October 7, 2005

Better Men

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Somewhere during the endless rows of cornfields, a car packed with empty cans of Amp energy drink, half eaten ivy room sandwiches and unread CB notes, three Cornell transfer students crossed the New York state line into Pennsylvania. What lay behind us was a long, stressful week of prelims; what lay ahead was a magical night by a special band.

Pearl Jam had played various shows in the past few months, mostly in the northeast. This particular show was the last one on their tour. Before heading straight home, the band will be making a stop to play a benefit concert for the victims of hurricane Katrina in Chicago. They will be teaming up with legendary front man, Robert Plant.

Pearl Jam played a total of three sets, each lasting around and hour. What stood out as an audience member, was how calm and tranquil the band. Lead singer Eddie Vedder, who is notorious for his on stage antics, seemed to have changed from his old crowd surfing ways, into a more traditional lead singer. What the band lost in spontaneity they made up in sound. They never missed a beat, as each member battled against each other for the best solo performance of the night. Pearl Jam hit the stage at 8:30 and kept an upbeat tempo throughout the show. There was not a single available seat in the arena, as the audience seemed to anticipate a special show. They opened with a song called “Wash.”

In the first set they played a total of eighteen songs, highlighted by “Even Flow,” “Better Man” and “Once.” The difference between the studio version and live performances of these popular songs was very apparent. The band possessed a talent to jam together that could not be captured by any CD.

Guitarist played for countless minutes after the conclusion of “Better Man,”continually surprising the audience with his ability to play the guitar over his head, on the ground, and with one hand. The second set opened two acoustic songs, including a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” What has made this band particularly unique is their ability to cover other musicians’ music, but add their own style. The set ended with an eight minute long version of “Alive.” The most outstanding song of the second set was “Crazy Mary,” a lesser known song, but somehow the most memorable of the night. The song coasted through, but not before a technical error sent a few seconds of screeching feedback echoing through the arena (the only mistake in an otherwise flawless show). Eddie Vedder apologized by saying, “That sh** freaked me out, I don’t want to play that song anymore.” Luckily, after the rest of the band refused to stop, Vedder made the sign of the cross and continued. Slowly building from an acoustic ballad into what seemed like an endless organ / guitar jam, the song left thousands in the crowd either shaking their heads or frozen in their spots with jaws dropped. The set ended with a classic, “Alive,” from the nostalgic album Ten. After the song, the band left the stage to a crowd of wailing fans, only to cause more excitement – a third set.

This set was truly special, with cover songs such as “Last Kiss,” which Vedder dedicated and sung to the “behind the stage” crowd. The band made everybody in the audience feel like a part of the show. Famous for their Neil Young covers, Pearl Jam busted out “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.” During this song the house light were turned on and the whole arena of people were jumping on top of each other, arms flailing in the air. Sadly, the band had to depart. So Vedder said his rockstar good-byes and gave the microphone over to Mike McCready (lead guitarist) to address the crowd – only he didn’t speak. In an instant, he belted out the sweetest sounding version of “Yellow Ledbetter,” a song that never made it onto a proper studio album, but is hailed as one of their most diverse and best songs. To anyone with a day to spare between prelims, an E-bay account, and some extra money for gas, Pearl Jam is my best advice. This band will be around forever and with every year that goes by, they get better and better, man.

Archived article by Ryan Hughes
Sun Contributor