For the second time in the last 12 months, Pearl Jam has brought their Lightning Bolt tour to Oklahoma. This in itself shouldn’t sound very important or noteworthy, but it is, you see, because this is not familiar territory for the band. Throughout their lengthy career, the band has only played in the state a handful of times – 1991, 1993, once in 2003, again last year and finally — last night.
Last night’s show was even more special as it marked the band’s first ever appearance in Tulsa. The band completely obliterated expectations at the city’s BOK Center, playing to a nearly sold out crowd for just shy of 3 hours. A Pearl Jam show is a marathon event, twice the length of the average rock show complete with highly varying setlists night to night. You may or may not get every song you want to hear, but you can be damn sure you are going to get your money’s worth.
With no opener for the evening, Pearl Jam had the audience all to themselves as soon as they casually walked on stage shortly after 8 p.m. Opening with Pendulum from the now year old Lightning Bolt LP, Eddie & co. were hidden in dark, moody lighting. At the left of the stage, guitarist Mike McCready played the song’s haunting melody with a bow and a guitar, while Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament held down the track’s simple yet effective rhythm section.
Relative rarity Hard to Imagine was up next, silencing the crowd as the band fleshed out the song’s shimmering, atmospheric sound. This gave way to Elderly Woman, which was met with one of the most passionate crowd sing-alongs that I’ve ever witnessed.
The first main set of the show was 18 songs long – the length of a normal show for any other band. It featured a few Lightning Bolt tracks, including the title track along with Mind Your Manners and Sirens. While the newer material was received well, older hits and fan favorites seemed to be the main course of the evening. In My Tree, a personal favorite, was a definite highlight of the first set, and the audience was all about the real big hits — Animal, Given to Fly and Jeremy all included.
In addition to playing more songs than your average band, good old Ed seems to work harder to engage with the crowd than your typical front man. When he’s not passionately delivering the lyrics or swigging wine, he’s reaching out to hand a fan a tambourine or a guitar pic, pointing out whom he’s trying to give a souvenir so everyone around that individual plays nice.
When he gets tired of handing out items, he simply jokes around with the audience. At one point, the venue raises the house lights so the band can see the audience. Ed sees a person sitting down and jokingly tells the guy “Don’t make me get all Kanye on you now,” met with great applause. And what could have made the moment better? Well – the man did in fact hold up a pair of crutches. Ed snapped back, quipping that he himself had just been Kanye’d. He tells the guy to make himself comfortable, as after all, the band is there to work for the crowd.
At another point, Ed jokes about playing the song Dirty Frank as a treat for Tulsa. The crowd gets very excited, but Ed tells them to settle down and that it was just a joke. He said it just wasn’t worth playing as it would start an argument between the guys, and well, they haven’t argued in years. It was all said in jest, of course, but up on stage they really do seem like a group of guys who get along with little room for ego or pride to ruin things.
The only real weak part of the first set was a performance of Let the Records Play, which Ed announced was in support of Tulsa’s upcoming Vinyl Fest. Ed cracked a joke about Mike McCready owning more vinyl than a San Franciscan dominatrix which had the crowd rolling, but the actual song tossed out major dad rock vibes and was easily the night’s most obvious bathroom break moment. Luckily, the band followed it up with Spin the Black Circle which was received much more warmly.
After a brief encore break, the band came out for another set of songs. Black got the crowd riled up after a gorgeous but kind of momentum-breaking Just Breathe, but it was a cover of Victoria Williams’ Crazy Mary that really seemed to get everyone back up off their seats.
After wishing the departed Johnny Ramone a happy birthday, the band busted out a solid, inspired cover of The Ramone’s I Believe In Miracles which became another massive singalong moment of the evening. The second set leading up to the show’s real encore concluded with a one-two punch of Blood (complete with a few lines of George Clinton’s Atomic Dog) and a forceful take on Porch, which found Ed climbing out into the middle of the floor to greet fans while singing.
The encore contains another string of hits — Do the Evolution, Betterman (with a brief tag of The English Beat’s Save it for Later) and Alive. As the grinding guitar riff of Alive kicked off, the house lights came up and stayed up – allowing everyone to see just how insanely passionate both the band and the crowd actually were.
In a very touching and jovial moment, Ed grabbed a 13-year old boy celebrating his birthday and brought him on stage. The kid, wearing a Who shirt, was given a tambourine to play along to none other than a cover of Baba O’Riley. The kid, beaming from ear to ear, was living a Pearl Jam fan’s dream and it was great to see how unbelievably happy the kid was up on stage singing along with the band.
Musically, the band was on point for the entire length of the show. From Jeff Ament’s incredible work during Jeremy to an insane behind the neck solo by Mike McCready at the tail-end of Even Flow, the band might just be in the best shape they’ve ever been in. Ed delivered his vocal work with as much passion as Pearl Jam fans have come to expect, and it’s pretty much impossible to imagine that anyone left the arena feeling like they saw anything other than a world-class rock show.
As the Lightning Bolt tour winds down, this might be one of your last chances to see the band until another album cycle begins. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the guys are back in Oklahoma, but much like the wine that Ed swigs throughout a show, the band has only gotten better with age. New albums may come and go without too much fanfare, but trust me, you don’t want to miss out when and if Pearl Jam stops in your town.
Pendulum, Hard to Imagine, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Breakerfall, Last Exit, Animal, Mind Your Manners, In My Tree, Lightning Bolt, Dissident, Marker int he Sand, Even Flow, Sirens, Given to Fly, Jeremy, Let the Records Play, Spin the Black Circle, Rearviewmirror, Just Breathe, Black, Crazy Mary, I Believe in Miracles, Blood, Porch, Do the Evolution, Better Man, Alive, Baba O’Riley, Indifference
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