Pearl Jam bring summer blockbuster to Boston

A review of Pearl Jam at the Comcast Center on June 28, 2008

, Staff Writer

At this point, a Pearl Jam summer show is like a summer superhero-movie blockbuster: Everyone knows what to expect and, while nothing new or groundbreaking is happening, the crowd leaves happy. That comparison is especially apt this time around, as the band is out on the road with no new album to promote, leaving only old standbys available for Saturday night’s show at the Comcast Center.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The sold out crowd was overjoyed to hear their favorites over the course of a two hour and fifteen minute set that canvassed 26 songs (including only three off of Binaural, Riot Act, and Pearl Jam combined). It’s just that at this point we all know what happens in these songs, from when we’re supposed to raise our hands (the "Hello" of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town") to when Ed is going to drop an F-bomb (the end of "Rearviewmirror"). The only mystery left is what songs will be on the set list and what Mike McCready’s solos will sound like.

That being said, the band did not make a single misstep the entire night. From opening rarity "Hard to Imagine" through two encores to show closer "Alive" every single song choice was greeted by resounding cheers, and there wasn’t a single moment of let down. The aggressive trio of "Why Go", "Hail, Hail", and "Comatose" got the loud crowd amped even more and showed that it was going to be a good night for McCready. Eddie then sized up the crowd, saying, "Looks like we’ve got ourselves a nice night here. We’ve got a lot of time to play so we’re gonna test your endurance a bit."

"Low Light" and "Elderly Woman" were typically pretty and led into a very big version of "Corduroy". The band kept pouring on the hits, following with "Faithful", "Off He Goes", and "Given to Fly", the latter of which got the whole place jumping up and down for the chorus. Speaking of "Down", the irresistible song found its way onto the set list, impressing because it is still fresh, not having been made the rounds and rounds and rounds on rock radio. Ed had a bit of a ramble about Howard Zinn, the song’s inspiration, before saying, "I figure we can bring out a few issues, then dance all over them."

There was no dancing during "I Got Id", which began with an "I’m Open" tease, only head banging to Matt Cameron’s pounding rhythms. "Evenflow" was next, with McCready actually beginning his solo with his Strat behind his head then progressing through a long, noisy, varied, and disjointed solo while Ed took a cigarette break towards the back of the stage. McCready was matched at the end of the solo by Cameron, who layed down some fills of his own, before the whole band joined back in for the larger than life ending.

Stone Gossard made a spotlight appearance for "Do the Evolution" which was followed by the very loud and very aggressive "Once". "Rearviewmirror" took an airy turn in its mid-song jam before a tribal beat led back into the driving, strobe enhanced ending which signaled the close of the main set, allowing both the band and the audience to catch their breath. When PJ returned, Eddie turned things over to keyboard player Boom Gaspar for the intro to the cover of The Who’s "Love, Reign o’er Me". Relatively new to the band, the song was so powerful it could have been heard back up in Boston proper. Next they turned down the power and turned up the ballad for Pearl Jam‘s "Come Back".

"Insignificance" was next, serving as little more than a prelude to "Black" as Ten continued to dominate the night. An exceptionally long outro was carried by a strong solo by McCready and backup vocals from the Comcast Center throng. "Betterman" produced one of the few extra-special moments of the night. As usual Ed began the song but let the crowd sing the first verse, but in a break from tradition the crowd went nuts, cheering for a solid minute at the top of their lungs, preventing Ed from getting out the "Oh oh oh" to kick start the next part of the song. When he finally did the band continued on in an uptempo take that featured some of McCready’s better solo work on the song as well as a tag of The English Beat’s "Save It For Later".

After encore break number two Eddie returned to the stage for a five second drum solo, then a full solo acoustic take on "No More" after referencing the film "Body of War" and the story of Thomas Young (more info at bodyofwar.com). A searing take on "State of Love and Trust" led Eddie to say, "Thank you guys. Thanks for tonight. Thanks for all the shows here." The band proceeded to absolutely destroy with "Alive", with Eddie banging tambourines and McCready playing stuff that Guitar Hero can only dream of, and with that the band left the stage until Monday.

Was it one of the best Comcast Center shows of the summer? Yes. For fans who measure the strength of a Pearl Jam show by its set list it was a fairly good night, with plenty of old favorites, few newer not-so-favorites, but also few rarities that separate one show from the next. For those who look at the length of the show it was also slightly above average, with the band opting not to break the 11pm curfew at the Comcast Center that they so often have in the past. For those who have never seen the band live, never seen one of the several concert DVD’s, or never heard one of the many live bootlegs, they were probably nothing short of blown away, but those people were most likely few and far between. Instead it was a crowd eager to see what they had seen once, twice, ten times, forty times before: Pearl Jam playing the songs that they know and love, and doing a damn good job of it. There are worse things than that.

Poor Ted Leo played a solid set for a whole bunch of empty seats and countless tailgaters who heard the songs from the parking lot. Speaking of the parking lot, Pearl Jam played for two hours and fifteen minutes which, coincidentally, was exactly how long it took for lot B to exit the Comcast Center parking lot. Getting out at 1:25am from a show that ended at 11pm is unacceptable, and if the Comcast Center continues like this, coupled with the new crackdown on tailgaiting, there will be some seriously unhappy concert goers this summer. Let’s hope the situation improves for Monday’s show.

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