On Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan sits Madison Square Garden. Roughly five miles north in Harlem, Seventh Avenue is called Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and there resides the Apollo Theater where one night prior Pearl Jam played a historic invite-only show as part of Sirius XM’s Small Stage Series. Adding to their rich history at The World’s Most Famous Arena—marked by five two-night runs in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2010, and 2016—the band returned on Sunday for a single night that completed a nontraditional weekend sweep of Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue separated by ninety-two city blocks.
Originally scheduled for March 30th, 2020, the band and fans alike endured a pandemic-induced postponement which in the final analysis only served to raise goosebumps and heighten anticipation when the show was conspicuously rescheduled for 9/11 almost two-and-a-half years later. Face-value tickets were hard to come by for sure and the cheapest entry for last night’s show was trading at over $500 with the least expensive front-facing tickets on the floor or lower bowl going for multiples of that on secondary markets. Notably, Pearl Jam teamed up with long-time foe Ticketmaster to design and implement a fan-to-fan face-value ticket exchange that effectively eliminated secondary markets in all but two states, Colorado and New York where consumer “protection” laws demand the transferability of tickets by legislation. Yay, government. Sigh.
Just ask Google and it’ll tell you that Madison Square Garden is The World’s Most Famous Arena; it brings out the best in athletes and performers alike. The last time Pearl Jam visited Eddie Vedder saw fit to thank Billy Joel “for taking a night off so we could play.” Returning six years later to match their longest stretch away since first visiting in 1998, remnants of feather boas adorned a several-block radius as an omnipresent reminder that World’s Most Famous Arena is now Harry’s House and this was a mere night off from the illustrious Mr. Style’s New York residency.
For fans who were lucky enough to attend both of this weekend’s shows—some of whom went from the Apollo straight to the general admission line at MSG’s 8th Avenue entry—adrenaline and communal vibrations took over where the minimum bar for hours of sleep failed to be met. Saturday’s massive underplay was an exclusive and historic affair, marked by intimacy, deep cuts, and a heavy dose of Gigaton, the album for which this tour is named, but there is simply nothing like being a part of the energy when your favorite band plays Madison Square Garden. This was the night. The band knew it. The crowd knew it. Eddie Vedder confirmed it, “This is our 37th time playing New York City and I don’t remember half of them. This one has the chance to be the most memorable of them all and we’re honored to be spending this important date here.”
The opening song of a Pearl Jam show is one of the most memorable parts of the night; it sets the tone and whether it’s a ballad or a banger determines if the set will open with a flood of tears or get shot out of a cannon. Considering the gravitas of the date and the pent-up energy for this long-awaited Garden party, Vedder and company—Mike McCready (guitar), Stone Gossard (guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), Matt Cameron (drums), Boom Gaspar (keys), and Josh Klinghoffer (guitar/percussion)—chose the former when they took the stage shortly after 9 p.m., going with the reliable and tapping “Release”, the most common opener in the band’s 31-year history. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when “Garden” followed suit with a double dip from 1991’s Ten.
Vedder would recognize the first responders in the house, the ache in his vocals evident as he then launched into the slow-burning “Come Back”, a lyrical triumph over the horror of events that unfolded 21 years to the day earlier. “Present Tense” would literally get the floor moving, a Live At The Garden flashback of Pearl Jam’s first floor shaking encounter at 4 Penn Plaza during 2003’s Riot Act tour. “Could you feel that floor moving? That felt f–ing great, let’s keep doing that,” said Vedder as the band played an ultra-rare mid-set “Porch”.
Pearl Jam – “Present Tense” – 9/11/22
[Video: Marc Komito]
During Pearl Jam’s 1992 MTV Unplugged, Vedder conspicuously wrote “Pro Choice” on his arm forever linking “Porch” with his stance on abortion, a message that resonates more deeply now than ever and no doubt contributed to the set-closing ferocity that marked its delivery. Mention should also be made of Vedder’s calm while holding court in front of 20,000+ fans, simultaneously conducting his band without pause over an instrumental interlude while also breaking up a fight in the pit.
“Dissident” and “Given To Fly” would follow before “Who Ever Said”, the evening’s first of only three tracks from Gigaton and an absolute banger in which the band briefly explored a lyrical bridge to The Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in the style of Devo. After sharing the band’s love and appreciation for recently retired Seattle compatriot Sue Bird, Vedder would then recognize perhaps two of the greatest athletes of all time –”they can both beat me at tennis and karaoke”—Venus and Serena Williams who were seated just to the left of the stage.
