Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON
Opening Band: Sleater-Kinney
Preset: Porch (Ed solo)
Main Set: Release, Go, Animal, Save You, Given To Fly, Corduroy, Love Boat Captain, (A Sort Of Homecoming)/Elderly Woman…, Even Flow, Habit, Daughter/(Androgynous Mind)/(WMA)/(Blitzkrieg Bop)/(Yahweh)/(Bad), Betterman, 1/2 Full, Black, Do The Evolution, Rearviewmirror
Encore 1: You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, Present Tense, Wishlist, Harvest Moon, Indifference, Alive
Encore 2: Blood, Jeremy, Leaving Here, Rockin’ In The Free World (w/Bono), Yellow Ledbetter
It never ceases to amaze me how many people out there know nothing of Pearl Jam after Ten and Vs., and have no idea they’re still an active, touring band that still packs arenas all over the world. Jeff Miers recently wrote a review of a show he saw in Kitchener, Ontario a week or so ago, and called Pearl Jam the “most significant band of its (and my) generation.” And yet, it seems as if they’ve never had less exposure on a national scale. You don’t see them on MTV, they don’t make videos, and they do little press. And all this is just fine by me, if they keep turning out fantastic shows as they did in Toronto Monday night.
It’s become a cliche to say this within the reviews I’ve written about the shows I’ve seen, but these shows are simply amazing. I can’t imagine another band being as consistently great live as Pearl Jam has been in the last decade. Whether you like their newer music or not, their live performances are undeniable in their quality. I defy anyone, fan or no, to attend a show and not be impressed by the band’s raw energy, passion, and ability.
Before I get into a review of the actual show, a few words on Toronto. A great city, particularly coming from a city like Buffalo. Impressive architecture, clean streets, clean subways, a giant tower, a dome that looks like an alien spacecraft, and their McDonald’s logos have a maple leaf on them. What more could you want? cn tower pic
Among all that fine architecture and fast food cuisine, and just as ubiquitous, were the black squirrels. Long have they haunted my nightmares, and my deepest fears were realized as we were surrounded by them shortly after exiting my car after arriving in Toronto. Okay, maybe not surrounded, but there were one or two about. squirrel pic edited
After having gotten over my fear-induced paralysis (cuz of the squirrels), we checked into our hotel, the Clarion Selby, rumored to be haunted by all manner of 19th century ghosts with large mustaches. Alas, we saw no evidence of any haunting, though there were a few barking spiders haunting our room. And I should note that PJ fans took over the city, it was hard to go more than a block or two without seeing a Pearl Jam bumper sticker, shirt, or weed-smoking hippie. (Okay, I’m assuming all weed-smoking hippies like Pearl Jam.)
But enough of that, you came here to hear about Pearl Jam. We made our way to our seats after arriving at the Air Canada Centre, home of longtime Sabres’ biatch, the Maple Leafs. There was a buzz in the air immediately upon entering the arena, and there was no mistaking the excitement everyone felt as showtime crept closer. Adding to the buzz were the rumors U2 was still in town, having just completed a multiple-show set at the same venue. This, of course, led to speculation they’d make an appearance onstage with Pearl Jam, as Eddie Vedder had done a few nights previous.
After picking up some phat merchandise out in the hallways, we made it back to our seats shortly before the lights came down and Ed himself came out, with guitar. Presets have become standard at PJ shows in recent years, likely borne out of the band’s desire to get the crowd into the arena for the opening bands. Ed will typically play a stripped-down acoustic song, but tonight’s song choice would be something of a surprise. He played Porch, one of the last songs you’d expect to hear done acoustically, and it got the crowd excited for what was to come.
Sleater-Kinney then played a solid 45-minute set, heavy on songs from their new album, “The Woods,” which is great. Despite the ear-splitting decibel levels and iffy acoustics of the Air Canada Centre, it was an enjoyable set. No one came to see Sleater-Kinney, though. After the obligatory sound and mic checks after S-K left the stage, the house lights faded out and the crowd immediately went nuts as the band made their way onto the stage. They quickly launched into Release, which I think is the best opener they have. Ed’s voice sounded great, and goosebumps were raised throughout the song’s high points.
The band then shredded their way through Go, Animal, and Save You, rapidly working the crowd into a frenzy. Four songs into the show, the crowd was already in a lather, jumping up and down and flailing arms to and fro. (I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “flailing arms to and fro.”)
Pearl Jam followed that raging three-song block with a soaring rendition of Given to Fly, with the crowd singing every word along with Ed. After a predictable (but good) appearance by Corduroy and Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (video here), they launched into another predictable but welcome mainstay of their live sets: Even Flow. Among the many highlights of PJ’s shows are lead guitarist Mike McCready’s incredible solos during EF, and tonight, of course, was no exception. It’s hard to put into words what watching him lay waste to that guitar during these solos, so I won’t try. Suffice it to say, it can be a religious musical experience.
Ed mentioned U2 quite a bit throughout the night, referring to their previous stand in that arena last week, and alluded to the bands having gotten together for some copious amounts of drinking. I believe I heard a figure of $1500 being mentioned along with the word vodka when he described some of their exploits.Vedder played a few bars of U2’s Bad, and I was excited for a moment when I thought the full band would play it, but he stopped after that.
