Pearl Jam Embody The Meaning of “Classic Rock”
“I am sick and tired of these damn kids calling it classic rock…it’s not!” the lady in the liquor line exclaimed. I calmly responded that it has nothing to do with them being older (or more honestly her being older), but that they have transcended the grunge genre and have become a timeless rock band. Classic rock isn’t a genre per se, it’s more of a status earned. She took a second, laughed and said, “you know, I think you’re right.” Only at a Pearl Jam show. They took on the Barclays Center last week, and showed exactly what the term “classic rock” means.
With the 20th anniversary of Versus last week, in addition to the release of a substantial new album, Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jam is on the road again. As I filed into the Barclays Center last Friday, I was immediately taken aback by the energy from this sold-out crowd. The gen X attendance sprinkled with die-hard fans was as giddy as if Ten and Versus had come out last week. The now businessmen, parents, and ironically more affluent yet still flannel-clad crowd were on cloud nine, getting a chance to see one of the surviving grunge artists from their high school and college years.
The couple in front of me even took it upon themselves to share the experience with their 8-year-old daughter (adorably adorned with noise reduction headphones, even in the back of the arena.) The camaraderie and sheer joy amongst this group of people was truly powerful. Then, Pearl Jam took the stage with nothing dramatic, nothing overdone, just an organic opening.
That’s how the entire show felt… organic. Pearl Jam played through everything from the most overdone of their tunes (“Alive”), through their deepest tracks (“Crown of Thorns”), a song written by the band’s previous incarnation Mother Love Bone. I was pleasantly shocked to hear them play “Alive.” I had figured they might leave the tune out altogether with such a strong new album, but once they played it, the crowd lost it.
Every tune was amazing because the execution was so tight. I’ve seen many bands that have played together for decades, some much, much older than Pearl Jam, who were not nearly as tight as this quintet. Yet, with all the rehearsal and fame in the world, their performance seemed organic, sincere and humble.
Now, I’m not saying they didn’t melt my mind with rock music… they absolutely did. Mike McCready’s guitar solos almost made me weep they were so incredible. The band, at one point, left the stage and let McCready play Van Halen’s “Eruption.” The guitarists in the crowd spent the entire next song picking their jaws up off the floor and pinching themselves to make sure what they had just seen actually happened.
Earlier when I mentioned that the band had gotten older – I only meant that time has passed since the 1993 Video Music Awards. The guys still act and play like the grunge band you know and love. Vedder, at 48, still has an affinity for climbing anything he can get his hands on (a hanging lamp at this particular concert). He broke one lamp, and at another point, kicked a light off the front of the stage. What can I say, they are still “rock ‘n roll.”
Considering I was a virgin to the live Pearl Jam show, the whole experience was encapsulated by a conversation I heard on the subway between three twenty-something guys who had all only previously met years prior at Pearl Jam shows. “This is why I work for corporate America; So I can spend all my money and vacation time following them as long as I can… so, I’ll meet up with you guys at the next 6 shows?”
Earlier that evening, Vedder stopped at one point in the middle of the concert to personally thank a fan who had a sign that said “it’s my 100th show.” Vedder bowed and said, “I think I owe you a couple of beers, man.” Only at a Pearl Jam show.