Sensory Perception: Eddie Vedder at the Beacon (Review)

by John Reynolds on June 22, 2011

Eddie Vedder, live at the Beacon

The prerequisites for an Eddie Vedder solo show are simple: clothes on your back, shoes on your feet and … yeah … $90.

Aside from the price, the utter simplicity of what’s necessary to enjoy him perform fit nicely with the antiquity of the 80-plus-year-old Beacon Theatre, on Tuesday hosting the first of two shows in New York City as part of his U.S. Tour 2011.

While newcomers and Beacon veterans stared at the beauty of the venue prior to the start of the set, it was impossible to not notice the amount of stage gear, considering that the main act was only one man (with five crew members!). Four seats with music stands were arranged stage-left. Stage-right included an upright organ of some kind. In the middle were a band of guitars, monitors, suitcases – enough to make you forget it was a stage at all, and bring you into the atmosphere he was going to create. Oh, and someone spotted Neil Finn. More on that later.

Starting with a six-pack of songs from 2011′s Ukulele Songs, Eddie and the hippest instrument on the planet these days sounded great, as he manned the deep center of a stage that protruded out into a rounded first row of fans. A highlight included “Light Today”, where Ed started the reel-to-reel machine to add ocean sounds, not losing any impact live that the song has on record.

Looking around the venue, Ed joked that he would have “climbed the shit out of this place” years ago, and navigated an imaginary path with his finger from side-stage, to the winding ornate molding, to the start of the balcony. With the crowd still laughing, he shrugged “Hey, it could still happen.”

Ed gave an endearing tribute to “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons who passed away last week, retelling a story about seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band as his first concert ever, and being so disappointed after his second concert ever because Bruce & Co. had set his expectations so high. He fondly remembered Clemons’ bright white suit and how he glowed both in and out of the spotlight.

A piercing “Long Road” hushed the “EDDIE”-yelling crowd for a bit, a poignant moment early in the show. “Sometimes” followed and ended with Ed wondering about Clemons in the afterlife, “is he with you, here, God?”

Original and cover “I Am Mine” and “Millworker” showed his guitar prowess in a room where some of the best guitarists ever have wowed crowds. “Millworker” was dedicated to Walmart employees that recently lost a class-action suit against the retailer.

Next, a batch of Into The Wild songs. It’s at this point where you realize that Eddie Vedder shows are like chapters of a book. But not sequential chapters, instead deep chapters with allegorical threads sectioned off by album, by instrument … creating shows within shows, and yet it fits together like a complicated puzzle. A highlight of the Into The Wild “chapter” is “Long Nights”, with Glen Hansard on bass, extending his workday to provide a crucial component to the song that couldn’t be captured in prior tours.

It was no surprise to see a string quartet accompany Ed on “Just Breathe” and “The End”, but it was absolutely no less enjoyable, as the accompaniment was clear and discernible in the small theater unlike previous arena performances. Fan favorite “Unthought Known” and a precise “Arc” closed up the main set.

Back to the theme of the night for a second. Weeks ago, when emails were sent to ticket-holders, this item was very prominent:

“No cameras of any kind, not even camera phones.”

This was reiterated by venue security over and over upon entering and rule-breaker after rule-breaker was flash-lighted and told to stop taking shots during the show. The rule wasn’t so much a way to protect the artist’s imagery syndication, but as another tap on the shoulder that your eyes and ears can and will do the heavy lifting this evening.

Sounding just perfect duetting on “Sleepless Nights” and “Society”, Glen Hansard traded places with the heralded musician Neil Finn (Split Enz/Crowded House), who Ed once toured with and appeared on the DVD “Seven Worlds Collide”. Joking that their performances were indeed “collisions”, Ed and Neil executed the non-rehearsed yet familiar “Throw Your Arms Around Me” and “I Got You”. The latter had Ed trailing the chords and Neil not missing a beat, yelling them out into the last chorus (“Now ‘F’ … and ‘G’ and back to ‘A’”) .

“Porch” didn’t “finally” get the crowd to its feet, but fit perfectly as the first encore closer, with a tangible buzz still filling the venue after the Neil Finn collaborations.

While “Hard Sun” is the “Yellow Ledbetter” of Eddie’s tour history, it is only now – with the recent addition of “Dream a Little Dream” as the closer – that the vision for presenting his repertoire of songs can come full circle.

Starting with a ukulele, a stool, and a well-traveled baritone, the show now ends with a ukulele, a stool and a now well-exercised baritone. The house-lights are half-up, feeling somewhat candle-lit. Bright smartphone screens appear and flicker not so much because “I NEED TO TAKE AT LEAST ONE CRAPPY PICTURE”, but in some cases because their owners realized they went almost two hours without using it, instead choosing to lose themselves in a 29-song set in a gorgeous room with fellow music-lovers.

The conclusion is that the removal of distractions allowed our eyes and ears to absorb all that transpired during the two-hour Eddie Vedder show. Our memories of the show will last a lifetime, and the cell phone pics would have only lasted until the phone was dropped in a 42nd Street puddle on the next rainy day. Free from these technology leeches, we were able to experience the show to its fullest, and suddenly we don’t care how much that ticket cost.

The Beacon Theater, photo : westsideindependent.com

The Beacon Theater, photo : westsideindependent.com

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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