July 2, 2011
Eddie Vedder's stated goal in picking up the ukulele over a decade ago was to make that happy little instrument sound as sad as he was. And while there certainly was plenty of sorrow imbued in Vedder's songs Saturday night at the sold-out Orpheum Theater, his euphoric, 2-hour+ show was ultimately a celebratory, stirring affair for both artist and fan alike. Vedder used the performance (and his entire U.S. solo tour) as a communal cleansing process, clearing out the dark times that caused him to retreat to the tiny 4-string instrument in the first place, while connecting intimately with his adoring, energetic fans and celebrating the good things currently present in his life.
Glen Hansard (the Frames, Swell Season) opened the night with a rousing 35-minute set that both surprised anyone unfamiliar with his work coming in to the show and pleased his devout long-time fans. And who couldn't identify with Hansard's blunt introduction to a stellar version of "Leave" -- "This song is about when you just say, 'Fuck It.' (Much applause) Oh, you're there? Well, this song is for you." After the song, he went on with the narrative: "So, skip ahead a few months and you're with a great girl who thinks you're the greatest fucker in the world," before kicking in to an impassioned version of "Low Rising."
But Hansard's all-too-short set hit its peak with a fiery cover of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" that even included a brief snippet of the Pearl Jam favorite "Smile" tagged on to the end. It earned Hansard a well-deserved standing ovation, while his earnest performance certainly made him plenty of new fans in the process as well. And those that weren't converted certainly were to be later on in the show.
After a lengthy wait, the curtains finally parted for Vedder, who was making his first proper Minneapolis performance since Pearl Jam played the Target Center back in 1998 (save for a private Target gig with PJ a couple years back). The stage was setup like a comfortable, sparsely decorated living room, with Vedder's trusty suitcase opened in front of him and his old reel-to-reel at his side, while Ed was perched anxiously on a stool in the middle of a Persian rug given to him by Jeff Ament.
As with most Pearl Jam shows, it took a bit for Eddie to ease his way into the performance, slowly growing more comfortable on stage while tentatively forging a connection with the crowd. Beginning with a batch of numbers from his recent Ukulele Songs, Vedder (who drank from a tall glass filled with an unknown liquid throughout the show instead of his customary bottle of wine) worked to find his voice while flubbing quite a few lyrics at the start, errors which were even more pronounced since he was only supported by the delicate sounds of his trusty uke.
He even admonished himself midsong while covering the old standard "More Than You Know," emphatically telling himself to "stop fucking this up." It was an otherwise lovely version of the song, though, which Ed prefaced by saying: "This is an old-timey song for an old-timey theater. It sure is beautiful here at the Orpheum." It was the first of many statements that endeared Vedder even further to the proud Minnesota audience.
Vedder then opened up even further with the crowd, discussing the difference between SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) and FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition), and of the later he claimed: "I never really use the term, but I figured out I WAS that. Not tonight, or last night, I'm talking 10 years ago...If I had to do the work to make my heart beat, I'm not sure it would've happened." And that's the dark point in his life that caused him to first turn to the ukulele. He then played us one of the first songs he wrote on it, a tender, heartbreaking version of "Goodbye." But Vedder quickly continued on with his story after the sad song, happily proclaiming, "Then I met a girl..." before finishing off the ukulele portion of the show with an impassioned, hopeful rendition of "You're True."
The performance picked up considerably when Vedder grabbed an electric guitar for a haunting version of "Dead Man," which was augmented by a massive cityscape backdrop behind the stage. From there the set really took off, as both "Just Breathe" and "Off He Goes" resonated strongly with the die-hard PJ fans in the crowd. "Betterman" was significantly reworked, with Vedder changing both the tempo and the tone of the song, as if to reclaim it from the singalong it has become and make it his own again. And perhaps emboldened by how that experimental version of a classic was received by the crowd, Vedder asked, "is it all right to try an experiment here if you don't mind." Of course we didn't. A stellar acoustic guitar version of "Love Boat Captain" followed, which earned Vedder the first of many standing ovations he would receive throughout the night.
Vedder then brought Hansard out to a rousing ovation which caused them both to stop and soak it all in, moving Ed to exclaim to Glen: "Next time we tour together we could just do a small one, nothing too exhausting. We could just do three weeks in Minnesota." The crowd rose back to their feet, and the duo responded with a stellar version of "Long Nights," from the Into The Wild soundtrack, which Vedder dedicated to both Sean Penn and Bill Pohlad, who helped produced the film and was in attendance.
