Eddie Vedder didn’t seem to be taking anything for granted.
The Pearl Jam frontman was back on stage Monday night at Benaroya Hall after COVID-19 interrupted a short tour with his new all-star band, The Earthlings. Opening the show with a short but fiery solo set, Earthlings member and frequent Vedder collaborator Glen Hansard explained that the entire band caught the coronavirus, causing multiple California dates to be postponed. But there were no signs of fatigue when Vedder and Co. ripped through a ferocious “Brother the Cloud.”
Vedder seemed to hit another gear during the second chorus, as silver-suited drummer Chad Smith (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) flung a drumstick over his head and into the crowd, further dialing up the intensity, leaning over the front row during the song’s whirling, post-punky bridge. There’d be no holding back, at least in terms of the performance, as Vedder showed off his tight-knit new band to a hometown crowd during what became a literal family affair.
“We’ve been through a lot to get here, as Glen mentioned,” Vedder said. “There’s been a lot of hurdles. … But now that we’re here, we’re damn well going to enjoy ourselves.”
Of that there would be no doubt, as the locked-in sextet burned through a fun and loose two-hour set anchored around songs from Vedder’s inspired new solo album, “Earthling,” released this month. The album was the result of spontaneous sparks that flew between Vedder and producer Andrew Watt, who plays guitar in The Earthlings, leading to the formation of the all-star band that also includes Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and ex-Chili Pepper/Pearl Jam touring member Josh Klinghoffer.
Watt, 31, is best known for his work with A-list pop stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, but make no mistake, the Pearl Jam superfan can shred (don’t forget, he did Ozzy Osbourne’s latest record, too). On stage, the Earthlings’ youngest member was an energizing force, bouncing around the stage and injecting supernova guitar solos into Pearl Jam favorite “Porch” and an encore cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity.”
“He’s an old soul in a young man’s body,” Vedder said of Watt, before lovingly ribbing his silky new collaborator. “Even though he wears clothes that sometimes look like pajamas.”
Still, Watt wasn’t the youngest showstopper during the first of Vedder’s two Benaroya concerts (the boys are back again Tuesday night). That distinction went to Vedder’s oldest daughter, Olivia Vedder, who made a pair of well-received cameos, the first closing Hansard’s opening set with an arresting duet of the Irish singer-songwriter’s Grammy-winning “Falling Slowly.” Sounding at home on the big stage, the younger Vedder again drew huge cheers with the misty-eyed “My Father’s Daughter,” a tune the Vedders and Hansard cut for last year’s “Flag Day” soundtrack. (Ed’s younger daughter, Harper, also kicked in backup vocals on the Tom Petty-vibing “Long Way.”)
Alongside uplifting Pearl Jam staple “Wishlist,” the song helped break up the band’s “Earthling” portion, with fans already greeting Vedder’s 10-days-old material — including a rejuvenating float through album opener “Invincible” — like old favorites.
Vedder and the gang bookended that “Earthling” midsection with a heavy mix of covers and a handful of PJ numbers, like a scruffy and funky romp through the Chili Peppers-esque deep cut “Dirty Frank.”
The night wasn’t without tender moments, as Vedder and Hansard tried to embrace Benaroya Hall’s acoustically blessed environs, forgoing microphones on a ukelele-fueled duet on the Everly Brothers’ “Sleepless Nights.” The unamplified ditty kicked off the encore as the crowd alternately hollered and shushed each other. But the rockers weren’t afraid to get rowdy in the Seattle Symphony’s home, delivering an extra punkified rendition of PJ’s “Corduroy” and bringing out more Seattle rock royalty in Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan for added rumble on the Pretenders’ punky bop, “Precious.”
As if it wasn’t apparent by the time Vedder and his top-tier musician buddies ignited “All Along the Watchtower” like the grand finale of a backyard fireworks display, the encore closer highlighted the freewheeling chemistry coursing through Vedder’s new side band, which is clearly enjoying its honeymoon phase. From the sounds of it, the Vedder-Watt connection is likely to spill over into Pearl Jam’s next moves, and if last night’s fun and intimate showing is any indication, that can only mean good things.