On Sunday night, before Pearl Jam played its fifth song, Eddie Vedder addressed the sold-out crowd.
“Twenty-three years. Twenty-three years. We have been a band for 23 years and this is the first time we have had the opportunity to say these three words: ‘Good evening, Baltimore,’” the 48-year-old singer said.
He seemed both mystified and relieved. Why had it taken his band so long to play this city, especially given its proximity to Philadelphia, a spot the group never misses? (While Pearl Jam had never played Baltimore before Sunday, Vedder played a solo set at the Lyric Opera House in 2009.)
Naturally, not a soul cared. If Vedder’s acknowledgment was a long-coming apology, the crowd had happily accepted way before the band took the stage. The crowd, energized and enthralled all night, made it clear the wait was well worth it.
With no opening band, Pearl Jam played 32 songs for nearly three hours. The band, playing as a six-piece, performed six songs from its new album, “Lightning Bolt.” Of the new material, “Sirens” stood out most, blossoming from gentle to anthemic with little prodding.
The crowd — full of fans that spent the entire night enthusiastically clapping, stomping and pogoing — appreciated the new tracks, but they were really there to see what tricks the band had planned. (The Pearl Jam forum was predictably active right after the show, with fans comparing the Baltimore setlist to other cities’.) An early treat was “Lukin,” a 63-second, punk-inspired song from 1996’s “No Code.” Appropriately, it followed Vedder’s acknowledgement that Ian MacKaye was in the building. Later, “Spin the Black Circle,” a hyper “Vitalogy” cut, was dedicated to MacKaye’s Dischord record label.
The most satisfying moments were also the most predictable. Vedder often stepped away from the microphone, allowing the crowd to finish the lyrics to some of the band’s most beloved songs: “Daughter,” “Black,” “Wishlist,” “Alive,” “Better Man,” “Unthought Known.” Seeing Pearl Jam perform “Corduroy” remains a concert experience no rock fan should miss. While writing a good song is hard, and writing a great song is something of a Herculean feat, Pearl Jam has something else that explains their longevity: timeless songs.
Fittingly and tenderly, Vedder paid tribute to a songwriter of timeless songs: Lou Reed, who died at 71 on Sunday. He dedicated “Man of the Hour” to the massively influential singer and his wife, Laurie Anderson. (The final line, “As the curtain comes down, I feel that this is just goodbye for now,” was chilling.) And Pearl Jam wasn't done: The band covered the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting For the Man."
But this was not a somber show; it was celebratory and intimate. That was clear when Vedder, before jumping into the new song “Yellow Moon,” pointed out a woman in the front row celebrating her 21st birthday. He then poured her a drink from what looked like a bottle of wine.
Surely many in the audience were jealous of her sharing one with Eddie. But the real root of the audience’s envy was a guy in section 327, at the very back and top of the arena. Early in the show, after “Given to Fly,” the constantly bouncing fan caught Vedder’s eye. The singer asked for the house lights.
“Is that a yellow shirt?” he asked. “You made quite an impression.”
To be singled out by the lead singer is an accomplishment enough. But right before the night ended with “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Vedder invited the same fan on stage. Halfway through the song, the man finally made it to the stage and danced alongside the band as it extended the song to maximize the moment. After a 23-year wait, it was that kind of night in Baltimore.