Pearl Jam takes Buffalo ‘to church’

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Review by Joy Houle, Photos by  Jim Gilbert.

Buffalo’s First Niagara Center was buzzing on October 12th for what was a rare opportunity to experience the amazing energy that is Pearl Jam.

Fans were eager, despite a line of 20,000 and no opening band, they all filled their seats by the time the lights went down. The stage was artistically constructed to transform the arena venue to a more intimate atmosphere. The band came on stage under low lighting, and prepared their respective places. Eddie Vedder, on the other hand, intentionally looked around to take in the moment.  It was as if he wanted to see each of the thousands of faces in the arena. Was he giving the crowd a moment to enjoy the scene before the performance began? Or, was he soaking up the crowd’s love?  Either way, it was a pleasure to see a rock star appreciate the experience.

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As a Gen-X’er who “struck out on my own” when “Alive” was the rage, I gotta say I was a bit apprehensive about the new stuff. I mean, what could possibly top Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy? Then, the show opened with “Pendulum”, from their newest album, Lightning Bolt (released October 15th).Well, hearing the new stuff live for the first time at this show – I’m humbled to say, I’m sold.

The performance contained thirty songs, including two live debuts from the newest release; “My Father’s Son” and “Swallowed Whole”.  The entire performance was a well-balanced compilation of PJ history, ranging from 1992 to 2013. All songs portrayed and was played with the same energy — many offering a painful reminder that bad parenting has an incredible effect. Speaking of parenting, Vedder shared a bittersweet, heartbreak moment when he announced that his youngest daughter had scored her first soccer goal that day. “I hated to miss that,” he said. “But, you all make it worth it.” It was a powerful reminder that the people on stage, in order to entertain us, make heartbreaking sacrifices.

Pearl Jam still infects the audience with the same passion and energy they had in the ‘90s only with a more musically, and emotionally, mature sound. Vedder continues to show unabashed, raw emotion in his voice, which seems to have been the consistent draw and dominates the newest music.  Those at First Niagara all seemed to love it, and it reminded me, too, of why I fell in love with them twenty years ago.

JTG-PJ-Buffalo-5Things I loved:

1. The lighting: The light show was designed to show off the crowd regularly. The band WANTED to see all 20,000 of us — often. Their stage lighting was a virtual work of art, while also focusing on one as well. Rising and falling “lamps,” colored to impress a given mood, drew attention alternatively to the musicians and the awesome sculpture hanging over the band.

2. The sound:  What Pearl Jam is able to achieve with their music is what people seek from church. When twenty thousand people are — together — singing the same words, with the same conviction, at the same time – it’s an amazingly unifying experience.

3. The set list: Two-thirds of my song wish list was satisfied. I wanted “Rats”, “Rearview Mirror”, and “Breath”. I got the first two (which NEVER happens), and “State of Love & Trust” replaced my need for Breath. But, honestly, with a set list like this (below), who could be dissatisfied? Now that it’s over and done with the song I am most glad I heard was “I Got ID (SHIT)”, which was accompanied by a very short explanation, that involved Neil Young.

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My Downsides:

1. Eddie didn’t crowd surf.

Set List:

Pendulum, Low Light, Sometimes, Corduroy, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Do the Evolution, Immortality, My Father’s Son (live debut), Even Flow, Swallowed Whole (live debut), Sirens, Once, Comatose, I Got Id, Infallible, Present Tense, State of Love and Trust, Porch

Encore: Off He Goes, Yellow Moon, Future Days, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Rats, Got Some, Rearviewmirror

Encore 2: Go, Alive, Baba O’Riley, (The Who cover), Indifference

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