Ed was dripping with sweat and looking positively feral during “Even Flow” as Mike McCready sprinted back and forth across the length of the stage, delivering with aplomb one of his most signature guitar solos. “Seven O’Clock” was next, confirming on the world’s brightest stage two facts about Gigaton that I already knew to be true: a) the band believes in this album and b) it hits hard and translates especially well live. ”Daughter” would follow with an unusual tag, the debut single by rising British indie rock duo Wet Leg, “Chaise Lounge”, before being followed by “Dance Of The Clairvoyants”, “I’m Open”, and singalong favorite “Better Man”.
Vedder tipped off the next song by singing an altered version of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, changing the lyrics to “Hold me closer Chloe Dancer, count the headlights on the highway,” as the band revisited a little bit of its own 9/11 history. For it was on this day 11 years prior in Toronto, CA, that the beloved Mother Love Bone duo of “Chloe Dancer” > “Crown Of Thorns” was born, a pairing that would later be documented in a live release and that Vedder would mark on this day saying, “That one was for Andrew (Wood).” A raucous “Sonic Reducer” was next, Vedder keeping the 9/11 theme alive by recognizing once again the first responders he got to meet earlier that night. “Rearviewmirror”, an iconic track from Pearl Jam’s sophomore effort Vs. that would also be used as the title to its Greatest Hits 1991-2003 two-disc compilation, emphatically punctuated the 17-song heavyweight set.
Pearl Jam – “Chloe Dancer” > “Crown of Thorns” (Mother Love Bone) – 9/11/22
Returning from a very short encore break, Pearl Jam warned, “We played an extra show in Canada so we could pay the overtime here” before launching into an exclamatory 40-minute, seven-song encore set. “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” kicked things off as the longest title in the Pearl Jam catalog was sung with the band facing the fans seated behind the stage. Vedder then challenged fans, “Let’s see if we can get the floor going again!” before we all succeeded with a rowdy “Why Go”. In perfect floor-shaking spirit, “Do The Evolution”—the first song to get the floor bouncing in 2003—kept the vibrations going strong again last night, Vedder celebrating his success by adorning his Capitol Theatre t-shirt with a black sequined blazer the rest of the way.
Pearl Jam – “Why Go” – 9/11/22
[Video: markit aneight]
Adding to the band’s rich history of covers, “Purple Rain” was played by Pearl Jam for just the third time ever last night after debuting earlier this year (5/16/22). As with previous outings of the Prince classic on Vedder’s Earthling solo tour this past winter, Vedder sang the first verse before fellow Earthling Josh Klinghoffer took the rest.
Pearl Jam – “Purple Rain” (Prince) – 9/11/22
[Video: Jefe Birkner]
Banging double tambourines and dripping with sweat, Vedder would then give a few select fans the night of their lives by hand choosing them to receive his now tattered percussion. The girl next to me expressed a moment of “Who me?” shock before nearly passing out at her good fortune before Serena Williams—more calmly but with no less delight—added another trophy to her case. The house lights would shine the rest of the way for “Alive” and “Rockin’ In The Free World”, Chad Smith now dragged on stage to join the fray on Klinghoffer’s drum kit while his former Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmate moved to the guitar and Ed sprayed the crowd with his wine bottle.
Vedder’s Barolo was literally dripping down my arms as this instant 9/11 classic found the ultimate completion with a tribute to the United States, to heroes, and to the sometimes misplaced feelings of unity and hope. Last night on 9/11, 20,000-plus were one as Mike McCready put the finishing touches on a forever night with an awe-inspiring guitar solo of the “Star-Spangled Banner”, Vedder holding his heart and looking on with reverence as the crowd roared its approval.
Pearl Jam – “Rockin’ In The Free World” (Neil Young) > “Star-Spangled Banner” (Francis Scott Key) – 9/11/22
[Video: Jefe Birkner]
It felt like fate when this show was canceled over two years ago and later rescheduled for 9/11. Unsurprisingly as it is often wont to do, Pearl Jam both met and surpassed expectations to meet its own lofty standards and deliver a show for the ages on a date that has sadly become one of the most important dates in our country’s history.
Pearl Jam will continue the US leg of its 2022 North American Tour Wednesday night in Camden, NJ. Details can be found here.
Setlist: Pearl Jam | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 9/11/22
Set: Release, Garden, Come Back, Present Tense, Porch, Dissident, Given to Fly, Who Ever Said, Even Flow, Daughter, Dance of the Clairvoyants, I’m Open, Better Man, Chloe Dancer^, Clown of Thorns^, Sonic Reducer*, Rearviewmirror
Encore: Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Why Go, Do the Evolution, Purple Rain+, Alive, Rockin’ in the Free World&%, The Star-Spangled Banner#
^ Mother Love Bone
* Dead Boys
& Neil Young
% w/ Chad Smith
# Francis Scott Key