Pearl Jam Jazz Up New Orleans

by Kathy Davis on May 2, 2010

poster-Artillery Design/Brad Klausen

poster-Artillery Design/Brad Klausen

Let’s get right down to it:  tour is off to a rip-roaring start, and here’s a roundup of press and picture coverage of Pearl Jam’s U.S. tour-opening stop at the New Orleans Jazzfest down in Louisiana.

Setlist: So You Want to Be A Rock And Roll Star (The Byrds), Lukin, Corduroy, In My Tree, Got Some, Given To Fly, Even Flow, Severed Hand, Nothingman, Down, Unthought Known, 1/2 Full, Daughter/People Have The Power (Patti  Smith), Comatose, Supersonic, Do The Evolution, Why Go

Encore: Tremor Christ (::insert dreamy sigh from Kath here::), Just Breathe,  Better Man/Save It For Later,  The Fixer,   Alive,  Kick Out The Jams (MC5)

You just gotta love a reviewer whose only issue with their performance is that the band didn’t play long enough. Such is the case in this review from Keith Spera of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, courtesy Nola.com.

It’s hard to imagine now, but during grunge rock’s early ’90s heyday, Pearl Jam was often dismissed as pretty-boy pop poseurs. On Saturday at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Eddie Vedder and company delivered an exhilarating set that reiterated why they now rank among rock’s finest live bands.

Wearing a short-sleeve plaid shirt over a “Mr. Bill Show” T-shirt, Vedder was the genial everyman rock star. Facing one of the largest, densest and youngest crowds to assemble at the Acura Stage in recent memory, he addressed fans in the distance: “I can’t get closer, but we can play louder.”

From my vantage point 100 yards deep on the field, Pearl Jam was plenty loud, and plenty clear. Every nuance of the musicians’ interplay, from Jeff Ament’s robust electric upright bass on “Nothing Man” to the nimble give-and-take of guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, was audible. There was much to savor in those details.

The thrills came early and often. After getting their bearings with the opening cover of The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star,” they bore down on “Corduroy,” powered by drummer Matt Cameron. Multiple sunburst refrains broke open in “Given to Fly.” They beefed up a raging “Even Flow” with bonus guitar solos, but still maintained the spirit of the original arrangement.

Gossard and McCready swapped well-constructed riffs on “Down” and elsewhere. Gossard windmilled through the big finish of “Better Man.” McCready nailed his solo in an epic “Alive,” then extended it as Vedder hopped off stage to meet-and-great the folks down front.

Vedder recalled how, in November 1993, a Decatur Street brawl earned him a trip to Orleans Parish Prison. “There’s a lot of people here. I can’t be the only one who’s had the great pleasure of spending a night in a New Orleans jail.”

That night he learned that, if you have enough money for your bail and someone else’s, “you’ll never see a happier 85-year-old toothless man.”

His stint in the pokey aside, Vedder noted, the band has enjoyed some good times here. The 1994 album “Vitalogy” was partially recorded at Daniel Lanois’ former Kingsway Studio on Esplanade Avenue. In honor of that visit, they knocked off that album’s squalling “Tremor Christ.”

Vedder greeted members of the Louisiana National Guard and other troops watching the show in Iraq and Afghanistan via a live video and audio feed. He thanked them for their “valiant work in extreme conditions…I wish you’d break down and have a beer. You’ve earned it.”

The singer mounted his soapbox only once: To chastise British Petroleum for the oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico. Vedder suggested the children of company executives should vacation on the Louisiana coast this summer. “Send your sons and daughters, BP, to clean up your f—– mess.” (Imagine the awkwardness had the blown oil rig in the Gulf belonged to Jazz Fest title sponsor Shell.)

With that, Vedder and company got back to business with early anthem “Daughter.” On Pearl Jam’s more recent, uneven, albums, hooks and melodies are sacrificed for a full-bore attack. At Jazz Fest, they flirted with that punkish spirit on “Comatose” and “Supersonic.” A final thrash through the MC5′s “Kick Out the Jams” brought it all home.

Their only misstep was a sin of omission – they omitted the last 20 minutes of their allotted set time. But the previous hour-and-40 minutes left little doubt that Pearl Jam, at peak form, has few rivals.

Music writer Keith Spera can be reached at kspera@timespicayune.com or 504.460.4763.

