lead singer Eddie Vedder thrust his crisscrossed wrists upward as if in
shackles as he belted out the words in his typically dramatic fashion.
The sacrificial image was apropos.
For many young rock fans, disenchanted with the current movement toward electronica
and hip-hop hybrids, grunge-era survivor Vedder is the closest thing they have to a rock
messiah. His performance at this first of three New York-area appearances Tuesday
offered nothing to alter this exalted view.
Screams of "Eddie, we love you!" -- mostly from men, mind you -- were heard
incessantly, beginning even before Pearl Jam hit the stage with the laid-back "Oceans,"
from their debut album, 1991's Ten.
Even the sparse decoration had a worshipful, religious look. Five tall candelabras
spanned the stage in front of a white backdrop, and no video screens -- used by most of
the arena's headliners -- were present.
Fans throughout the stadium stood, most on their chairs, in order to get a look at the
no-nonsense band -- particularly Vedder, who exuded seriousness with every
Dressed simply in black shirt and pants, Vedder achingly urged out the words to such
adrenaline-filled tunes as "Animal." "I'd rather be with an animal," he screeched in
anguish, shaking his head at his knees as Stone Gossard and Mike McCready
supported the vocal assault with their guitars.
Vedder kept his hands by his shoulders and curled his expressive fingers frantically as
his voice reached Robert Plant-like heights on the soaring "Given to Fly" (RealAudio excerpt). Pearl Jam performed the slow song deftly,
demonstrating why they've stayed at the top while many of their Seattle grunge
contemporaries have lost their luster.
During "Daughter," from 1993's Vs., Vedder transcended his musical origins even
further. He stood statue-like, his elbows out at an angle and his hands caressing the mic,
as he masterfully shaped the folk-like melody. Vedder brings an actor's intensity to his
singing that is most effective in the band's mid-tempo numbers.
The evening wasn't without its more light-hearted moments, though. "We just got the
news," Vedder told the audience at one point. "And we're gonna re-enact it." Vedder then
mock-hit a homer to honor St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, who had just
broken Yankee Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a single season.
"Congratulations, Mark," Vedder said earnestly as chants of "Eddie! Eddie!" drowned out
the music hero.
Vedder added "I wish I was as fortunate as New Jersey" to a sung list of things he hopes
for in the tune "Wishlist"
(RealAudio excerpt). He squeezed moisture out of his shirt as he screamed "We are
believers" during Yield's (1998) "Faithfull"
(RealAudio excerpt), as McCready literally bounced up and down off the stage.
McCready then dueled with bassist Jeff Ament to bring the song to its climax.
The slight but forceful Vedder assumed centerstage once again for what he termed the
"trilogy of man." It comprised three songs detailing an individual's battles with himself
and with those he loves: "Nothingman," which Vedder said was about "a guy who lost it
all"; "Better Man"; and "Leatherman" (RealAudio excerpt), his story about "a guy who kept it together."
"Eddie's so deep," said Kevin Brennan, 18, of Staten Island, N.Y. "[He] doesn't like to be
famous. I saw him at the Tibetan Freedom Concert [this year's benefit for a free Tibet,
held in Washington, D.C.], walking around playing cool. I said, 'Are you Eddie Vedder?'
and he said, 'no.' "
"The other grunge bands are like '80s music now, or into techno music," said Brennan's
friend, 17-year-old Bill Merrell. "We like to rock 'n' roll."
Pearl Jam continued to rock with "Black," during which Vedder played air guitar as
McCready's axe rang out across the huge stadium. The sonic attack McCready and
Gossard unleashed on Yield's "Do the Evolution" (RealAudio excerpt) set the stage afire as white lights circled around
the band and a big green one shone against the backdrop. The song ended in a burst of
gray as Vedder stood creepily with his hands raised upward.
In a flash, Pearl Jam were gone.
When they returned for encores, about 100 fans in the orchestra section held up signs
reading "Breath," asking for a Pearl Jam track off the Singles soundtrack. Vedder
responded, "That's pretty f---ing funny, but it ain't gonna do you any good. Next time we
come, in 2003, we'll learn [the song] for you."
Responding to another audience sign asking, "May I play drums with you?" Vedder said,
"Where were you six months ago? We have the best drummer in the whole world -- Matt
The band broke into "Go" as dizzying, static bursts of light pounded the audience, many
of whom were whirling their shirts around in the air. Pearl Jam played "Rearviewmirror"
as they stood silhouetted against the white backing, with Vedder, McCready and
Gossard offering a triple-guitar threat.
As McCready sounded the final notes of "Yellow Ledbetter" (RealAudio excerpt), the houselights went on.
But the words Vedder sang right before "Ledbetter," in a feverish version of perhaps
Pearl Jam's best-known song, "Alive," were what stuck with the fans heading for the
"Oh, oh, I'm still alive," Vedder insisted.
Amen to that.