My first exposure to Eddie Vedder was in 1992. As the front man for Pearl Jam, Vedder burst onto the music scene as the most powerful rock and roll voice in decades. Vedder is now the defacto lyricist for Pearl Jam and has maintained that role since the band’s 10x platinum album “Ten”.
Vedder’s early compositions with Pearl Jam evoked deeply painful personal experiences and the emotion in his voice as a twenty something moved many people to find solace in Pearl Jam’s work and a resonance in Vedder’s passionate voice. Since 1992, I personally have been a card-carrying member of Pearl Jam’s fan club, The Ten Club, going on two decades now. The band’s live performances are unmatched in rock and roll today. Each performance is unique and they have created a loyal following by never playing the same set twice.
Vedder’s performances at the Wiltern in Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara County Bowl were in support of his recent “Ukelele Songs” release. I certainly had mixed feelings about whether an album, which showcases songs performed solely on the Ukulele, would be compelling enough to warrant a full listen. The album is a delight to listen to considering how limiting the Uke can be as an instrument. Vedder attributes his interest in the Ukulele to his special relationship with The Who and his “Uncle” Pete Townshend’s piece “Blue, Red and Grey” from the group’s 1973 “Who By Numbers” album as the inspiration for the album.
Vedder toured once before as a solo artist in support of his brilliant soundtrack to “Into The Wild”. The presentation in the two tours was very similar. Ed lays out a carpet in the middle of the stage in which he surrounds himself with instruments. Pearl Jam’s trademark bat wings hang at the back of the stage on top of the Amp stacks. In stark contrast to Pearl Jam shows Vedder creates a quiet intimacy with his solo shows in which he personally enforces his own silence rules. Catcalls and the occasional “We Love You Eddie” shouts are quickly put down.
In both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Vedder plays exclusively songs from the “Ukulele Songs” album for the first third of the show. The set list for the Ukulele songs set remains more or less the same from night to night on this tour. Songs in the Uke set included “Goodbye”, “Longing to Belong”, “Can’t Keep”, and “Waving Palms”. After the Uke set Vedder retires the instrument and moves into the free form part of the set where he covers various Pearl Jam favorites and cover songs.
In Los Angeles the highlight for me was Ed’s beautiful cover of Cat Steven’s “Trouble”. It’s rare when an artist covers another’s song and actually creates a more compelling version of it. But the edge in Vedder’s voice coupled with his booming baritone voice makes this one just a tad bit better than the original. Of course taste is subjective.
In Los Angeles Vedder kept the main set fairly straightforward. Cover songs, and songs from “Into the Wild” are meshed with a handful of random Pearl Jam songs. Ed played a particularly sweet version of his Pearl Jam composition “Better Man’ on the Uke which was a new twist on that oft covered song.
The show then moves into a short set where Eddie brings out a small string section to cover a number of his compositions from Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer” album including “Unthought Known” “The End and “Just Breath”. He also throws a curveball at the crowd by busting out the heavy duty punk song “Lukin” on acoustic guitar backed by the strings.
After the main set is where these shows really get interesting. Ed does two encores a night. In Los Angeles Eddie brought out a serious relic of L.A rock and roll history and introduced John Densmore, drummer for The Doors to join him on a few of his Pearl Jam compositions including “Long Road” and “Wishlist” where Densmore joins in on Bongos and Tibetan Bells. I found this part of the show to be quirky and could have done without the Densmore set.
The highlight of the Los Angeles show was Ed’s closing set where he brings out opener Glen Hansard. Hansard won an Oscar for his work on the soundtrack for “Once”, the same year Vedder won his Golden Globe for “Into The Wild”. Hansard is an Irish singer songwriter. I can’t say enough about Hansard. These gigs were not just about Vedder. These were Eddie Vedder/Glen Hansard gigs. Hansard was an opener in name only. The pair combined for Vedder’s composition “Guaranteed” and then tore the roof off with Hansard’s own “Falling Slowly”. The L.A. show closed with Vedder’s version of “Hard Sun” from “Into the Wild” before they broke into Neil Young’s “Rocking In the Free World”, a mainstay in the Pearl Jam covers catalogue.
Of the two shows the Santa Barbara show was my favorite. Ed has a special place in his heart for the Santa Barbara County Bowl. And who can blame him? Perhaps next to Red Rocks this is the countries most stunning outdoor amphitheatre with a view of the Pacific Ocean from almost every seat.
The form of the show in Santa Barbara was the same as the Wiltern gig and many of the songs didn’t change. In Santa Barbara Vedder broke out the top shelf cover songs including Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done”, The Beatles “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Hansand and Vedder closed once again with “Hard Sun” and Ed’s Uke cover of “Dream a Little Dream”.
Photo by Brian Michaels for L.A. Beat
Brian is an attorney, photographer and writer. His work can be found on the web at Brianmichaelsphoto.com.