REVIEW: Pearl Jam at KeyArena 09.21.09

Pearl Jam opened its U.S. tour at KeyArena Monday. The band continues its tour at the Key tonight. Below is review of Monday’s concert. Check back Wednesday for a review of tonight’s show.

KeyArena hosted one of the biggest record release shows Seattle has seen Monday night.

Hot off the release of Backspacer, its ninth studio album and best record in more than a decade, Pearl Jam threatened to tear the roof off the building and the band nearly did with its 27-song set filled with fan favorites and new songs destine to be classics in the Pearl Jam canon.

“Tonight’s kind of a special night for us,” Eddie Vedder told the capacity crowd Monday night. “We’re trying to get this rocket ship off the ground here.” By the end of the night the rock ‘n’ roll rocket ship that is Mike, Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Matt and Boom had reached the stratosphere.

Choosing “Long Road” to start things off was fitting considering the show served as the start to the U.S. tour kickoff for the venerable local icons. The lyric “We all take the long road” seemed to metaphorically signify both the beginning of the tour and sum up Pearl Jam’s career arc during the group’s near two-decade run as a band.

Once “Corduroy” was delivered as the follow-up song things were officially kicked into high gear. When Vedder sang “EVERYthing has changed. Absolutely nothing’s changed,” the words couldn’t have been truer. With a new set of tunes under their belt Pearl Jam felt like a relevant, fresh band ready to take on the world that just happened to be packing a catalog of hits everyone in the crowd could sing along to.

As for the rest of the band, Mike McCready was his usual bouncy, guitar-soloing self, running all over the stage, jumping at all the right times to punctuate his moments of guitar genius. Jeff Ament stood steady as one half of the best rhythm sections making music today. Stone Gossard is still the most underrated rhythm guitarist in rock and you can’t say enough about Matt Cameron’s ability behind the kit. The group’s unofficial sixth member, Boom Gaspar, chimed in when needed too with brilliant organ work. You could tell the new album had breathed new life into the Pearl Jam machine.

Speaking of Backspacer, the set was peppered with cuts from the album released one day prior to the show and the new songs were some of highlights of the show. “Gonna See My Friend” followed by “Got Some” opened the door for “Hail Hail” while “Amongst the Waves” fit perfectly prior to “Daughter” in the set. In all, eight of Backspacer’s 11 tracks were performed with many being played live for the first time.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Pearl Jam show without some mention of politics and Vedder took to the microphone to deliver a few messages, the first of which came with a bit of a comedic twist.

“I wasn’t going to bring anything up politically since we’ve got these new songs and all,” Vedder said before pausing to briefly acknowledge the national healthcare debate and taking a moment to say the band agrees with President Obama. However, it wasn’t necessarily a healthcare mandate the band favored.

“We too think Kanye West is a jackass.”

The other political message actually didn’t come from Vedder directly; rather it came from Krist Novaselic. Vedder told the crowd Krist called him recently and asked him to urge the crowd to not vote for Susan Hutchinson. It’s good to hear members of the old grunge guard are still in touch with one another.

After a 17-song main set the group took a break before delivering two encores. The first encore included a four-piece string section that featured Matt Cameron’s wife, April, playing viola. The strings were on stage for two songs, including “The End,” one of the most beautiful and sincere songs Vedder has written in more than a decade.

During the second and more vibrant encore a horn section came on stage for a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me.” Also showing up were “Do The Evolution,” “Given To Fly” and “Indifference” (sans opener Ben Harper, who has previously performed the song on stage with Eddie and the boys).

Aside from the strings and horns there weren’t too many other surprises. “Inside Job” made an appearance near the end of the first encore showcasing McCready’s searing guitar work using a double-neck guitar. “Down,” which came earlier in the night, filled the obligatory rarity role and shockingly the set didn’t end with “Yellow Ledbetter.” Actually, YLB didn’t even make the set. Instead of its classic ode to Hendrix, the band ended things with “Alive.”

Just like it felt appropriate to start things off with whatever metaphorical meanings you want to read into “Long Road” it was equally fitting “Alive” closed things down. While it seemed odd YLB wasn’t on the setlist (as weren’t “Black” or “Crazy Mary,” please rectify this for tonight’s show guys) it felt right to have one of the songs that helped the band become a household name in the 90s be the song to close the beginning of the band’s latest journey on the road.

Pearl jam plays KeyArena tonight at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here

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