Gig review: Pearl Jam at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Danny Gartside
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Danny Gartside
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“This is only our second time playing in Leeds,” frontman Eddie Vedder tells the crowd.

“But I, like thousands of people around the world, spent hundreds of hours in this city, listening to Live at Leeds. It’s really great to be here.”

This nod of respect to The Who’s classic seventies album and acknowledgement of the sense of occasion sets the tone for Pearl Jam’s set. Nearly 25 years into their career the band channel the spirit of abandon that The Who pioneered and tear up the rule book, chopping and changing their set as the night progresses and playing for an incredible three hours and forty minutes, long after the house lights have come up.

Born from the grunge underworld which redefined modern rock music in the 1990s, the band were never going to hand in a typical performance and instead opt for treating the thousands of enraptured fans to more of a glorified rehearsal then a stale arena gig.

Twice the band launch in to blistering covers from The Who, tearing through Baba O’Reilly and The Real Me with gusto that would have left Townshend gasping for breath, as well as dipping in liberally to their extensive own back-catalogue.

The biggest cheers come predictably for the material from their debut record Ten. Black is a spine-tingling epic while Alive redefined the expression mass-sing along with the audience drowning out the band to sing its unforgettable chorus of defiance and strength.

Such a spontaneous show was always going to have its rough edges. Obscure B-sides delight the hard-core fans but leave much of the crowd checking their phones or heading to the bar. At least two of the numbers see Eddie forget his lyrics or miss his cue.

However there are simply dozens of unforgettable moments. Man of the Hour is a big tearjerker as they come.

Sirens, from their new record Lightning Bolt is so powerful the crowd simply refuse to stop singing for several minutes after its conclusion.

And Even Flow, from Ten, is all-consuming.

The band play 36 songs, including two encores and simply refuse to leave the stage. Savvy stage managers at the First Direct Arena, mindful of the enraptured response, simply let them get on with it.

A final blast through Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower and a final Indifference close and unforgettable performance from a band who, despite being well-ensconsed in middle-age, are still calling their own shots and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Rating: Four stars

Gig date: July 8

The Go! Team

Gig review: The Go! Team at The Wardrobe, Leeds