Show Review

Brian Ahnmark
Pearl Jam rocked Nationwide Arena on May 6 – the National Day of Prayer, as duly noted by frontman Eddie Vedder during some between-song banter.

“We were thinking we should apply to the government to have our band recognized as an official religion,” Vedder said. Well into a bottle of wine at that point, he no doubt intended the comment to be taken tongue-in-cheek. But don't bother trying to tell that to the Pearl Jam faithful in attendance, who roared their allegiance in response.

At this point in their illustrious career, it would actually be an appropriate honor to deify the band. Pearl Jam is more than the sole survivor of the early-90s sea change in popular music. They have harnessed the most elusive and rapidly vanishing attribute that a band can earn: enduring relevance. More than that, Pearl Jam is sailing on a second wind and – impossibly, it would seem – gaining momentum.

Watching Pearl Jam – Vedder, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboardist Boom Gaspar – it boggles the mind to consider that they are in their mid-40s (with the exception of Gaspar, who is pushing 60). Men this age are supposed to be in bowling leagues, not on stage for two-and-a-half hours before 20,000 adoring fans.

The band warmed up with “Oceans,” a simmering feature for Vedder's falsetto from Ten, Pearl Jam's beloved debut. That selection proved deceptive. What followed was an aural battering ram, effortlessly mixing classic songs with newer material and a few lost dogs.

Set one was particularly muscular, the band ripping through a breakneck 10-song gallop with nary a pause. “Given To Fly” transformed Vedder from crooner to prophet; “Corduroy” climaxed in a taut McCready solo; “Amongst the Waves” and “The Fixer,” standouts from Pearl Jam's most recent studio effort Backspacer, seamlessly shouldered up to the favorites; diehards were treated to live rarities “Faithfull” and “Alone.”

After a particularly scathing “Comatose,” Vedder finally addressed the Columbus crowd with his amusing PJ religion proposal.

“There's only one commandment: Don't be an asshole,” he said. “And the only thing that's forbidden? Can't fuckin' Twitter. Hate that shit.”

After the first encore break, Vedder confirmed that the audience would get its money's worth.

“I'm gonna need at least one more bottle of wine,” he said to a deafening ovation. The second half of the evening delved into quieter moments and the back catalog, made all the more jarring after the raucous first set. A tender performance of “Just Breathe,” an acoustic ballad and the band's most recent radio single, inspired a pair of bloated ex-frat jocks in front of this reviewer to high-five (highlight of the night). “State of Love and Trust” made the setlist thanks to a request by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who was in attendance.

For a band that so reluctantly became the soundtrack for a generation, Pearl Jam certainly bears that burden with grace – and they made damn sure to deliver fiery renditions of the anthems that define their legacy. The Ten era was proudly represented, with Vedder's ageless, inimitable voice pouring emotion into “Black” and “Once.” And then, of course, there is “Alive” - a song that has transformed over the years from lament to battle cry, a song that everyone in attendance at a Pearl Jam concert expects to hear, and a song that the band somehow always manages to infuse with fresh energy and inspiration.

In Columbus, Vedder finally shared the secret behind such eternal youth.

“You can't just sing this song,” he said. “You have to feel it.” Sandwiched between a frantic McCready vs. Gaspar duel in “Crazy Mary” and set-closer “Yellow Ledbetter,” this trio of songs effectively triggered delirium.

Age has only sharpened the Pearl Jam live persona – particularly McCready, whose skill has never been in question, just his sense of melodic purpose. On Thursday, his focused leads propelled versions of “Even Flow” and “Yellow Ledbetter,” which have meandered in the past during wandering solo passages. As an added bonus, fans finding their seats early were treated to a two-song acoustic pre-show set by McCready, who played an original tune about his son and a cover of the Rolling Stones' “Dead Flowers.”

Setlist

Oceans
Given to Fly
Corduroy
Got Some
Worldwide Suicide
Faithfull
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Amongst the Waves
Even Flow
Comatose
Marker in the Sand
Unthought Known
Grievance
Alone
The Fixer
Do the Evolution

Just Breathe
Black
State of Love and Trust
Spin the Black Circle
Go

Come Back
Once
Hail Hail
Crazy Mary
Alive
Yellow Ledbetter