Where poetry, post-punk rock stylings and telegenic charisma collide, rock singer and guitarist Eddie Vedder may be found. If he’s off-stage, he’ll be, quite possibly, leading the charge for a charitable cause. If he’s on stage he’ll most likely be playing guitar, or swinging a mic stand, swigging from a bottle of red wine, and rollicking through an extended set of Pearl Jam songs. Many of the band’s songs end with Vedder midair, landing on the ultimate note, a move he’s perfected over the last two decades.
Saturday night, Pearl Jam, fronted by Vedder, played to a sold-out First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo, an Indian summer night with a festival-style buzz in the air. Crowds surged toward the venue as music blared from clubs and cars nearby. With no opener, this was indeed a one-band fest. And since it was the extended Columbus Day weekend, there was bonus jubilation.
An informal survey of fans on their way into the show revealed that many had driven to Buffalo from Canada: It was also a holiday weekend up north. Several fans, from both sides of the border, wore plaid. One fan, Vince from Hamilton, Ont., when asked if he was wearing a plaid shirt in homage to the early days of grunge, replied, “Of course.” Other fans, Amy and Kim, Pearl Jam fans for roughly half their lives, have seen the band six times in both Buffalo and Toronto.
Pearl Jam is celebrating its 23rd anniversary; it began in the era when radio stations were largely playing over-produced pop. The Internet was just getting going back then, and streaming was something done in the great outdoors. And, it could be noted, tattooing of hipsters was not mandatory. Bands that shared Pearl Jam’s genre of rock, folk-infused and borrowing heavily from their classic rock forebears, haven’t all shared their durability and continued relevance.
The band is touring in celebration of its latest album, “Lightning Bolt,” to be officially released Tuesday , although it has been available for online streaming for months. This collection of 12 songs, poetic and sometimes exhibiting dystopic tendencies, is the group’s 10th studio album. Given the group’s near-ubiquity for so long, it seems odd that the band has not released far more songs into the collective soundtrack.
Pearl Jam opened in with “Pendulum” off of “Lighting Bolt,” one of their dream-infused songs about hard times, “easy come and easy go/easy left me a long time ago.” The guitarists came out swinging, a beautiful rock machine with Stone Gossard and Mike McCready making the textures that are distinctively Pearl Jam. It was on to the concise and lovely “Sometimes” before the set’s first kicker, “Corduroy,” with everyone joining Vedder in full-throated abandon.
The new release’s title track and its “Mind Your Manners,” not yet well-worn or known, apparently, preceded beloved and raucous “Do the Evolution,” with white lights blasting out into the crowd illuminating every singing fan. It was then on to one of the band’s first huddles, a big pause in the action before Vedder spoke: “We apologize for the delay. … We were going to pound you with four or five other fast ones, but we’re gonna be here for a while, so we should pace ourselves.” He added, “Every time we play Buffalo it’s memorable. You look great. Here’s to you,” foisting his bottle of wine.
And pace themselves they did, in rock ’n’ roll fashion. High points of the stellar show included “Immortality,” with extended psychedelic guitar riffs calling to mind one Pink Floyd. Vedder introduced “I Got Id” with a story of how Neil Young, cohort and influence, had named the song.
The band continued for another two hours – finishing its set before two lengthy, sweaty and amazing encores. Vedder said he had missed his youngest daughter’s first soccer goal but that the crowd and its energy (which he mentioned several times during the show) made up for the distance.