Thanks AK47 for pointing us to this one. Accompanying pictures in gallery below.

BlogOfNewOrleans.com has this to say about the Pearl Jams:

Pearl Jam turned in a solid hour and half of thrashing guitar rock interspersed with older hits (”Jeremy” and “Even Flow” off Ten, “Better Man” off Vitalogy). But some of the expected and unexpected extras included a link-up to soldiers in Iraq. The concert was broadcast to a Louisiana National Guard unit in Iraq. And a friend of Eddie Vedder’s in the service was reached via satellite for a brief exchange (above Vedder holds his friend’s unit’s insignia). Much of the exchange was broadcast on the jumbo screens adjoining the stage.

Eddie Vedder also had some choice words for British Petroleum, owner of the oil rig spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He raised a bottle of wine and said that he was sure the well-paid executives and board members of BP enjoyed fine spirits. Then he invited them to send their children to the Gulf Coast: “Send your sons and daughters to clean up your f–king mess.”

The unit in question is the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat team;  The 256th consists of Louisiana National Guardsmen currently serving in Iraq.

UPDATE 5.2.10: Here’s a nice review from RollingStone.com’s Alex Rawls, revealing the Louisiana-related meaning behind Ed’s Mr. Bill T-Shirt:

By Alex Rawls
May 02, 2010 12:20 PM EDT

I’d like to make a toast to the fine folks at BP,” Eddie Vedder said, raising a bottle of wine at last night’s show in New Orleans. “Send your sons and daughters to clean up your fucking mess.” While Pearl Jam rocked the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico crept closer to the Louisiana coast. Even Vedder’s wardrobe spoke to the environmental crisis: he wore a Mr. Bill Show T-shirt — the character’s creator, Walter Williams, actively supports protecting Louisiana’s endangered wetlands.

Jazz Fest has often showcased Rock and Roll Hall of Famers from the ’60s and ’70s, so Pearl Jam’s booking was controversial among the festival’s faithful. The band’s wall-of-guitar sound stands in stark contrast to this year’s other marquee act, Simon & Garfunkel, who played the weekend before. Simon & Garfunkel brought back nostalgic hits, while Vedder mocked big oil and celebrated members of the 256th Infantry Division, who were watching a live feed of the show in Iraq. Guitarist Mike McCready paced urgently, and Vedder climbed off the stage to offer a drink to those in the front row, then left it again during a powerful “Alive” to meet the fans a second time. Pearl Jam slammed the show to a close with the MC5′s explosive “Kick Out the Jams.”

Catch up on David Fricke’s adventures at Jazz Fest.

New Orleans was the start of the band’s spring tour schedule, and they launched it with their cover of the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n'Roll Star.” The set reached back to Ten for “Alive,” “Even Flow” and a raging, set-closing “Why Go,” and included three from last year’s Backspacer: “Got Some,” “Unthought Known” and “Supersonic.”

The band exited the stage after just over an hour, but soon returned to start a six-song encore with “Tremor Christ.” The song gave Vedder the chance to muse about the band’s time in New Orleans. “Outside of going to jail, we’ve had some good experiences here,” he said. Parts of Vitalogy, including “Tremor Christ,” were recorded in the Crescent City in 1994, and he was arrested for getting in a drunken bar fight in 1993. “Looking at all of you, I can’t be the only one here who’s spent the night in the New Orleans jail,” he joked.

The band’s attempts to engage the soldiers watching in Iraq were slightly stymied by a sound delay, but the frontman was determined to deliver the full rock & roll experience from oceans away. “I wish you’d have a beer,” Vedder said at one point. “You’ve earned it.”

Here’s video of “Just Breathe” courtesy JeffGarden.com:

Thanks for pointing us to this, Farry!

And here is Nothingman, courtesy YouTube user chicoetereo:

Thanks AK47 for the link to the above.

Last but not least, for your viewing pleasure here is a nice gallery of fabulous photos from the Jam-tastic night, including the T-Shirt sold and screen caps of Ed talking to the soldiers in Iraq. UPDATED 5.2.10 added Stone/Mike/Matt images


Credits: Wire Image/Jeffrey Ufberg; Getty Images; Times=Picayune/Chris Granger; Blog Of New Orleans

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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