The Uke’s Got Balls: Eddie Vedder at the Beacon, Night 2

by Jessica Letkemann on June 23, 2011

Eddie Vedder, live at the Beacon 2

A grey Wednesday twilight in Manhattan found Eddie Vedder back at the Beacon Theatre for the second show of his two-night NYC run, with his trusty ukes surrounding him and a new set of surprise guests, setlist tweaks and amusing banter.

But if you were at the show and you didn’t catch opener Glen Hansard, not only did you miss out on a sweet 30-minute set including new tunes (“Lucia”), an un-amplified busking interlude that held the audience in rapt silence, and even a Van Morrisson cover — you also missed a Hansard’s very sweet story of how he got the “gift of friendship” with Ed out of the tragedy after a fan jumped to his death at a GH show last summer in California. Though Eddie had never even met Glen, he figured out his number and gave him a call to offer support of someone who had been through the same horror at Roskilde. Ed called at the same time each day for the following three days to make sure Glen was OK. And later, when Glen was finally visiting Seattle, he worked up his courage to text Ed hello — and got an invitation to come to the studio to record “Sleepless Nights” for “Ukulele Songs.”

Eddie himself took the stage at his customary 8:45pm armed with a trio of uke songs, “Can’t Keep,” “Sleeping By Myself,” and “Without You.” He paused to say he was “feeling good tonight unlike when I was writing this next song,” which turned out to be “Broken Heart,” further explaining that when you’re feeling good, it feels like you’re in life’s fastlane. But when things are bad, “the fist of God pins you to the mat and slows you down. And you start paying attention to the little things you usually step on. Like a ukulele.”

Before dedicating “Satellite” to the West Memphis Three’s Damien Echols and his wife Lori, a chatty Ed reprised his commentary about exactly how he might have mapped out a climb of the Beacon’s ornate walls, boxes and balconies — culminating in swinging through the place on a mic cord like a “cut-rate Spider-Man” — if he had played there back in the day.

And before launching into a beautiful “Longing To Belong,” accompanied by cellist Amy Ralske, Vedder launched into the second funniest story of the night. Photographer Danny Clinch, who has shot Pearl Jam and most of the other great rock bands of the last 20 years, was working with Bruce Springsteen recently, Ed recounted, and the subject of Ed’s new record came up. Donning a gravelly Springsteen voice, Ed said the Boss drawled, “Well, it takes a lot of balls to do a record of all ukulele songs.” So when the record debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Charts, Ed laughingly thought, “Hey, the Uke’s got balls!”

Eddie eagerly delved into the Pearl Jam catalog (“Around The Bend,” “I Am Mine,”) and dived “Into The Wild” (“Far Behind,” “Long Nights”). Then the sold-out, singalong friendly audience was treated to the new strings-laden, ballad version of “Lukin,” now with different lyrics. After “Just Breathe” EV got his biggest cheer of the night when he demurred, “I’ve been playing with *that* band for 20 years.” And the biggest laugh of the night came next as he launched into a tale about how Matt, Mike, Jeff and Stone play so loud his hearing ain’t so hot anymore. “I see all and know all, but I can’t hear for shit,” he joked, which was all his kind way of saying you may as well not shout from from balcony because he won’t hear it but the guy next to you will be pissed. Indeed.

Everyone, however, loves a good song-origin story. And Eddie didn’t disappoint when he gave details of how “Unthought Known” was born after a sleepless, “well lubricated” night of conversation in New York “about a year ago” right before a New Jersey show (probably more like, um, August 2008 — time flies). He was inspired by the moon over Central Park beaming at him from his hotel window, fell asleep, woke up and discovered this song on his portable recorder. Priceless.

As the show wound down, a procession of curious collaborations came up. Out of nowhere, actor Ed Norton very nervously joined Ed for a duet on “Guaranteed.” A much more assured Glen Hansard reappeared for a beautiful “Sleepless Nights,” and stayed as the pair joined voices for Hansard’s signature song, “Falling Slowly,” much to the crowd’s delight. Next, aforementioned photog Danny Clinch appeared with a harmonica to, as Eddie said, “process some grief” for the late E. Street saxman Clarence Clemons with a rousing — and very fitting – cover of Springsteen’s “Open All Night.” And Hansard, Eddie and Clinch teamed up — in lab coats, of course — for the lights-up “Big Hard Sun” jam that serves as the signal that the ride is almost over.

After the sweet little “Dream A Little Dream” rang out, and Eddie stood to say his goodbyes and smile out at all the faces smiling back to him, just about everyone in that crowd stood there just as fondly, not quite ready to let the evening end.

How far is Philly, again? ;-)

TFT Review of the first of two nights at the Beacon Theatre, June 21, 2011.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

Leave a Comment