With a crowd sprawling as far as the eye can see, you sense that Pearl Jam have drawn on the vast majority of the 80,000 strong Mad Cool festival crowd. Hell, that’s enough to make a show feel like its own principality. With a statesman-like poise and all present sharing in his vision, tonight Eddie Vedder is commander in chief.
It’s a marathon 24-song strong and a career-spanning set of alt-rock classics, but where many bands of a similar legacy may wonder into self-indulgence or a turgid cartoon rock casualty pantomime, Pearl Jam carry such a sense of occasion and unifying spirit that they’ve never felt more essential. The initial point of grunge in its punk revival was to kick against the pricks, and tonight we give them hell.
Opening with the soulful ‘Release’ from the seminal hymnal ‘Ten’, Pearl Jam immediately demand a religious fervour. While their are seven tracks from their landmark debut on the setlist tonight, the mood is never one of nostalgia. As Vedder humbly reads pigeon Spanish from a translated sheet and repeatedly calls for equality and defiance, tonight’s mood is very much about celebrating the best of the now. While the earth-scorching ‘Even Flow’ lands only like a game-changer can, the open-road arena rush of 2013’s ‘Lightning Bolt’ and howling defiance of recent single ‘Can’t Deny Me’ prove that Pearl Jam still have so much to give. The howling paranoia of ‘Do The Evolution’ comes off as a troubling premonition of the dystopian present, but Pearl Jam ultimately call for hope and unity rather than wallow in the loathing that you might associate with the alt-rock scene they arose from. Calling for safer spaces for people of all sexes, gender and races, Vedder is the frontman that 2018 needs, even if we don’t deserve him.
“You’ve proved them wrong, so fuck them,” says Vedder of the collective liberal mindset against all ring wing powers that feel a million miles away tonight. “This is the last breath of racism and sexism. Fuck them. Those fuckers are dying.”
We can only hope that’s true, this spirit shared in such volume makes it feel like a reality. The sense of togetherness during the closer of ‘Alive’ into their glorious rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ takes their show from a festival headline set to something altogether more profound. Tonight, it’s an honour to be a citizen of The Peoples’ Republic Of Pearl Jam, where freedom reigns.
Pearl Jam’s setlist was:
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Given to Fly
Mind Your Manners
Eruption (Van Halen cover)
Can’t Deny Me
Do the Evolution
State of Love and Trust
Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)