Eddie Vedder – Wang Theater, Boston (6-16-11)

For a band to command an audience is a challenging task. For one man to do that alone is even tougher. And to do that in Boston, the night after the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, using only a ukulele seems like an impossibility. Yet Eddie Vedder was able to not just command, but captivate this crowd of rowdy Bostonians using a tiny four-string instrument.

The show began with the beautiful instrumental Waving Palms, which led directly into the pseudo-cover of Can’t Keep. (Pseudo because while the track was first released as a Pearl Jam song, Ed initially wrote it on the ukulele, making this almost like the prequel to the track released on “Riot Act.”) He continued with a few more “Ukelele Songs” tracks including Sleeping By Myself, Without You, More Than You Know (which was unbelievable), and Goodbye. Before playing Light Today, the last of the uke songs, Eddie introduced another ukulele that he’d be playing, to which the entire Boston crowd responded with a resounding “Youuuuuuuk!” Eddie jokingly replied “Did you know that I named this one Kevin?” and the proceeded to use the instrument as a bat, as he stood in a mock batting stance.

Following up the uke set, Eddie pulled out the white strat for the low rumblings of Dead Man after which he switched it up for his acoustic, and one of the most beautiful versions of Speed Of Sound that I’ve ever heard. Just Breathe, was dedicated “to all the great couples out there; you know who you are,” at which point Elana and I realized that this was our first show as husband and wife. Around The Bend was next, followed by a wonderfully stripped down acoustic I Am Mine.

Eddie followed up this short group of PJ songs with a story about a stranger he met named Yael whom he wanted to invite to the show, but she had too many graduation parties to go to that night. Eddie then congratulated all of the college grads out there, finishing up with “this is for another college graduate; I like what he did with his education. His name was Chris McCandless.” And so we were treated to Setting Forth/No Ceiling and Guaranteed. Following that, Eddie pulled out a mandolin to perform Rise as a birthday wish for his friend Billy. At the sight of the mandolin, the crowd started chanting “Youuuuuuuuk!” again, mistaking the small instrument for another ukulele, prompting Eddie to snap playfully “Did you say uke? This is a mandolin, you uncultured bastards.” Afterwards, Ed switched back to the guitar for the clap-inducing, energy builder Unthought Known which prompted a standing ovation and an “Ed-die!” chant which Eddie didn’t know if it would “allow me to sleep well, or not sleep at all.”

And then it happened. I’ve been to 11 Pearl Jam shows. This was my second Eddie Vedder show. But it wasn’t until last night that I was lucky enough to see Immortality performed. Without a backing band, the version was reminiscent of the one Eddie plays during a soundcheck in the rain in the “Immagine In Cornice” DVD. To me, this was perfect, as that version is what made me fall in love with this song. Written a few days after Kurt Cobain took his life, the solo performance exemplifies exactly what this song should be – a heartfelt ode to a friend who was taken from this world too soon.

On the tails of that, obviously still thinking about friends he had lost, Eddie introduced the next song as “A prayer for my friend Howard Zinn, whom I miss very much.” Now, if you’ve never heard Arc live, you can’t really understand what it’s like. I can explain the details: Eddie using a looping machine to separately loop each vocal line of the song until there are close to twenty versions of his voice all harmonizing with each other. But even if you hear the bootleg version, it doesn’t compare to the real thing, though I’ll try to explain it as best as I can here:

A man and a microphone. The lights go out onstage, so all you can make out is the faint outline of the man, who’s gently singing into his microphone. The same vocal line. Over and over, with slight variations. Piling voice and feeling and emotion on top of each other as they seem to rise higher and higher with each subsequent loop – not just in pitch, but the music seems to be rising upwards towards the domed ceiling of the theater. The man is no longer standing straight up, but he’s no almost halfway bent over, no longer singing gently but almost screaming into his microphone, his body twisting and writhing as he strains to put his entire self into each and every note. His prayer and his spirituality is laid bare for us all to see, a rare window into the true inner feelings of a man who misses the friends he’s lost. 

End set one.

The encore break lasted barely a minute, as Eddie quickly came back onstage, white strat in hand for his own personal Wishlist, which led into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s rambling Open All Night. Glen Hansard (the opener) was brought on for Sleepless Nights and Society, which were followed up by the unexpected Crazy Mary, a wonderful addition to the Eddie solo show setlist.

Following that, Eddie toasted the Bruins, for their Stanley Cup Championship win the night before, as he popped open a bottle of wine and poured some for those in the first few rows. He told a story about how a year earlier, when Pearl Jam played the TD Garden, the Bruins had just lost in the playoffs (after being up 3 games to none against the Flyers). And how after the show he went into the Bruins locker room, because he heard that a few of the players were at the show, and spoke to them. “So they kind of told the whole story, it was really really intense. And I was thinking a lot about it, and today, I was thinking if they hadn’t gone through that – this ain’t a hockey story, this is a life story, I’ll drink to that – but if you think about it, as brutal as that was last year, and as brutal as it was on the faces and the bodies and hearts of these men, if they hadn’t been through that, they might not have figured out how to do what they just did.”

With the good feelings both the wine and the story brought, Eddie sat back down for a rousing version of Porch which always sounds louder and heavier than one would imagine possible with one man and an acoustic guitar. Eddie quickly left the stage to grab a labcoat and Glen Hansard for the Yellow Ledbetter of the acoustic show – Hard Sun, during which most of the crowd surged towards the front of the theater, and security stopped caring about us taking pictures (hence why all of my shots are from that song).

All in all, it was a stunning show. Only the second show in the tour (“I always thought tickets should be cheaper for the first two show on a tour,” Eddie mentioned early in the show after making a mistake or two), Eddie was in unsurprising, yet impressive form. Though he didn’t play every song perfectly, and even had to spend a bit of time figuring out how to play one or two, he was still brilliant, and it was, as was expected, a beautiful evening of stories, great music, and wonderful times. That it was the first concert I’ve seen with my wife since we’ve become a married couple only made it more unbelievable. A wonderful night, and a fantastic start to summer.

One response to “Eddie Vedder – Wang Theater, Boston (6-16-11)

  1. Thanks for the review. What a great show! It was my first time seeing Ed solo, and I was so glad I made it. I’ve also seen PJ 10+ times, but never really appreciated EV’s musical talents until seeing this one.

    I was floored by some of the songs, including Immortality. It reminded me of the Immagine version too. In lieu of a full fledged solo, he did a sort of bridge, and while I can’t remember exactly how it went (why don’t they release boots for his solo shows??), I remember being astounded. That one and Dead Man were just fantastic. And of course, Arc.

    My wife was psyched to hear Wishlist and Crazy Mary. She had asked beforehand whether he might play CM (her fave PJ concert tune) and I said no way.

    I made sure to get there early for Glen Hansard, and was glad I did. He’s got such a soulful, Van Morrison thing going. Was also the perfect complement to Ed’s voice/guitar in the encores.

    Thanks again for the great review!!