If you thought Pearl Jam was another one of those Seattle grunge bands best relegated to the 90s, then you don't know a thing about Pearl Jam. Not only have they grown and matured in the over 20 years since they blasted their way into mainstream music, but also they've consistently championed a version of 99%-style populism that's as in vogue in the age of Occupy as it was in the 90s.
Last week, Pearl Jam celebrated the release of their 10th studio album, Lightning Bolt, by dishing out a three-hour powerhouse set at Worcester, MA's DCU Center that was heavy on the Boston pride. Frontman Eddie Vedder was rocking a "Boston Strong" patch on his sleeve, and spent a good amount of time talking about his experience at Fenway Park for game two of the American League Championship Series. When he mentioned David Ortiz's 8th inning grand slam, the crowd cheered louder than they had for Pearl Jam all night. None of the band's members are from a city within a thousand miles of Boston, but their history of performing marathon concerts, fighting for affordable ticket prices and interacting with their audience has given Vedder and Co. the "Man of the People" credibility that ensured his Sox spiel didn't feel like pandering.
The stage production too was fairly unassuming. There was a series of large, lantern-like bulbs dangling from above the stage that rose and fell with the music. The band remained relatively stationary, seeming to lack the high-flying, stage diving antics for which they were once known. But just when it seemed time may have taken its toll on the band, Vedder reminded everyone of his scaffolding swinging routine from the "Even Flow" music video by dangling over the crowd on one of the lanterns like it was a tire swing. Taking Vedder's lead, the other members continued to ride the song's groove while knocking the heads of their instruments into the various bulbs, effectively creating a light show that didn't need a front of house operator.
Vedder brought the same easiness to his interactions with the crowd. The iconic frontman joked that fans sitting on the rafters behind the stage must be Modern Drummer subscribers. They had a great view of drummer Matt Cameron, but that was about it. When guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready dueled with bassist Jeff Ament, Vedder would walk to the back of the stage to show the fans in the back some love. The guitarists' virtuosic solos got a great deal of attention, but Matt Cameron's drumming kept the whole show together. As the one-time drummer for Soundgarden, Cameron joined Pearl Jam after Chris Cornell and his group disbanded. Now that Soundgarden is back on the road, both bands' tour schedules revolve around Cameron. In short, he just might be the most underappreciated rock drummer of our time.
Towards the end of the show, Vedder told the audience he'd just gotten word that Lightning Bolt had debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts in 52 different countries. Some of those countries may be experiencing unrest, but, based on the sales, much of the world agrees that Pearl Jam reigns supreme.