Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has somehow gone his entire life without playing a show in Tulsa – a problem that was finally remedied last night when he stopped by the city’s historic Brady Theater.
Sunday night’s show was the first of two in Tulsa, and Vedder celebrated his long-awaited Brady Theater debut with a nearly two and a half hour set. Following a fantastic opening set by The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard, Eddie filled the night with material from his two solo albums, a healthy mix of Pearl Jam songs and other covers. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment show opener Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town started.
While Eddie played a wide variety of instruments throughout the evening, including the guitar, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica and even an organ – his most vital instrument remains his voice. His vocal chords seethed with passion throughout the night, and somehow the man manages to mix his unmistakable grit with vulnerability.
Ed pulled the Pearl Jam track Can’t Keep back to its small-scale origins when he re-recorded it for Ukulele Songs, and hearing his voice break into a near-howl each time the chorus wrapped up was truly chill-inducing. The magic continued straight into Sleeping By Myself and the dreamlike Without You, also both from Ukulele Songs.
Soon Forget opened with a brief tag of Porno for Pyros’ Cursed Male, with Eddie explaining that the themes of the two tracks were similar. He tossed in a number of random bits and pieces of various songs throughout the evening, including James Taylor’s Millworker and the Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. While mostly these just served as introductions or instrumental jam-type sections during other songs, hearing his interpretations of these tracks was a definite highlight of the evening.
He played a lot of covers, including a beautiful version of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love which found him bringing opener Glen Hansard back out to harmonize. The song was dedicated to a pair of newlyweds in the crowd, surely a great memory to start off the rest of their lives together.
Can’t Help Falling in Love was immediately followed by Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, which found Hansard taking over on instrumental duties while the two traded off verses. Eddie said he and Glen decided to do it just before he started his set, so it sounded pretty great for being unrehearsed.
Some of the most memorable moments actually came from Eddie making mistakes. Better Man has been given a massive facelift, but shortly after starting the track Eddie forgot the lyrics. He looked down, humbled, before breaking into a grin and saying that it was a new song, one he hadn’t ever played before. The crowd broke into laughter before Eddie regained his composure and carried on with the track.
At one point Vedder decided to take a request from the audience and played a solo rendition of Education for the first time ever. Before starting he noted that he might need help during the chorus of the Lost Dogs gem, and sure enough by the time it rolled around he had to slow down a bit to pick out the right chords. Hearing him work through the track just to fulfill an audience member’s request conveyed a real sense of spontaneity, something that is now too often lost on touring acts. If every show that Eddie plays on tour has unique moments like this, he definitely deserves bonus points for giving each crowd a show they won’t find anywhere else.
Midway through the show Eddie broke into an Into the Wild mini set, playing through a number of highlights from the album. A small campfire lit up to Ed’s right, while behind him the backdrop had changed to reveal a sky of sparkling stars. It really helped set the mood for the set, which found Eddie playing album-faithful takes on Rise, Far Behind and the gorgeous Guaranteed.
One of the best moments of the evening came during Sleepless Nights. Eddie and Glen stepped in front of their microphones, telling the audience to find the best way to participate during the track. What they wanted (and got) was complete silence, allowing the two to sing the song without any amplification. I have never heard a crowd so phenomenally quiet at a show and seeing everyone come together and settle down to truly hear a performance was unbelievably awesome. The two harmonize particularly well, with Ed’s lower baritone providing the foundation for Glen’s upper register to really work some magic.
A tremendous cover of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down found Ed leading the entire crowd on a mass sing-along. He noted several times in the show that the crowd sounded like a church and it was never more apparent than this moment – a few thousand people joining together to sing along with one of the strongest vocal hooks in rock history. This is what a concert should be like, people from all walks of life abandoning their societal baggage at the door, enjoying a moment in time led by a phenomenal musician. It really was kind of church-like atmosphere, minus the religious dogma and bullshit.
A triumphant Hard Sun closed out the marathon 30+ song set, bringing the house lights up while several children joined Glen and Eddie on stage to help end the festivities. The song’s folk-revival vibe made it impossible for anyone to leave the venue without a smile on their face and really felt like a musical climax after the ride Eddie had provided for the two hours prior. It was a monumental end to a monumental show.
This was my first Eddie Vedder-related live experience and I’m starting to understand the love and affection that so many of my friends have for this man, his music and his band. I’ve never seen an artist still be so happy and excited to perform after several decades in the music industry. It’s clear that Eddie is a born performer and if you, like myself prior to this show, have yet to see him in any capacity – make it a personal mission to do so. This is what live music is about.
Setlist: Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Can’t Keep, Sleeping By Myself, Without You, Soon Forget, Around the Bend, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Driftin’, Wishlist, Better Man, Millworker, Far Behind, No Ceiling, Guaranteed, Rise, Long Nights, Immortality, Lukin, Porch
Encore: Just Breathe, Pump Organ, Education, Fourth of July, Society, Sleepless Nights, Can’t Help Falling in Love, This Land Is Your Land, Falling Slowly, Loud Uke, I Won’t Back Down, So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, The End
Encore 2: Hard Sun