Eddie Vedder goes it alone at Opera House

A review of Eddie Vedder at the Opera House on Friday, August 1, 2008

, Staff Writer

Eddie Vedder is no singer / songwriter, but over the years he’s done a fair amount of solo work, whether it’s before the opening band at a Pearl Jam show, at a special benefit concert, or on movie soundtracks. Friday night at the Opera House the Pearl Jam front man sat down without his band mates for a night of deep cuts designed to satisfy the most dedicated Ten Club members.

Vedder casually took to the stage, sparsely set with a circle of guitars, microphones, amps, and various other equipment, and didn’t look at the roaring crowd for a solid 45 seconds before kicking things off with the soft and delicate Daniel Johnston cover "Walking the Cow". He kept the cover tunes going with a bit harsher version of Cat Stevens’ "Trouble", but the crowd really got locked in for the campfire singalong "I Am Mine", with Eddie doing some Townshend strumming in place of Mike McCready’s guitar solo.

Everyone expected Ed to be quite talkative, but he generally stuck to the music and refrained from any exceptionally long ramblings. PJ rarity "Dead Man" made it’s way into the set but it was another soundtrack song, "Man of the Hour" from Big Fish, that earned bigger cheers, causing Ed to break out in a big smile. It took until the second verse of "Wishlist" for him to forget his first words of the night, singing, "I wish I was a …. fuck!" instead.

Before "Setting Forth" Ed told the crowd, "I was about to talk, but let’s keep it going. It’s been good so far." After the song he informed everyone that he was sick and had been placed on medication which warned against doing "anything that requires alertness." That led into a failed attempt at "Guaranteed" ("some songs are more difficult to play on drugs than others") and an audible to "No Ceiling" instead. "Rise", from the Into the Wild soundtrack, showcased the beautiful combination of Vedder’s deep baritone and his bright ukulele.

Another cover highlight was James Taylor’s "Millworker", which Ed introduced as being "written by somebody in your general area." The overall feeling was definitely different as the song was written by someone used to primarily working with just an acoustic guitar, but Vedder made it his own, adding a rocked out ending with some impressive strumming.

In the funniest moment of the night Vedder wiped his face with a towel, then wrapped it around his head like a certain former Sox player and asked, "Who am I? I’ll give you a hint – I want another ten million dollars." That preceded a depressing but beautiful one-two of "Goodbye" and "Broken Hearted", between which Vedder took the time to address the annoying fans yelling out requests. "I have a tendency to hear what I want to hear," he said. "So my answer is ‘Yes, I would love an omellete.’" Then he shut the annoying fans up for the night, saying, "Honestly, I didn’t think we’re run into the shouting assholes until New York."

Things picked back up with a punked up "Driftin" and Vedder kept the harmonica going on "Hide Your Love Away". The first real story Ed told on the night was about listening to a song while dealing with certain authoritarian figures in his life, which ended with him saying, "Not to sound self-rightous, but to those authoritarian figures – I’m at the fuckin’ Opera House." That led into a triumphant version of The Who’s "I’m One" which was quickly followed by a bluesy stomp intro to "Porch", one of the standout songs at Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged session so many years ago, that garnered a great reaction from the crowd.

Ed returned after a break and thanked the crowd, saying, "I feel like I should pick out some songs that aren’t already on here. You’ve been very gracious…slightly belligerent, but what can you expect. It is Friday night." Sitting down with his acoustic he came up with a quick little improv featuring the lines "Friday night / Feels alright / Out on the East Coast" that quickly gave way to the night’s big singalong "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town". Opening act Liam Finn came out for "Society", with Ed taking the solo and Finn doing little more than some rhythm guitar and slight backing vocals.

"Lukin" proved to still be impressively aggressive on just acoustic guitar, a quick burst of adrenaline which got the crowd’s attention. Vedder used the opportunity to introduce "No More" in a much more restrained manner than the crowd was used to, saying only, "Let’s get our voices together. At least in this room we can feel better about it." The song is an outstanding protest song, complete with a soaring, instantly memorable chorus as well as a specific story, that of 26 year old paralyzed war veteran Tomas Young. It was the only overtly political moment of the night, but it was powerful enough to suffice.

Eddie then did some experimenting (perhaps explaining the lab coat that his guitar tech was wearing) with vocal loops, rendering a lush version of Riot Act‘s "Arc". After getting everything set up the curtain closed and Ed walked around thanking the audience and shaking hands. He disappeared behind the curtain, only to have it open shortly after, unveiling Vedder on guitar and Liam Finn on drums, both in lab coats, along with a female backup singer for the droning set closer "Hard Sun". By the time the house lights came up the entire crowd was singing along and the wall of sound was reaching un-solo like proportions, with Eddie getting his McCready on in a big way. With that the show was over and Vedder, and the crowd, began gearing up for night two.

Not a show for everyone, not even casual Pearl Jam fans, the night was still perfect for its target audience. Eddie came bearing a perfect mix of rarities and favorites, covers and originals, solo material and band stuff. While it may have been better had he not been sick, the mostly business manner in which he approached the show was refreshing in a way. For everyone who thought there would be a lot of talking, especially about politics, they were proven wrong by Eddie’s focus on just playing. Eighteen years from the start of Pearl Jam and sixteen from their appearance on MTV Unplugged, Eddie Vedder sold out two nights at Boston’s Opera House for a solo, mostly acoustic show. You can’t tell me you saw that coming when Vs. came out.

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