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Gig Review: Eddie Vedder @ The Palais, 25th March

Eddie Vedder walks calmly onto the Palais Theatre Stage. He is wearing relaxed and slightly bohemian clothes, almost like a mere mortal. Fitting this, the stage is setup like a really rich busker’s haunt, with about twenty different guitars surrounding one solitary chair and microphone at front and center.

The crowd goes wild. It’s a curious crowd as well, mostly consisting of diehard Pearl Jam fans wearing tour shirts from ten years ago and looking out of place without a mosh pit, with a smattering of hipsters lured out by the promise of material from Vedder’s ‘Into The Wild’ soundtrack.

Wasting no time whatsoever, he launches into his first track and first Pearl Jam cover, Long Road. Immediately it is obvious that this is going to be a show to savour, as Eddie begins to put his own special touch on what will become somewhat of a diehard Pearl Jam fan’s ultimate list of songs, many of which don’t see the light of day at Pearl Jam gigs often anymore.

His voice is superb, and instantly captures the entire venue’s complete and undivided attention, not that it was ever in any doubt. It’s somewhat of a love-in as we witness one of the most important men of rock n’ roll in an intimate setting unlike anything you could have imagined for him five years ago. Thumbing My Way is sublime beyond words, and has undoubtedly lost none of its power since it was released in 2002.

When Eddie starts playing the first chords to the classic Elderly Woman Behind The Counter Of A Small Town on an acoustic guitar the seated venue takes an uncharacteristically energetic atmosphere as pretty much everyone sings along to the song. “I just want to scream… HELLLLOOOO!” is sung by every person in the Palais, as many arms rise outstretched towards the figure on the stage in emphatic greeting. “My god it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return” seems to summarise the feeling of joy in the venue pretty nicely.

Eddie pauses for a second to greet the crowd, saying warmly “That’s how you do it… I can already tell this is going to be a great night”. Pearl Jam fans, known for their knowledge of the band’s backcatalogue, already begin yelling out requests for songs, which seems a bit off, but Eddie deals with the situation perfectly, jokingly clasping his hands over his ears to block out the requests while waving his head back and forth in denial, before mockingly giving the crowd the finger. Anyone who wasn’t already charmed falls under his spell.

One of the many highlights of the show comes as Eddie plays the Pearl Jam track Man Of The Hour, creating a truly sublime sound within the beautiful surrounds of the theatre that is greeted by roars of approval from the fans in the crowd. Just Breathe is similarly beautiful, and it is a relief to see that even the most rambunctious Pearl Jam fans are respectful enough to not yell out during songs. They have a reputation of being some of the best fans around, and it’s for a good reason.

Eddie keeps the deeper cuts of Pearl Jam songs coming with Driftin’, Soon Forget, and Light Years. Each and every song is truly special in its own right, and not a single person takes their eyes off the stage for a second. But then it’s time for a run of songs from ‘Into The Wild, featuring prominently ‘Luke the Uke’.

The run of quieter songs is utterly sublime, spearheaded by the beautiful Guaranteed and Rise. They demonstrate, for anyone with lingering doubt, just how talented and skilled this man really is, as he crafts soaring melodies and an overwhelming sensation of escape with absurd ease. His voice, at once smooth and rough, is impossibly textured when everything else is stripped away, and one really gets the impression that Eddie is having a great night.

The fast and furious Lukin’ gives everyone a chance to rock out a bit, however it seems out of place and is in an inescapably odd choice for this solo show. It is of course greeted with loud applause from the crowd however. There is nothing Eddie can do wrong this night, even including forgetting the lyrics to songs, which he actually does a couple of times. Everything just seems to make the show more special and more intimate, even mistakes.

The crowd rise as one out of our seats when the sounds of Porch begin to emanate from the stage, as one voice from many people screams out “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS WORLD, RUNNING TO?”. Despite the confines of seats everyone does their best at dancing and jumping and pretending like it’s a Pearl Jam show, and the effort seems to be appreciated by Eddie on stage, who simply lights up the room every time he smiles.

Eddie departs the stage, but everyone in the crowd knows the show is only half over, and sure enough he returns without much fuss, almost as if he is parodying the at times drawn-out encore process of Pearl Jam gigs. He is joined on stage by EJ Barnes for a couple of heart-wrenching covers of love songs, including the beautiful Tonight You Belong To Me.

