Pearl Jam / Aug. 2, 2007 / Chicago (Vic Theatre)
Pearl Jam's never been a particularly radical band, but there is one thing that increasingly sets the group apart from its peers: they're one of the few American acts not just able to pack arenas butPearl Jam's never been a particularly radical band, but there is one thing that increasingly sets the group apart from its peers: they're one of the few American acts not just able to pack arenas but are comfortable doing so. In fact, it's safe to say that Pearl Jam is nearly unique in its tendency to perform proportional to the size of the crowd. Oftentimes the bigger the audience, the better the show.
The reason is simple and goes well beyond skill or the band's impressively diverse back catalog: Pearl Jam cares. It's one of the main reasons they built up and maintained one of the most loyal and dedicated fan bases in the world, a mutually reciprocal relationship the group never fails to acknowledge.
So while tens of thousands of fans readied themselves for Pearl Jam's Lollapalooza performance on Sunday, around 1300 or so of the most lucky fans got to catch the band playing a special warm up club show at the cozy Vic Theatre. And given that those on hand were among the most hardcore of the hardcore, Pearl Jam gave them a set brimming with rarely played songs and hardly a hit among them.
Eddie Vedder served as the night's opening act, his solo set typically modest in delivery. But, despite a somber shout-out to the West Memphis Three, it was also surprisingly jovial. The Evanston, Ill., native even debuted a song written for his beloved Cubs, a dedication that drew equal parts cheers and boos from supporters and White Sox fans, respectively.
Considering that aforementioned back catalog, Pearl Jam sets can go in almost any direction: angry, reflective, soft, loud, fast, slow. This night the group chose to dig deep. "Forgive us," mumbled Vedder about a third of the way in. "But most of these songs we decided to play about 4:30 this afternoon." But of course no one seemed to care when the band performed tracks like "In Hiding," "Low Light," "Sad" and "Rats," with less than obvious hooks and quirky arrangements.
Among the few set standards, Pearl Jam mostly stuck to ballads like "Off He Goes" and "Wishlist," though a midpoint turn toward rock evinced the likes of "World Wide Suicide" and an aggressively rearranged "Why Go." Then things, already a touch loose, got a little giddy, culminating in an encore performance of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" and, later, Kiss's "Black Diamond" (sung by drummer Matt Cameron) and the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," a longtime Pearl Jam cover favorite.
After one last brief pause, the band brought out friend and fan Ben Harper for "Indifference," sending everyone home on a mellow note. Maybe that's not what one necessarily expects from Pearl Jam. But maybe the set list hints at things to come, imminently, when the band takes a much bigger stage: all the hits and hard rock.
Here is Pearl Jam's set list:
"All or None"
"Off He Goes"
"Hard To Imagine"
"World Wide Suicide"
"Love Reign O'er Me"
"Indifference" (w/ Ben Harper)