The band followed that up with bassist Jeff Ament jumping on guitar for Habit, a not-oft-enough played track from 1996’s No Code. The song was marked by Ed apparently getting pissed off about something and gesturing wildly to a guitar tech on the side of the stage 6 or 7 times, in between his ragged vocals. I’ve yet to find out what it was about, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more pissed during a show I’ve been to.
Bad would not be all the U2 we’d hear, as Elderly Woman was intro’d with U2’s A Sort Of Homecoming, and the standard tags on the end of Daughter included Yahweh and Bad. Is all this leading up to something?
The rest of the main set included the sweet spotlight-reflecting mirror during 1/2 Full (picture), a somber, intense Black, a raging Do The Evolution, and Rearviewmirror to cap it off. Ed came out solo again for the first encore, playing through the Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. There had been more than a few gaffes already throughout the night (false starts on a few songs, missed vocals, etc.), and Ed’s harmonica skills were not enough to overcome a few missed notes. He eventually threw his harmonica “holder” into the stands in mock disgust. None of this negatively impacts the show, as most of us don’t care if the band started playing Devo songs, the band’s overall performance more than makes up for it.
The first encore continued with the same low-key track stylings, with a nice version of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon supported by Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker on backing vocals. The mirrorball came out for Wishlist (video), and I think it’s one of the extremely few times I’ve ever heard Ed make it through the song without screwing up a line. The first encore concluded with a powerful version of Alive, punctuated by the now-common “HEY” chants by the crowd at the end of the song. The level of crowd noise from there to when the band left the stage for the second break barely dissipated, everyone clamoring for more Pearl Jam.
That clamor was turned into near-delirium as they returned to the stage and launched into a raging Blood and old-favorite Jeremy. After some sweet bass solos by Jeff during Leaving Here, the house lights came up for the final one or two songs. It’s a great tradition at Pearl Jam shows for the house lights to be brough up during the close of the show, allowing the band to see the crowd and everybody getting to see each other going nuts together.
Launching into Rockin’ in the Free World, the band did not bring Sleater-Kinney onstage to perform it with them, which was surprising. The opening band typically joins Pearl Jam onstage for it, so it was certainly notable. So, as I’ve said, Ed mentioning U2 throughout the night, thanking them for breaking in the building, “opening” for the band, drinking together, etc. It was almost as if he was playing to them a bit with all the references, and then it happened.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a crowd be louder or more frenzies during what them took place. Some dude with a tambourine, wearing a cowboy hat came rushing onstage and up to Ed’s mic to start singing. The one, the only Bono was now onstage helping Ed sing Rockin’ in the Free World. I looked at the buddy I came to the show with in amused shock and I think we gave each other some phat high-fives that would probably look incredibly lame to anyone watching. No one was watching, though, because everyone in the crowd was doing the same thing.
I don’t think my ears are capable of hearing sound louder than what the crowd produced in those first few moments. Absolute chaos: clapping, cheering, jumping, flailing; everyone went nuts. I couldn’t really make out what Bono was singing, but it didn’t make much difference. We all kept cheering, singing and jumping around as Bono led the band through the rest of the song. The song finished, and Bono took a seat at the side of the stage next to, wouldn’t you know it, bandmates The Edge and drummer Larry McMullen (no Adam Clayton, alas) to watch PJ close out their set with Yellow Ledbetter.
The last song of any Pearl Jam show is always beset with a melancholy, grateful excitement, knowing the show is at its end, but that is was such an amazing experience that it will stay with you for days, months or years to come (at least until the next show). Monday night in Toronto was no different as the last strains of McCready’s guitar filled the arena while the crowd showed its appreciation for the band and their music with delirious cheering and applause, bringing to a close another fantastic show. This band’s never let me down each time I see them, and I can’t wait until they make it to the States next year in support of their ninth studio album. It’s a great time to be a fan of the “most significant band of its generation,” even if the world outside our devoted Pearl Jam community doesn’t yet know it.
Two Feet Thick notes:
With members of U2 in attendance, Ed thanks them for “opening” for them in Toronto (U2 played four nights in a row over the previous weekend). A snippet of U2’s “A Sort Of Homecoming” was played before “Elderly Woman…”. Ed said, “Speaking as a dirty greasy American” in Habit. “Daughter” is tagged with a verse from “W.M.A.,” the “Hey, Hey, it’s OK” from Sonic Youth’s “Androgynous Mind,” a snippet of U2’s “Yahweh,” and part of U2’s “Bad” (“If I could, yes I would / If I could, I would / Let it go”), and a bit of a call-and-response with melodic “Hey ho, let’s go”s. There was also a very short “Bad” teaser before “Habit”, with Ed saying he thought “Bad” was best song he’d heard about addiction, before he mentioned that “Habit” was another song about addiction. Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney joins the band on backing vocals on “Harvest Moon”. Ed can’t seem to find the right notes on the harmonica during “Harvest Moon” so he takes it and tosses it into the crowd. Jeff played all four solo parts during “Leaving Here”, and Sleater-Kinney sing backup. The Edge from U2 is setting side stage (Mike’s) all night and Bono joins the band for “Rockin’ in the Free World”.