With those lyrics, Eddie Vedder took the stage Monday night in Berkeley with a rare Daniel Johnston cover that I’ve heard only a handful of times since 1994. Sitting on a gorgeous set with actual decoration and design (old suitcases, projection machine, gold lamÃ© wings, a backdrop facade with abstract buildings of wood, later lifted to reveal blue skies) Vedder strolled out, hung his coat up on a hook like he was entering his living room, and sat down with us for over two hours.
Thanks to the good people at the Ten Club, I was in Row C and felt intimately engaged in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall (capacity 2089) with its pristine, warm acoustics. Given the amount of banter back from the crowd, maybe the acoustics were too good. Maybe we can work out the one-way directional acoustics somehow. More on that later.
Accompanied with an arsenal of guitars, ukuleles, a banjo, and an amplified footboard, Vedder’s set was a far-reaching collection of solo tunes from the Into The Wild soundtrack, unreleased songs and covers, with only a handful of standard Pearl Jam tunes — and many of those deep cuts from the back catalog. It was really a delight for this fan to see material I had never heard live, and Vedder’s voice sounded rich and golden and pure.
There was little variation from the setlists of previous nights, so anyone who had read a review in the paper or trolled the boards online knew what was coming next. I would have liked to see a little bit more changeup from night to night, as there are so many great songs he could have explored, but I am not complaining.
The soaring “I Am Mine” is a favorite song, and it was gorgeous to hear early on in the night, as was the rare “Dead Man” from the Penn film soundtrack (Sean Penn was there both nights, I hear). Dead Man was the very first song I ever saw Vedder perform, in a solo pre-set at the San Jose show in 1995, so it was a somber treat to see it again. The rarely heard “I’m Open” from 1996′s No Code was played as a modified version that left out the spoken word bit about a man lying in bed in a room with no door (good call there, Ed).
“Man of the Hour” did a phosphorescent slow-burn with its malleable melody and honey-rich vocals, while “Porch” was not something I was expecting, and completely rocked my face off. Ed’s furiously strumming arm was a rapid-fire blur of heart and urgency, and I found myself (quietly!) singing along to every word and meaning it. That’s my favorite song off Ten on most days, one of the few songs off that album that I could hear a good number more times live. It was nice to hear a rocker in with the acoustic stuff. And Lukin!! Acoustic performances of Lukin are something I never fail to get a kick out of.
The conversational tone of the evening led to some interesting storytelling on Ed’s part between songs, filling in details that I hadn’t known before. During the explanation of the West Memphis Three situation (tickets were auctioned off for each show to support their legal defense fund), Ed led into the extremely rare song “Satellite” that I had never even heard before Monday night, saying it was written for the wife of one of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols. She was in attendance Monday night, and Ed performed the love song he wrote just for her and Damien.
Satellite – Eddie Vedder
(an especially nice live premiere from 2002)
Despite Ed’s requests for mitigation of the constant barrage of comments from the small crowd, the living room feel proved too enticing for many who wanted a chance to converse with their idol in that quiet setting. Vedder first quoted Tom Waits in a gruff imitation, saying Waits had once revealed to him that “silence is like a blank piece of paper,” then later telling the yellers a bit more blatantly to “shut the fuck up,” to little avail. From song requests to comments about everything from presidential candidates (wait, he’s supporting Obama?! Shocker) to general supportive “We love you” sentiments, I kept really wishing people would please just sit quietly and listen to the man I came to hear. I’m all for enthusiasm but it got a bit much after a thousand times.
One guy did yell after “Guaranteed” that Ed should’ve won an Academy Award, to which Ed humorously mused that he had been watching VH1 ‘I Love the 80s’ special recently, and had seen that the Ghostbusters theme won an Oscar in 1985. “That song I just played you is not as good as Ghostbusters,” he said with a smile, “but I’m going to keep trying.” Ed also threw in some pretty horrifying song lyrics from a Bay Area punk band called the Yeastie Girls, during a conversation about Fugazi. The words yeast and girls should really never ever be used in a sentence together, much less a band name. Please and thank you.
