Last night, Eddie Vedder triumphed in downtown Chicago at Roosevelt University’s own The Auditorium Theatre. For the first night of a two night run, all of which concludes the tour, Vedder left little to be said for the following and final performance on Friday. Though this isn’t much of a surprise coming from the frontman, who’s band’s tour success precedes its studio efforts. If nobody had a clue beforehand, last night cemented the idea that the Evanston born, Seattle bred singer was destined for the stage.
Opening the night, multi-instrumentalist Liam Finn held his own, wielding a guitar and utilizing a foot pedal, which loops effects and other such instruments. He wasn’t alone, however. Joining him on stage, Eliza Jane provided backing vocals and semi-percussion, though even that was limited. It was awe-inspiring to watch Finn shuffle from one instrument to the next, as if he were moreover a juggling act than an actual esteemed musician. Things really heated up with the closer, “Wide Awake On The Voyage Home”, a song that brought the Australian born singer to his knees, where he sent his guitar into a crescendo of distortion, before reeling it back in for an exceptional finish. Whether Finn was on the drums, the guitar, or between mics, he was always fascinating to watch and on the mark with everything.
Between the opener and the main event, the curtain came down and the lights ignited. Such a sense of class is only highlighted with the rich features that the venue’s architecture provides. In a classic style, The Auditorium Theatre is emblazoned in a series of bulbs, all of which shine bright over the meandering paintings that wallpaper the tops of the ceilings. It’s a sight to take in and one which might bring a rich smile over one’s face, though not as big as when the lights fall down again.
While the curtain remained down, the opening guitar notes to “Guaranteed”, off of last year’s magnificent soundtrack to Into the Wild, chimed in. It didn’t take long for the former “grunge” rocker to strut out, looking as laid back as ever. Behind a beard and under a thick mop of straggly, auburn hair, Vedder looked no different than he did in 1991. Jumping on board a nearby acoustic, he strummed right into a great send up of Daniel Johnston’s own “Walking the Cow.”
Vedder’s set up for the tour, much like his demeanor, is very relaxed. There are a few eccentricities, such as a reel to reel machine, a couple of “on the road”-looking artifiacts, and an arsenal of acoustic equipment. That’s just in the foreground. Behind it all, the background changes from a studio back lot, to the backstage, detouring to the outdoors, and eventually ascending into another realm altogether.
As Vedder slugged out the back catalog (e.g. “Porch”, “I Am Mine”, to name a few), he managed to squeeze in some more covers, including an excellent rendition of Cat Steven’s “Trouble.” Everything seemed natural, with nothing standing out as either awkward or superimposed. Even Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”, which seems overstated at this point, came off poignant and on target.
Perhaps it was the artist’s sensibilities. As a frontman for Pearl Jam, he’s more likened to a rabid, angry lead singer; however, alone on stage, he was vulernable. To his fortune, he played it off well, jostling with the crowd some, engaging the audience with sing alongs, and digressing on story after story. When fans chanted out songs, he even called them out, saying, “I got shit comin’ you don’t even fuckin’ know.” There was laughter, screaming (“I want you Eddie!”) and applause… almost too much. He almost didn’t make it through half of the stories, thanks to the audience lack of restraint. Luckily, Vedder finished talking about how his first rock concert was, in fact, at the Auditorium Theatre, back in ’78, seeing the one and only, Bruce Springsteen.
Politicism was rampant here, however, though that’s expected from the rattled singer. Early into the set, Vedder introduced Iraq veteran Tomas Young, who even came on stage for a performance of “No More.” Vedder remarked on how the two had grown close while working together on Body of War, a soundtrack that a handful of artists contrbuted to, Pearl Jam included. While a tear jerker and without a doubt the peak emotional point of the set, the drama was overturned with an energized, frantic Vedder riding an acoustic, with eyes fixated on Young throughout.
Midway through, Vedder began a medley of songs from Into the Wild. Beginning with the unused “Setting Forth”, he went through the film’s primary works within minutes, gracing songs “No Ceiling”, “Guaranteed” and “Far Behind.” The mandolin inspired “Rise” hit crowd well, with most singing along throughout the entirety of the performance. Itching through the short list of Wild songs, Vedder made a U-turn and dusted off some more Pearl Jam tracks, with the fan favorite “Betterman” (in a new tempo) making an appearance, too.
Vedder enjoyed Chicago, so much so that he even played the alleged “Cubs” song, previously only performed last year at Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza warm up show at The Vic. Nearly ten minutes were dedicated to a side story on how such a song was conceived (originally suggsted by Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks). There must have been a lack of Sox fans in the house, because everyone loved it and felt encouraged to sing along.
The first encore saw Vedder joined by Eliza Jane for the Neil Young ballad, “Helpless.” Shortly following, Finn came back onstage to help Vedder close out the night on “Society” and “Parting Ways.” It was Vedder though that “officially” closed the first encore, experimenting with vocal loops in a jaw dropping performance of “Arc.” This time after he left, the curtain fell, as if to give unsuspected concertgoers a run for the nearby El or awaiting cabs.
Everyone stayed, and with good reason. When the curtain rose, to the beginning notes of Into the Wild’s “Hard Sun”, Vedder was back on stage, backed by Finn, Jane, and a heavenly bluish hue. Smoke machines filtered the stage, while everyone stayed on target, rocking through a note by note remake of the soundtrack’s key song. Audience participation peaked then, with timed clapping, stomping, and shared harmonies. For a moment, everyone joined in one large choir, sending the famed rocker off his… well, rocker.
Blown away and flabbergasted, a tired and bewildered Vedder bowed to the sold out crowd, all of whom were smiling and screaming with angst. It was minutes before the stage was clear and the musician left the stage, though it was much longer before the fans gave up any hope of a third encore. Dedicated, motivated, and stunned… everyone walked back out into the crisp Chicago air, heading back into society.
Walking the Cow (Daniel Johnston cover)
Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
Ship Song (Nick Cave cover)
I Am Mine
Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Man of the Hour
Heres to the State of Mississippi
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Beatles cover)
Betterman (New tempo)
Someday Well Go All the Way (Cubs Song)
Helpless (Neil Young cover- w/Eliza Jane)
Society (w/ Liam Finn)
Parting Ways (w/ Liam Finn)
Hard Sun (w/ Liam Finn)