As EJ departs the stage Eddie strums the first few notes of Society, one of the strongest songs from his solo album. It is a fantastic moment, although the song sounds significantly different to the recorded version, in ways I can’t quite place my finger on. Regardless, acoustic music doesn’t get much better than this song, which is actually a cover of Jenny Hannan, and hearing it live is a privilege that I never thought I would experience.

Wishlist provides yet another enduring highlight of the show. As one would expect, Eddie is doing justice to his Pearl Jam songs, while still putting a solo spin on them. This isn’t an acoustic Pearl Jam show: it is so much more than that. The yearning feeling of the song is impossibly powerful, and the venue is held in rapture for its duration.

Eddie’s take on the track Arc is otherworldly, as he faces to the side of the stage and sets up multiple vocals loops, eventually creating a layered and extraordinarily powerful sound that echoes around the otherwise silent venue. His voice reaches new heights I didn’t know were possible, and hearing the Pearl Jam song in this way is something that will stay with me for a long time.

Eddie departs the stage before returning yet again, this time adorned in a lab coat that the stage crew had inexplicably been wearing throughout the night. Crazy Mary makes an appearance but its power is lessened slightly when Eddie has to restart halfway after forgetting the words. No-one really minds however, especially considering he does a Berninger and hands out a bottle of wine to the front row of the Palais.

The powerful Rockin’ The Free World, a tried and tested Pearl Jam cover, seems for all the world like the euphoric conclusion of the show, as EJ Barnes and Cecilia Herbert join Eddie on stage and the entire crowd stands up and lets loose. However instead of departing the stage at its conclusion Eddie strolls calmly over to his vintage tape-deck prop on stage, which has lain dormant for the whole show. Kicking it into action, the unmistakable backing track of Hard Sun begins to echo around the venue, whilst the frenzied applause for the previous track is still ringing out.

The bakdrop, which had previously consisted of urban scenes lending themselves towards the very intended feeling of busking, changes to a brilliant sunrise, or possibly sunset, it is hard to tell. As Eddie, EJ, and Cecilia sing the lead track from ‘Into The Wild’ it is an unmistakably cathartic moment for the still-standing crowd, who sway in time with the music and lose themselves, one and all, in the feeling of escape that the song entails.

And with a final wave and bow goodbye, Eddie Vedder departs the stage and departs Melbourne for the time being, leaving the adoring masses in his wake. His set has demonstrated perfectly just why this man is so special. I don’t think there is any other person in the world who could do what he did with as much grace, charm, and talent.

I didn’t get the big Pearl Jam songs I was after when going into the show, but looking back I wouldn’t change a single thing. Part of the beauty of a Pearl Jam set, and indeed an Eddie Vedder set, is that you don’t get a generic setlist. Instead you get a scrambled mismatch of pre-planned songs, personal requests, and spur-of-the-moment decisions by Eddie. It results in an overwhelmingly personal experience, and at times the beauty of what I witnessed was just that: overwhelming.

It’s impossible to compare Eddie’s solo show to a Pearl Jam show, and therein lies the strength of his performance. This show was both closely entwined with, and completely separate from, Pearl Jam, depending on how you wanted to view it. Anybody going into the show having never heard a Pearl Jam song would have loved it, just as the many diehards in the crowd got the smattering of deep cuts from Pearl Jam’s back-catalogue that they were clearly after.

It was a show not defined by its parts; a set that was amazingly cohesive considering that it included such diverse songs from so many different artists. Eddie’s attitude can be best summarised by when someone in the crowd screamed out “You’re the man,” to which he quickly responded with “I’m a man yes, thank you”. To do a show like this without it becoming self-indulgent is a true testament both to the skill and personality of the Pearl Jam frontman.

Witnessing Eddie Vedder in such an intimate setting is something I will never forget, and something I never really thought I would be lucky enough to witness. Words fail me when trying to summarise the experience, saying it was magic or beautiful or mesmerising just doesn’t seem to do it justice. It was a show as unique, special, and beautiful as the man delivering it.

“The man of the hour has taken his final bow, goodbye for now.”

(For the record I am aware that photography was banned at this show, I only took a couple of shots and these only when everyone was standing and the house lights were on.)

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2 Responses to “Gig Review: Eddie Vedder @ The Palais, 25th March”

  1. Your words took me back to that night, one I never thought I would have the chance of doing. What a night, I am privileged. I have soaked it all in. I have lived and breathed it, it is a part of me now…….forever.

  2. Good Summary of a great night

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