After an amazing run of well-selected cover songs, Ed closed his first encore with the vocal loopings of the song “Arc” from 2002′s Riot Act. The piece incorporates layers of wordless vocalizations, and was written for the 9 Pearl Jam fans killed in the crowd during the tragic happenings of the 2000 Roskilde festival. In 2003, Pearl Jam played this song at 9 shows, one show for each of the victims. It is rarely-played, a raw and haunting piece that echoed on after the blue velvet curtain closed and Ed left the stage.
After lengthy applause, Ed brought back out opener Liam Finn and accompaniment from Eliza-Jane Barnes, along with Marin County songwriter Jerry Hannan (who had joined him earlier to help perform his song “Society”) for a rousing version of “Hard Sun.” The security guards were being prison-guard-tough for the whole set on photos or video, patrolling the aisles every three minutes, giving sharp looks and pointed finger threats to fans who dared desire to capture the moment for posterity or for their music blog. But during Hard Sun, the crowd overflowed down to fill the aisles and I was able to capture a bit of that joyous closer for you, complete with Eddie-the-Pearl-Jam-frontman air jump on the final guitar chord:
EDDIE VEDDER SOLO SETLIST
Walking The Cow (Daniel Johnston)
Around The Bend
I Am Mine
Man of the Hour
Millworker (James Taylor)
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Lennon, McCartney)
Here’s To The State (Phil Ochs)
Trouble (Cat Stevens)
If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out (Cat Stevens)
Forever Young (Bob Dylan)
Society, with Jerry Hannan
Growin Up (Bruce Springsteen)
Hard Sun, with Liam Finn, Eliza-Jane Barnes and Jerry Hannan (Gordon Peterson)
(AUDIO FILES REMOVED BY REQUEST OF THE TEN CLUB)
**I didn’t arrive early enough to snag a limited edition poster, but there were some very cool playbills being given out at the door with details on the show, artwork, and all the relevant causes and musicians. But PJ fans got greedy and took more than one apiece. After some Robin-Hood-like thievery from those with plenty, I went home a happy girl with my own ill-gotten souvenir. I didn’t do the swiping but I can’t say I turned down the gains.
**24-year old New Zealander opener Liam Finn was energetic (almost spastic, in a wonderfully unbridled and enthusiastic way) as he worked through material from his solo debut album I’ll Be Lightning. His music has strong melodic sensibilities (not unlike his dad Neil Finn) but he also really had an edge on the rhythms, with the proclivity to lapse into some rock and roll shrieks. He was out signing things after his set, and I told him I enjoyed watching him on the drums. A reader compared him to Animal from the Muppets, all flailing limbs and furry faced. I would see him again.
**One of my faithful readers is an Iraq veteran named Josh who recently wrote me an immensely moving and humbling email to tell me how much my words and music had meant to him while he was in the desert, flying Blackhawk medic missions and trying to save kids’ lives. Josh and his wife flew out from where he is currently stationed in Hawaii specifically for the Berkeley shows, as an anniversary gift to each other, and a vacation before he undergoes surgery for a broken back sustained in Iraq. Josh was in row 2 with his back brace, and one of the most moving moments of the night for me was when he and his wife stood silently together for the entire performance of “No More.” I felt overwhelmed.
**Finally . . . near midnight on Tuesday night, I was on the train heading back from an awesome Giants game (man I’ve missed that ballpark) and I get a frantic breathless call from my friend Sam, telling me that Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready had just showed up at night two. Apparently during the encore, Vedder started musing, “I’ve got Jeff Ament’s rug, Stone Gossard’s guitar, Matt’s drum… but I didn’t have anything from Mike McCready . . . so I Fedex’d him out.” Then they rolled Mike out on a cart, and the two went on to play All Along The Watchtower and Yellow Ledbetter together. Ha! Sean Penn also joined in on the jubilee, a bit oddly (does he sing?).
More than anything, I’d say these shows are great because of the sense of fun and experimentation, a chance to explore some musical ground that we haven’t seen. I’m heartened and glad to see Ed in such a good place.