Dateline – AUSTIN
September 18, 2023
I arrived at Austin’s new Moody Center hungry for a genuine Pearl Jam experience. So, before I hit the upper deck, I grabbed the PJ specialty cocktail and dinner: Tito’s Last Kiss (Tito’s vodka, cranberry juice, club soda, and blueberries) and the Eddie Vedder Bowl (bulgogi sauced fried tofu, jasmine rice, sauteed peppers, onions, and scallions). A nice appetizer before filling the Pearl Jam-sized hole in my soul.
As I arrived at my seat and began scribbling some pre-show notes, Steve from Boston seated next to me asked if I wrote for a publication. That was my chance to plug 360ºSound. Steve, a longtime member of Pearl Jam’s Ten Club, informed me that I had purchased his extra ticket.
Pearl Jam made their way to the stage to the roar of 15,000 adoring fans – this would be the first of two shows in Austin – opening the set with “Nothingman,” followed by “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in A Small Town.”
Frontman Eddie Vedder, now 58, sounded like he was still fighting off the flu, but he had plenty of vocal help from the audience. Fortunately, his voice got much better as the show progressed.
After the two classics from Vitalogy and Vs., Vedder picked up his acoustic guitar and asked “How’s it feel out there?” He added: “As we look around, it’s almost like they only let good people in.”
This was Pearl Jam’s 10th show in Austin, according to Vedder. The last time was ACL Fest 2014, which also happened to be my first and only other time to see the Seattle legends.
“Just about everybody’s wife is here tonight – the most important part of the group,” Vedder said. “The one that is missing is my wife. It gets worse…today is our wedding anniversary.”
Vedder and wife Jill have been together 24 years and were wed 13 years ago. “It shows she’s a patient woman,” he said before dedicating the third song, “Thumbing My Way,” to her.
“Footsteps” followed, a crucial song in the early history of Pearl Jam, but only ever released as part of the “Jeremy” single. The crowd would erupt with the opening notes of every song. Despite being the biggest rock band in the world for a spell in the ‘90s, you won’t find very many casual fans at a Pearl Jam gig. This is the hardcore faithful, and the setlist catered to that fact with plenty of lesser-known cuts. In fact, 1996’s often overlooked No Code album got the second most representation in the set (Vitalogy got the most).
The show really got rocking at the end of “Present Tense.” Lead guitarist Mike McCready started running in circles and doing Pete Townshend-esque windmill moves. On the next song, “Who Ever Said” from Gigaton, their latest album, the video displays pulled a Wizard of Oz, turning from black & white to color. Jeff Ament’s bright orange bass guitar stood out the most – the ruby slippers, if you will.
“Corduroy” featured the first of a number of epic McCready guitar solos. The video had a purposely choppy effect as he shredded away.
Vedder then introduced utility man Josh Klinghoffer. The former Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist had filled in for Matt Cameron on drums in Fort Worth the week prior while Cameron was out with Covid.
Vedder then shared a piece of rock-n-roll lore: Back in the ‘80s, The Police’s Stewart Copeland had “fuck” “off” “you” “cunt” written on each of his toms – a message directed at Sting. Vedder joked that Cameron, back on the drum throne this evening, had “fuck” “off” “Covid” scrawled on his set.
Tim Palmer, an Englishman now residing in Austin, who mixed their classic debut album Ten, was introduced in the crowd.
“If it weren’t for him, this record probably wouldn’t have sounded like this,” Vedder said as the band tore into “Even Flow.”
When describing the deepest cut of the night, Vedder cracked, “I haven’t been to all the Pearl Jam shows, but I would guess we’ve played it less than five times.”
“Lyrics were never really written,” he said. “Those are the clues.”
“What do you think it is?” a guy sitting behind me asked his friend. They threw out some guesses, but all were wrong. It was the B-side “Out of My Mind.” I didn’t know it, and I could tell it was an especially obscure one because it was maybe the only song the crowd didn’t sing along to.
“Animal” from Vs. was a highlight, with red stage lights matching the intensity of the song. “Given to Fly” elicited a huge response from the crowd. Vedder, who was wearing a vest over a t-shirt of the L.A. punk band X, put extra emphasis on the song’s “fuckers” line.
Ten classic “Porch” began with Vedder strumming electric guitar solo and built to a frenzy. McCready shredded behind his head on the solo, and at the end, he stretched out his axe to the crowd as rabid hands picked away at it.
Before the start of the seven-song encore, dozens of audience members lit up the arena with their phone’s flashlights.
“I like what you’re doing to the place,” Vedder said as he returned to the stage. He then donned a shiny black jacket.
“I think I got one more trick I’ll try,” he said, putting on a mirror-ball helmet for “Wishlist,” and lighting up the arena.
When they turned around to serenade the fans seated behind the stage, Eddie pointed out a guy behind the stage in a Sooners basketball jersey. This inevitably drew boos from the Texas Longhorns faithful in attendance. Plot twist: The guy turned around, and it was a Mookie Blaylock jersey (Mookie Blaylock was the band’s original name).
“If it was just regular Oklahoma Sooners – fuck them. But it’s Mookie Blaylock. I like that,” Vedder said before singing “Smile” and playing harmonica.
During the hardcore “Spin the Black Circle,” McCready ran laps around the stage and then ran out into the crowd. Finally, the lights in the arena came on as a crowd-pleasing cover of Pearl Jam heroes The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” closed the show.
After the fantastic two-and-a-half hour, 23-song set concluded, I turned to Steve from Boston and asked what he thought. He smiled and said, “They never disappoint.” They sure don’t, Steve.
This tour’s over now, but be ready for their next one. Join the Ten Club at pearljam.com