The biggest classic-rock fans of the alternative era, Evanston native Eddie Vedder and his band mates in Seattle's Pearl Jam have now been reliably rocking arenas long enough to claim that appellation themselves.
On Sept. 20, the band will release its ninth studio album, "Backspacer," and a radical stylistic departure is unlikely. The big difference is the band is going without a major label for the first time, instead using its Web site as well as iTunes, indie retailers and the Target chain.
Not since its start in 1990 and perhaps during the tense period a few years later when it waged war with Ticketmaster has the quintet had so much to prove. Perhaps as a result, it was an even more energized Pearl Jam than usual that pulled into the United Center on Sunday for the first of two sold-out nights.
"We've got a lot of emotion to get through tonight," Vedder said at the start. "So let's go through it together."
The group opened with a lovely version of the droning, folksy "Long Road" before tearing into a rollicking "Corduroy" and a ferocious "Why Go," nicely illustrating the contrasting poles of its sound.
"Why go home?" Vedder asked after the latter. " I am home, and it feels f---ing great to be here. Life experiences... even if you don't live in Chicago [anymore], Chicago will always live in you, and it's nice to come back and see so many people come out for this."
"This" was a two-hour jaunt through the Pearl Jam catalog, heavier on the hard-rockers than the ballads this time, but as usual mixing signature hits with deep album tracks and, oddly, only a brief taste of the new tunes---so much for crass commercialism.
The band did lose the plot a few times, notably during a pointlessly jammed-out "Even Flow," which found guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard trading tasty licks worthy of Chickenfoot as Vedder stood aside, smoking a cigarette and swigging from a bottle of wine. (Always the Romantic poet, our boy.)
For the most part, though, this was as focused and propulsive a set as I've seen Pearl Jam play in the last two decades. And like all true classic-rock pros, Vedder & Co. gave every indication that they're ready to keep rolling for 20 years more.
Set list after the jump.
Aug 23, 2009 Set List
03. Why Go
04. God's Dice
06. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
08. The Fixer
09. Given To Fly
(Happy Birthday To Mike Richter)
10. Come Back
11. Even Flow
12. Save You
13. In Hiding
14. Man Of The Hour
16. Got Some
17. Spin The Black Circle
Encore Break 1
18. Love, Reign O'er Me-(Townshend)
19. Life Wasted
20. The Real Me-(Townshend)
Encore Break 2
22. The Needle And The Damage Done
27. Yellow Ledbetter (Star Spangled Banner)