For the first time in over a decade, Pearl Jam finally brought themselves back to Oklahoma City last night for a sold out stop on their Lightning Bolt tour.
Playing to a 15k deep crowd (including the seats behind the stage) at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Pearl Jam more than made up for the decade of dodging the pan-shaped flyover state. Kicking off promptly at 8:45, Eddie & crew proceeded to blast through an incredible 31-song set, filled with the hits, the fan favorites and of course – new Lightning Bolt material.
Denton-based band Midlake opened up the show, sounding somewhat like a hipstery version of the Moody Blues. It was pleasant enough but not particularly engaging in a live setting, failing to really set off or liven up the crowd in any real way. While musically sound, the band just didn’t deliver live. Perhaps not the ideal band to be opening for a band often cited as the greatest touring band around.
Not that it mattered, really, because no one in the audience was there for the openers. They were there for Pearl Jam – Eddie, Mike, Stone, Matt, Jeff (and Boom) – and right out of the gate it became clear that Pearl Jam connects with their fans on a level most bands could only dream of. There were certainly casual fans in the audience, those there for the hits, but as soon as the band opened with Wash, the band made it clear they are largely avoiding the greatest hits trap that so many other bands their age can’t seem to avoid. Wash, a relative obscurity and outtake from the band’s debut LP Ten, was met with such resounding cheer that casual fans in the audience were probably confused as to why they didn’t recognize a song that was greeted like it was the band’s biggest hit.
Granted, that could have just been general applause, the happiness flowing out from the crowd at the fact that the band was finally in front of them once more. Washed in blue light, the band continued on with Sometimes (from No Code), once again causing mass applause from the audience. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way – mass applause occurred every time the band spoke, strummed, plucked, blinked – this band has some fans. Sometimes sounded gorgeous, the song’s vaguely lounge-styled guitar work backed perfectly by Matt Cameron’s restrained drumming.
Throughout the gig, the band pulled out a fair number of new Lightning Bolt tracks, including Mind Your Manners, Let the Records Play, Infallible and Sirens, which was given a lovely dedication to the victims and survivors of the tornados that ravaged Oklahoma just a few months ago. Lightning Bolt is definitely the band’s best record in a long time, and the tracks were primed and ready to go for the live circuit.
Then there were the hits, of which there were many. Elderly Woman came early in the set, opening up the band’s stage lighting and shining bright white light on the crowd while Eddie sang his heart out. The song, like much of the band’s catalog, simply sounds great with thousands of voices joining along. There were fairly standard performances of Animal, Porch, Black, Alive and Jeremy, while Even Flow was treated to a virtuosic extended guitar outro courtesy of Mike McCready. Last Kiss even made an appearance, finding the band climbing behind their stage equipment and playing the Wayne Cochran track to the people behind the stage. What gents.
Pearl Jam has only been in Oklahoma three times as of last night – once in 1993, once in 2003, and now in 2013 – leading Eddie to joke about seeing the audience in 2023. He cracked many jokes throughout the night – including several about playing in the home of the Thunder, a team um… stolen/relocated from PJ’s hometown of Seattle. Someone even tossed a Seattle SuperSonics jersey up on stage, which Jeff Ament happily put on – emblazoned with the name and number of former SuperSonic/current Thunder team captain Kevin Durant. This was followed up with the band playing Supersonic from 2008’s Backspacer.
Just shy of the three hour mark, the band started on the final portion of it’s second encore – a cover of Baba O’Riley. The band delivered on the track, with Eddie giving the audience plenty of chances to sing along. No matter how many shows I see every year, hearing and seeing 15,000 people smiling and singing their hearts out never gets old, and when it’s in response to such an enthralling three hour performance, it just seems to be that much better. And even after all of that greatness and joy, the band raised the house lights up and played a perfect rendition of Yellow Ledbetter, closing out the evening on an absolute high.
I got the opportunity to cover Eddie Vedder’s solo show in Tulsa last year, and I was quite honestly blown away at the fan/audience connection and Eddie’s ability to completely enrapture a crowd. With Pearl Jam it was the same, except multiplied tenfold – both the audience and the band giving it everything time and time again. Guys – I hope you don’t take another ten years to come back to my home state, but if you do, bring another show like this.
Wash, Sometimes, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Do the Evolution, Animal, Let the Records Play, MFC, In Hiding, Even Flow, Sirens, Whipping, Unthought Known, Immortality, Infallible, Wishlist, Rearviewmirror, Just Breathe, Yellow Moon, Parting Ways, Jeremy, Supersonic, Satan’s Bed, Porch, Last Kiss, State of Love and Trust, Black, Alive, Baba O’Riley, Yellow Ledbetter
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