Rock’s Last Great Hope

by Staff

It was the stuff of rock-and-roll dreams.

The near sell-out crowd at the San Diego Sports Arena was rifewith unmitigated anticipation, even before the lights turned downWednesday night.

The wait was, after all, for Pearl Jam.

“We’re so glad you made it,” said Eddie Vedder just before theband played the first notes to “Given To Fly.”

“It’s nice to be back.”

In support of the band’s sixth studio album, “Binaural,” PearlJam’s performance attested that bigger is certainly better. A decadeafter “Ten” catapulted Vedder and company to grunge demi-god status,the performance demonstrated that the band has outgrown the Seattlescene in favor of a more mature, less irate sound.

Nevertheless, fans new and old were delighted to welcome the bandback to San Diego.

Pearl Jam entered the stage to thundering applause and a sea ofhands greeting them either with closed fists or “goat’s head” handsigns. Vedder clenched the microphone as the band launched into acatalogue of songs from its enduring career. Hardly noticeable wasthe frontman’s struggle to get over a rumored case of pneumonia.

Vedder showed only slight weariness on stage and instead delivereda crowd-pleasing performance. His low-pitched gruff complemented muchof the band’s sound, whether acoustic or plugged, and his voicetouched the spirited audience, compelling them to hold their hands upin “V’s” (in accordance to Pearl Jam’s pre-Columbine encomium”Jeremy”) or collectively applauding a large sign behind the band,which read “Ned, will you marry me?”

What’sa rock concert without a public proposal anyway?

Vedder’s vocals transform into a tool that wistfully moves theband’s fans and bridges a connection between performer and audience.It’s an unmatched feat that is extinct in other modern-rockperformers.

Pearl Jam’s effectiveness on stage was also enhanced by the SportsArena’s immensity. While it’s true that a more fitting experience tohear Vedder’s profound lyrics would be within a more intimate concertsetting, the band’s dynamic sound — Vedder’s hush-to-roar vocals,guitarist Stone Gossard’s flawless rhythms and Jeff Ament’sstaggering bass — not to mention its extensive fan base, requires agrander venue.

Setting the frenetic pace for approximately two hours werequintessential Pearl Jam tunes, from the soaring riffs of “Do TheEvolution,” to the commanding “Animal,” to modern rock-radio staples(complete with longer guitar solos) “Evenflow” and “Wishlist.”

The night’s high climax came during the show’s half-hour encore,which included the hands-down crowd favorite “Black.”

Yet the show was in no way a retrospective of the band’srecognized and acclaimed work. Pearl Jam was here to play newmaterial as well.

Released earlier this year, “Binaural” marks the band’s foray intomore atmospheric rock. Songs such as “Breakerfall” and “Thin Air”pick up where the low-key and mystifying album “Yield” left off. Mostof “Binaural’s” material sound even better live, a magic trick wherethe band’s studio mastery metamorphoses to on-stage jam sessions. Andthe crowd wholeheartedly ate every piece of Pearl Jam’s musical pie.

Vedder requested to have the arena lights turned on while the bandclosed off the show with a rendition of “Yellow Ledbetter.” Thatnumber alone moved the crowd beyond any concert expectations,certifying the band remains a phenomenal rock act after all theseyears.