“The waiting drove me mad,” Eddie Vedder bellowed near the start of Pearl Jam’s concert Sunday night in St. Paul. He sang it like that was a bad thing.
Clocking in at just over three hours with 32 songs, Pearl Jam’s Xcel Energy Center show was madly energetic and fanatically crazed in all the right ways. It felt like a release valve had suddenly blown off, and a deep well of angsty adrenaline spewed out over the hard-bobbing heads and air-pumping fists of the sold-out crowd.
The 18,000 fans on hand waited eight years between Twin Cities tour stops by Vedder’s time-tested rock band — or 11 years if you don’t count their abbreviated set with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the X in 2006.
This one definitely counted, and really showcased Pearl Jam for all its worth. The lighting and production was minimal and rather elementary, but the music was full-tilt, passionate and rarely lagging, even with a handful of new tunes and many mellower songs amid the heavier rockers.
Uncharacteristically for a Pearl Jam show — at least the shows the Twin Cities have seen — the concert started out with three of those quieter, relaxed tunes, which amounted to a long, slow, teasing build until the distortion pedals finally kicked in.
Fans sang along right away in the opener “Pendulum,” perhaps a test to see if they’ve listened to the band’s latest record, “Lightning Bolt” (they passed with flying colors). By the third song, “Nothingman,” the arena sounded like a giant choir practice.
The tempo snapped back with vengeful velocity as the band then tore into “Go” and “Life Wasted,” two of their punkiest, fiercest classics. The title track of “Lightning Bolt” followed and proved to be one of the most climactic, hair-raising rockers of the show — certain to become a new classic.
From there, Vedder led the sextet through old favorites such as “Corduroy” and “Daughter” alongside songs off the three records issued since 2003, including the feel-good anthems “The Fixer” and “Sirens.” “Even Flow” was an early showpiece for lead guitarist Mike McCready, who showed off his new T-shirt from St. Paul’s Eclipse Records on the jumbo screen as he soloed. “Love Boat Captain,” a 2002 deep cut, turned into a centerpiece mid-concert as the band tastefully stretched it out into jammy territory.
The only stop in the concert’s momentum came about 75 minutes in, when Vedder introduced Dr. Jakub Tolar from the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, where some of the band spent their day off Saturday planning charity work. “We toured your facilities, so you can tour ours,” the singer told the doctor, proceeding to show him around the stage and introduce his bandmates — more to the delight of the crowd than to Tolar.
After a back-to-back tear through “Given to Fly” and “Rearviewmirror” put the crowd over into rapturous territory to end the regular set, Vedder returned to kick off the encore with a breather-like acoustic montage. It started with “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and continued through a solo cover of “Imagine” by “St. John” (Lennon) and a revision of the old B-side “Footstep.”
By the second encore, both the musicians and the fans should have been spent, but that’s when the band cashed in on three of its biggest singalong anthems, “Black,” “Better Man” and “Alive.” Donning a Minnesota Wild jersey, Vedder looked more everyman than rock star as he led the band through the rousing finale. It was clear as ever, though, he’s still in a league of his own as frontmen go.
See Pearl Jam's set list at startribune.com/artcetera.