Pearl Jam's diehard Twin Cities fans certainly were stoked to have frontman Eddie Vedder play his first-ever solo gig in town Saturday night at the Orpheum Theatre. But the local resident most elated by the show might have been Tiny Tim.
The quirky, charming presence of the late "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" singer -- entombed nearby at Lakewood Cemetery in south Minneapolis -- seemed to smile over much of Vedder's sold-out concert Saturday, in which the ukulele was the former grunge hero's instrument du joir.
Last seen in town at Xcel Energy Center in 2006 with Pearl Jam, the singer made his overdue return on tour behind his second solo album, "Ukulele Songs," which is exactly what its title says it is. Not since Paul McCartney paid tribute to George Harrison with a uke at the X in 2005 have so many local rock fans cheered on the four-string instrument so favored by Tim and tacky Hawaiian gift shop owners.
Fortunately, Vedder only favored it in the first half-hour of what wound up being a marathon 2¼-hour show. Any threat of the uke signifying the rocker wussing out vanished by the time he plugged in an electric guitar for a harrowing version of "Dead Man Walking" seven songs into the set.
At least the ukulele was fun while it lasted. Vedder, 46, explained that he picked up the instrument a decade ago during a dark time in his life: "It was looking at me across the room like, 'You wanna talk?'" he recounted, introducing the confessional "Goodbye." The instrument's charm shone through in the remade Pearl Jam song "Can't Keep" (the concert's opener), and in the more hopeful new nugget "You're True."
All that uke music was really just the set-up for an entire night of intimate, living-room-style music, in which Vedder seemed thrive off the smaller crowd -- 2,600 fans, compared to the 50,000 that Pearl Jam will probably play to Sept. 3-4 in East Troy, Wis. He playfully picked between his surrounding instruments, much like his hero Neil Young does on his frequent solo outings.
In the end, there were almost as many Pearl Jam tunes as there were solo tunes and covers. "Just Breathe," "Better Man," "Love Boat Captain," "Unkthought Known," "The End," "Long Road" and "Wishlist" also all made the cut from the band's catalog, to the rapturous delight of the crowd. All the male audience members feebly singing along -- out of tune -- forgot it was an unplugged show.
Vedder enlisted opener Glen Hansard for some of the most stirring moments of his set. Those included a cover of the Gram Parson/Emmylou Harris standard "Sleepless Nights," a duet version of Hansard's Swell Season hit, "Falling Slowly," and the second encore climax "Hard Sun." The latter was one of several tunes from Vedder's "Into the Wild" soundtrack that he dedicated to the movie's local producer, Bill Pohlad, who was in the crowd. Vedder also blew through X's "4th of July" for an obviously well-chosen cover.
Of all the memorable moments in Saturday's concert, the one that should go down for the ages was the cover song that earned Hansard a uproarious standing ovation during his 45-minute set: a vein-popping interpretation of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." But Hansard, too, succumbed to the sweeter charms of the ukulele in his hard-plucked opening song "Pennies in the Fountain." Tiny Tim's wishes came true, at least for one night.
See the set lists at startribune.com/artcetera
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib