By Chris M. Junior
As the band that played the final four concerts at the old Spectrum in October 2009, Pearl Jam carries extra clout with its Philadelphia-area fans.
That appreciation is reciprocal, and throughout Pearl Jam’s Oct. 21 show at the Wells Fargo Center, singer Eddie Vedder acknowledged the band’s deep-rooted connection with the City of Brotherly Love.
Nine songs into Pearl Jam’s set, a smiling Vedder said, “Nice place you got here,” his reference to the now 17-year-old arena prompting cheers. Then he added, “F— it, let’s tear this one down, too.”
But Vedder was in no hurry to follow through on his tongue-in-cheek suggestion, proposing he and his bandmates do it “slowly” and “to make a long evening of it.” And they did just that, playing 30-plus songs over the course of nearly three hours.
The band’s early material has aged very well — it’s probably just as fine as the bottles of wine that Vedder occasionally took a swig from throughout the night — and the quintet’s onstage execution of it was energetic and explosive. Mike McCready’s long, ferocious guitar solo and Matt Cameron’s rigorous ride-cymbal work added extra swagger to “Even Flow.” McCready and bassist Jeff Ament did a few laps on their side of the stage during “Spin the Black Circle.” Stone Gossard didn’t take many solos, but he made his Neil Young-style, barbed-wire breaks count on “Not for You” and the Dead Boys classic “Sonic Reducer.”
Pearl Jam also worked in a handful of songs from its new album, “Lightning Bolt,” among them the raging “Mind Your Manners” (the latest proof that Cameron is the best drummer in Pearl Jam’s history) and the soothing “Sirens” (one of Vedder’s richest vocals and a truly great melody). There were other choice covers, too: Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary,” with McCready and touring keyboardist Boom Gaspar squaring off and trading lead lines, and The Ramones’ “I Believe in Miracles,” which was prompted by Vedder spotting fans behind the stage with a large “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign.
After an explosive “Rearviewmirror” (which was complemented by a cool backlighting effect, like a car’s headlights shining from behind), the band briefly left the stage, then returned for its first of two encore blocks. From his folding chair, cradling an acoustic guitar, Vedder turned to face the fans behind Cameron and shared another Philadelphia memory: There were more people sitting back there, Vedder said, than there were when Pearl Jam played Philly’s JC Dobbs club on July 12, 1991.
Vedder, like the thousands in the very vocal and enthusiastic Wells Fargo Center audience, didn’t stay seated for long. He mounted the monitors as he sang; with his electric guitar, he pulled off some Pete Townshend-style split-leg jumps. And by the end of the night, after shedding his button-down shirt to reveal a black T-shirt with the first name of fictional Philadelphia heavyweight champ Rocky Balboa, Vedder was swinging from one of the giant bug-zapper-looking lights that periodically descended from above the stage.
In the Wells Fargo Center rafters, there are banners acknowledging the total number of Philadelphia sellout concerts by Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. By Vedder’s count, Pearl Jam has played Philadelphia about 20 times, and as he pointed out during this concert, attendance was pretty sparse back in ’91. But Pearl Jam deserves its own banner — for having the distinction of closing out the Spectrum and also because Philadelphia continues to be a very welcome home away from home.