Vedder set off on a few more Into The Wild tracks (which featured a change in the backdrop to an industrial storage facility), with "Setting Forth," "Far Behind" and "Guaranteed" all soaring in the intimate theater. The crowd was pretty respectful throughout the show, but the between song screaming and banter from the audience was starting to wear a bit on Vedder. He eventually responded to someone making a crack about Penn by vehemently proclaiming, "I'm going to take charge again and just tell you to fuck off right now," which was met with a loud ovation and helped keep the crowd in check for the rest of the show.
That's not to say that the crowd went quiet by any means, which was made quite clear on a jubilant singalong on the Beatles classic, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away." That energy continued on a rousing rendition of "Unthought Known," which just grew in intensity as it swelled to a fitful close. After those exultant highs, the main set closed on a comparatively somber note, with the mournful "The End," followed by Vedder shrouded in darkness delivering his looped, Sufi-like prayer piece, "Arc," which was a stunning and poignant way to finish the initial portion of the show. Vedder shook hands with some fans as the curtain closed, and his invocation played on behind him as he eventually left the stage.
The melancholy tone continued on the first song of the encore, as Vedder dedicated a stirring, electric rendition of "Long Road" to crew member Sarah Seller, whose grandmother just passed away. This song never fails to make me think of my own family members I've lost myself along the way, and on this evening it especially hit home to me and everyone else in the theater, and was one of the clear standouts of the set.
But an energetic version of "Wishlist" picked the spirits up of everyone in the crowd, as did a moving version of the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris classic, "Sleepless Nights," which featured Hansard joining Vedder on vocals. The backdrop had changed again to a serene image of a pup tent, which only made the songs Vedder and Hansard sang together seem more like an intimate campfire singalong. Their easy rapport only amplified the beauty of "Society," but it was their glorious duet on the Oscar winning Swell Season number, "Falling Slowly" that really stole the show. The crowd roared whenever they reached the explosive chorus, only adding to the fervor both singers were bringing to the song. It was a memorable, moving moment on a night that featured plenty of them.
Leave it to Ed to somehow be able to follow that stirring number with an equally emphatic (and quite fitting) solo cover of the X classic, "4th Of July." It was awesome. Vedder easily kept the momentum going with a rousing, boisterous version of "Porch" which got the capacity crowd to its feet once more, loudly singing along to a song we've all commited to memory. Vedder again shook hands with fans while the booming ovation rang in the theater, eventually leaving the stage once more as the curtains closed behind him.
But Vedder wasn't done just yet, as the curtain opened to reveal a sunny ocean backdrop and Ed and Glen both dressed in white lab coats (as the sound guys were throughout the set). The crowd roared their approval, again causing the two of them to have to stop and take in the splendor of the moment. That sense of warmth injected their duet of "Hard Sun" with a joyous spirit that touched everyone in the theater, causing a lengthy singalong that Vedder didn't want to see come to an end, gesturing for countless run-throughs of the emphatic chorus.
When the song finally did draw to a close and the cheering didn't stop, Eddie took to the mic to sincerely thank all of us for our continued support: "If you could only see what I've been looking at for the last few minutes...it's really beautiful. Thank you." And with that, he serenaded us one last time on his faithful ukulele with the lovely lullaby "Dream A Little Dream," which closed the night on a sweet, simple note, with Vedder offering an affectionate appreciation for us as we have always shown towards him.
Critic's Bias: I first saw Pearl Jam at a free show at Marquette University in 1992. They have remained one of my favorite bands ever since.
The Crowd: Full of PJ diehards thrilled to see Ed in such an intimate venue.
Overheard In The Crowd: Lots of "Eddieeeee!!!" and "I love you Eddie," which grew tiresome and annoying, but thankfully it eventually subsided as the show went on.
Random Notebook Dump: Apparently "Immortality" was on the setlist but sadly went unplayed. I would have loved to have heard that song, as it is easily one of my favorite PJ tracks, but I can't really complain at all about such a great show.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Jon Behm.
Glen Hansard's Setlist:
Pennies In The Fountain
Seven Day Mile
You Will Become
Love Don't Leave Me Waiting
Astral Weeks (Van Morrison)
Song Of Good Hope
Eddie Vedder's Setlist:
Sleeping By Myself
More Than You Know (Standard)
Off He Goes
Love Boat Captain
Long Nights (w/Glen Hansard)
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (The Beatles)
Sleepless Nights (Duet w/Glen Hansard)(Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris)
Society (Duet w/Glen Hansard)(Jerry Hannan)
Falling Slowly (Duet w/Glen Hansard on guitar)(Swell Season)
4th Of July (X)
Hard Sun w/Glen Hansard (Gordon Peterson)
Dream A Little Dream (Standard)