The iconic Seattle band played a joyous and reflective show Wednesday, the first of two concerts that are the centerpiece of a fundraising campaign to combat homelessness in King County.
As soon as Eddie Vedder stuck the landing on his first leaping splits, his face scrunching with emotional strain, you knew it was on. The Home Shows logos plastered across the city and merch tent mob scenes outside of Safeco Field had warned of one of Seattle’s most beloved bands returning to claim its throne. But it wasn’t until Pearl Jam broke from an opening run of soaring ballads, coming up for air after an extra burly “Corduroy,” that you could feel how much the band and its hometown fans truly missed each other.
“We’re Pearl Jam and we’re from Seattle, Washington. So I guess that must mean we’re home,” announced a grinning Vedder to tens of thousands of roaring fans.
The iconic Seattle rockers and their air-guitar-hammering fans were drunk in each other’s company — and it wasn’t just the Home Shows-branded beer. It had been five years since Pearl Jam last graced a Seattle stage and Wednesday’s joyous marathon set made clear that absence had made the heart grow fonder. Early on during the first of two sold-out, wildly anticipated shows, Vedder gleefully mused on the band’s roots, cracking dad jokes about guitarist Stone Gossard making more “dough” than his bandmates working at a Pioneer Square bakery.
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Maybe there was something in the air blowing off the bay through the ballpark’s retracted roof, but even a false start on “Go” couldn’t keep it from hitting like a shotgun blast, followed by Vedder’s madman howling over a deranged “Do the Evolution.”
“It’s nights like these you don’t miss the old Kingdome,” he beamed, nostalgically ripping the sound quality at the Mariners’ previous digs. “The old concrete lady, she was a bitch.”
Dubbed the Home Shows, the stadium gigs (the second of which goes down Friday) are part of an ambitious campaign that’s raised more than $11 million to combat King County homelessness. At a pivotal time in the debate over how to handle the growing crisis, Pearl Jam rallied 140-plus partner organizations and countless individual donors as the band’s shows set the city abuzz.
Taking the stage an hour after the announced showtime, the grunge gods continued building suspense, easing into a colossal three-hour set with a run of steamy ballads, capped by a singalong “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” Flanked by Mike McCready, who sported a Showbox T-shirt much of the night, and “Capitol Hill’s own Stone Gossard” (as Vedder introduced him), Eddie and the boys seemed energized by reconnecting with their hometown fans.
But Vedder’s mood shifted after a slyly waltzing “All Those Yesterdays,” as he recalled an old friend, also named Eddie, who lived in the foyer of the band’s Pioneer Square office building while they were finishing up their first album. The two Eds spoke regularly until one went on tour and the other moved underneath the viaduct, the Vietnam War veteran telling Vedder “stories of the atrocities he’d seen,” at least when he was lucid enough to recount them.
After returning from another tour, Vedder learned Eddie had died, and Vedder wrote one of Pearl Jam’s most recognizable songs. “I never really told that story until tonight,” Vedder said.
It’s important “to elevate the empathy and understanding for our homeless neighbors, so this one’s for Eddie,” he added, tearing into a serenely walloping “Even Flow” with new clarity. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that this wasn’t any old homecoming gig for the Seattle icons — as much as Vedder seemed to revel in talking about the band’s early days.
It was one of many made-for-Seattle moments laced throughout the 30-plus-song set packed with fan-favorite deep cuts, timeless rock radio smashes and Pearl Jam’s signature covers. At least a few fellow members of Seattle rock royalty were in the building, including Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, though only one would join the band on stage. During the first encore, Brandi Carlile made a surprise cameo for a spirited duet on Pearl Jam’s power-popped take on the Americana queen’s “Again Today.”
Vedder dedicated a heartwarming spin through The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to be Friends” to Seattle teachers, while his daughters adorably danced with two of their favorite teachers on stage. As satiating as hearing thousands of fans echoing Vedder — who belted like a man possessed on a triumphant “Alive” — the band’s hallmark extended jams were often the most satisfying, as McCready launched moonshot solos over bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron’s pummeling rhythms.
Throughout the second (and final) encore — which included a jubilant “Better Man” and a rollicking lights-on dance party to their classic “Rockin’ in the Free World” cover — Vedder paused to thank the groups and organizations that joined the Home Shows crusade, imploring the crowd to help keep the momentum going.
A couple of rock shows — even the mega-hyped return of hometown heroes raising millions for the cause — can’t end a complex crisis that has many thousands of people in King County without housing. But music has the ability to unite and galvanize people in ways suits with stuffy titles often can’t. If the Home Shows’ goal was to inject a little hope and energy — at least briefly — into the fight to end homelessness, Wednesday night felt like a walk-off homer.
“We can beat this,” Vedder said. “We can do it together and we need your help. It’s a wave and we are the water.”