Pearl Jam were one of the bands I struggled to get into when I was younger. As someone who wanted everything loud and heavy all of the time, their more measured and sensitive approach to rock fell largely on deaf ears. It wasn’t until my early 20s when things fell into place and they have had their hooks in me ever since.
On a human level they are perhaps the most relatable of their peers, and without a shadow of a doubt they are the people’s band. For further confirmation of this, you just have to look at the way the band holds court live in front of thousands of adoring fans.
Tonight’s show at Hyde Park is their second of a two night residency, which itself is part of the British Summer Time (BST Hyde Park) concert series. This was my first time seeing Pearl Jam, after wanting to see them for the better part of 20 years, to say expectations were high would be an understatement.
There is a tangible sense of electricity in the air as it nears stage time. The sun is high in the sky, the beers are flowing and everyone is waiting for the band of the hour to take the stage. The mere sight of the band walking out is enough to send the crowd into a frenzy, the sound that greets them is nothing short of rapturous.
As they launch into the opening notes of Corduroy, it becomes apparent very quickly tonight will be something special.Without missing a beat they follow up with Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, and Why Go generating the evening’s first mass singalongs within the opening few songs.
Tonight’s show proves to be an incredibly poignant evening both during the songs played, but also the words spoken in between. A raw rendition of Garden is followed up by an impassioned speech about gun control in America. Porch is dedicated to fallen friend Taylor Hawkins and his family, and River Cross is given an airing with a message of love sent out to the people of the Ukraine.
There are lighter moments peppered throughout as well. Eddie Vedder takes time at one point to acknowledge a young fan who is at his first show. There is also a playful moment where the crowd are asked to vote for either Faithfull or Whipping and they start cheering before being given the choices, which raises a chuckle.
Every time Vedder addresses tonight’s crowd it’s either with love and gratitude, showing a humble demeanour, or it’s to highlight a world changing event that is happening around us. It’s a mile away from the usual rock star banter you get at gigs, and lends further credence to Pearl Jam being a band of the people.
One of the things that is most striking about tonight’s performance, especially as someone experiencing their first Pearl Jam show, is just how much they still love playing music together. It’s very evident they are a vibe driven band, and they want the experience to be as fun for them as it is for the audience, while also not pandering to any audience at any one time. I have to respect any band that will go out and play whatever they are feeling without falling back on reliable hits.
It’s incredible to consider that Pearl Jam have amassed such a vast catalogue of songs, each with their own special significance that they can pull a crowd pleasing set out of the bag without breaking a sweat, while also leaving so many top tier songs on the cutting room floor.
There is a vigor and an energy to their performance, especially when playing songs that are over 30 years old, songs like Do the Evolution, State of Love and Trust and Animal are played with a passion and intensity as if they were written yesterday and this is the first time they have ever been played.
Black, the set’s heart wrenching centrepiece still hits with the same emotional weight as it has always done, and yes I did find myself with something in my eye during it. Alive reliably brings the entire crowd together for a huge mass singalong. It’s hard not to feel a huge rush of adrenaline belting out the words “Oh, I’m still alive yeah…” after everything the world has thrown at us over the years.
Tonight was an incredibly cathartic and at times overwhelming experience. Watching Pearl Jam peel out some of the most emotionally enriching and life changing music with such grace and humility. One look out over tonight’s vast crowd shows an entire world of people from all over the globe, all kinds of different ages and backgrounds, represented and united by a unifying and universal love of music. Tonight is a spellbinding shared experience and timely reminder of the power of music. I feel privileged to have witnessed such an occasion with my own eyes and ears and it’s a night I won’t soon forget. 10/10
Check out more photos from the night, captured by our photographer, Matt Higgs, in the live photo gallery below.
See even more photos from the night including sets from Imelda May, The Last Internationale, Stereophonics and Johnny Marr.