Inspired by Springsteen, Pearl Jam Rocks With Marathon-Length L.A. Show: Concert Review

Chris Godley
Veteran Seattle band makes triumphant return to venue 22 years later with lengthy, varied set.

The veteran band rocks, scolds (aggro crowd members) and cracks (George Zimmerman jokes) at the Sports Arena, where they last played 22 years ago.

Seven songs into their show Saturday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder revealed that a pal had suggested the band play the venue on their current tour. "Our friend Bruce Springsteen said [we] could get this place rockin'," Vedder said, "So far we've proven him right."

Springsteen and Vedder were both spot-on, as Pearl Jam did the Boss proud at the first of two shows at the venue with a varied, marathon-length three-hour set that combined crowd favorites with obscurities to prove that two decades into their career, Pearl Jam is still one of America's best bands.

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But the show wasn't without incident. In the middle of the fourth song of the night, the impassioned 1994 anthem "Corduroy," Vedder became visibly upset by the actions of an over-aggressive fan on the floor in the front of the stage. By the time the song was over, the singer ordered the house lights on and told the fan to "watch the show from someplace else," dropping a few F-bombs in the process. Rather than drag the show down, the confrontation only seemed to fuel Vedder and the band, who launched into the title track of their new album, Lightning Bolt, followed, appropriately enough by another new song, the raging "Mind Your Manners."

Yet even before the war of words, Pearl Jam -- which also includes guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron -- came out like a band with something to prove. They opened with a smoldering version of "Pendulum" from Lightning Bolt before nearly blowing the roof off the place with "Release" from their 1991 debut Ten.

Vedder reminisced at the start of the first encore that Pearl Jam had actually played the Sports Arena before, back in 1991 when the band supported the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Nirvana. He thanked each of the Chili Peppers by name, and their one-time drummer Jack Irons, who not only went on to do time with Pearl Jam, but was instrumental in the band's formation from the ashes of Mother Love Bone by passing Vedder a demo tape of the instrumentalists looking for a new singer.

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As Vedder joked earlier in the set, he can now jump higher than he did back when the band first played the Sports Arena. That may be up for debate, but there is no doubt that the singer and the band are still at the top of their game. On Saturday night they offered a mix of their trademark moody angst-ridden anthems, punk-like blasts and emotional ballads.

But it wasn't all hearts and unicorns. After a subdued segment during which the band performed seated on stools, Pearl Jam cranked it up again. Before launching into perhaps their best-known song, 1991's "Jeremy," the harrowing tale of a school shooting, Vedder joked that in the spirit of The Rolling Stones hiring the Hell's Angels, the band had considered hiring Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman to do security for their tour. After a smattering of boos from the crowd, Vedder explained that the rest of the band's security could keep their eyes on Zimmerman, so he couldn't do something stupid. He added that "we can add a few more gun laws on the books" and also expressed concern about mental health issues.

Later the band paid tribute to some of their musical heroes with guitarist McCready ripping through a note-for-note re-creation of Van Halen's "Eruption," a joyous cover of The Ramones' "I Believe in Miracles," and a celebratory lights-on take of The Who's "Baba O'Riley." Just prior to that song, the band ripped through "Alive," another Ten-era classic, proving more than 20 years later, Pearl Jam is still very much alive and we're all better for it.

Set List:

Long Road
Lightning Bolt
Mind Your Manners
Why Go
Do the Evolution
I Got Id
State of Love and Trust
Spin the Black Circle


Yellow Moon
All or None
Come Back
I Believe in Miracles
Given to Fly

Second Encore:

Unthought Known
Baba O'Riley

Twitter: @CraigRosen