Pearl Jam's McCready Rises Up In The Valley

Guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron star in fifth show of band's first North American tour in two years.

EAST TROY, Wis. -- The night began with a brief memorial to Stevie Ray

Vaughan.

It ended as a sort of rebirth for Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.

Early in the fifth concert of Pearl Jam's current North American tour Friday

night, lead singer Eddie Vedder noted that the venue -- Alpine Valley

Amphitheater -- was also the location of the last show by legendary blues

guitarist Vaughan in 1990. Minutes after Vaughan completed his performance at

Alpine Valley, he died in a helicopter crash.

But Vedder's recollection of that tragedy didn't undermine Pearl Jam's

performance.

In fact, it inspired it. In particular, it inspired McCready.

The guitarist led the popular, Seattle-spawned rock band through its set with

the help of touring drummer Matt Cameron, formerly of grunge-rockers

Soundgarden. Cameron, who took over for Jack Irons after he quit the tour a few

months ago, proved to be a powerful addition, pounding the skins with a graceful

enthusiasm.

Even though this long-awaited tour -- the band's first since 1996 -- just got

underway, it's clear that the addition of Cameron and the energetic guitar

playing of McCready have revitalized Pearl Jam. The short but representative

set, which included songs from every album and some unusual tracks such as "I

Got ID" from the Merkin Ball EP, held promise for fans anxiously awaiting

a chance to see the band over the next couple of months.

Even as Vedder's brief tribute to Vaughan faded into a blur of Pearl Jam's

impassioned rock, McCready appeared still possessed by the spirit of the late

guitar hero. Throughout the set, the lead guitarist launched into inspired,

fluid solos, his eyes transfixed skyward, as if summoning the spirit of Vaughan.

During staples of the band's repertoire such as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Pearl_Jam/Even_Flow.ram">"Even Flow"

(RealAudio excerpt), the guitarist extended the length of his solo while Vedder

and the rest of the band watched gleefully, like fans themselves. The song has

been played at almost every Pearl Jam concert since the band started touring,

but, on this night, McCready found a new direction for his solo.

The guitarist walked over to his amps and let the feedback flow past him and

into the enraptured crowd.

McCready's inspired playing enhanced the intensity of new tunes

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Pearl_Jam/Brain_Of_J.ram">"Brain Of J"

(RealAudio excerpt) and "Animal." Even the mellow "Black," from the Ten

album, ended with a crashing guitar solo by McCready.

The rest of the evening was marked by Vedder theatrically flailing his body to

the pounding drums and wailing guitars and gripping the microphone for dear life

during the ballads. The singer started off the set with a shimmy as the band

played a hard-charging version of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Pearl_Jam/Do_The_Evolution.ram">"Do The

Evolution" (RealAudio excerpt) from its latest album, Yield.

Vedder screamed out the chorus ("It's evolution, baby!") as Cameron showed off

his heavy style of drumming and bassist Jeff Ament anchored the arrangement.

Cameron added a hard edge to Pearl Jam's rock songs that has been missing since

PJ drummer Irons joined the band in 1995. During "Corduroy," Cameron sampled

every inch of his kit as he led the band in an extended jam.

Women squealed when Vedder glanced in their direction, and everyone seemed

linked to the beat, heads bobbing, arms waving, legs kicking. The crowd was

well-versed in the material from Yield and sang along to some of the more

obscure tracks from the album such as "In Hiding."

Rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard added to the jovial atmosphere as he took lead

vocals on "Mankind," from the No Code LP. Vedder stood to the side of the

stage and added high-pitched backup harmonies.

As McCready and Gossard dueled on twin Stratocasters, Vedder was content to play

a tambourine.

As for who won the musical duel, on this night, at least, it was obvious.

It was the guy looking up to the heavens.