Dismiss Vedder solo tour at your own risk

August 22, 2008


It's not easy being Eddie Vedder.

An indie-rocker at heart, the Evanston native became the second biggest rock star of his generation -- after only Kurt Cobain, of course, and look what happened to him.

Though Vedder has a wide range of musical interests, from avant-noise to freak-folk, the majority of the singer and songwriter's fans remain wed to the arena-friendly classic-rock that has only ever been part of his story.

And now, as he's crossed the country on his first solo tour, Vedder has tried to showcase a side of himself not easily heard amid the roar of Pearl Jam. But, as review after review has chronicled, he's been greeted nightly by boisterous crowds expressing what they want instead of listening to what he's offering.

''Eddd-ieee,'' they've howled. ''Eddd-ieee!''

It's had to have been enough to make a guy consider pulling a Jeremy.

Thankfully, things were different as Vedder came home Thursday for the first of two shows at the Auditorium Theatre, the final gigs of the tour. Performing alone, alternating electric and acoustic guitar as he sat on a chair amid a simple stage set to evoke the D.I.Y. music room in an urban slacker's bachelor pad, he opened with two obscure and far-left-field covers: ''Walking the Cow'' by outsider artist Daniel Johnston and ''Trouble'' by the folkie formerly known as Cat Stevens.

What do you know? As that potent-as-ever baritone rolled like velvet through these tunes, which had to have been unfamiliar to 90 percent of the sold-out crowd, Vedder for once got the audience he deserved. ''I can already tell things are going to be different tonight,'' he said afterwards, beaming.

The artist went on to attribute the respectful reception in Chicago versus the unruly audiences elsewhere to the fact that ''people in Chicago know how to drink'' and hold their liquor.

And so it went throughout the generous set, with a looser Vedder than we've often seen joking and warmly bantering with fans in between delivering well-chosen covers (Nine Inch Nails' ''Hurt'' and the Beatles' ''You've Got to Hide Your Love Away'' were two more standouts), a smattering of Pearl Jam tunes (a gorgeous ''Better Man'' as well as , some deep catalog cuts) and the solo songs he wrote for the soundtrack to the 2007 film ''Into the Wild.''

The highlights were many, the missteps negligible, but there can be no denying that the night's most emotional moment came when Vedder was joined onstage by Tomas Young, a Kansas City native and army veteran who was paralyzed after he was shot while riding in an unarmored humvee in Iraq in 2004.

Now an outspoken anti-war activist undergoing physical therapy in Chicago, Young co-wrote the song ''No More'' with Vedder, and it was included on the soundtrack of the Phil Donohue-directed documentary ''Body of War.''

Thursday night, the vet sat in his wheelchair beside the musician. Young nodded his head ever so slightly as Vedder howled the simple but poignant words and the crowd, which remained standing after giving Young a lengthy ovation, joined with full throats on every chorus: ''No more war. No more war.''

It's been a long time since Pearl Jam produced a moment so simple but moving, spontaneous but theatrical and ultimately unforgettable. And fans who didn't bother to listen truly missed out.