It's Evolution, Baby!

Pearl Jam

United Center - Chicago

June 29, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1998, Volume 5, #8

Written by John Metzger


After a protracted skirmish with TicketMaster, Pearl Jam took a step back, deciding to concede to the monopolistic giant, and headed out on their first real tour in years. Given that all but the worst seats in the house (and there's plenty of those at the United Center) ended up in the hands of ticket scalping agencies, one can only hope that the concession is temporary.

Nevertheless, it was necessary for the band to get away from the political arena and refocus on their music. Over the past few years, the group has matured and nurtured their sound, and the reconvergence of the band has produced their finest album to date — the mind-blowing, sonic assault of Yield.

On June 29, the band brought their caravan to Chicago's United Center — a venue that rivals the notorious New World Music Theatre as the place with the worst acoustics. Pearl Jam didn't let this stop them either. They turned up the volume to what must have been an excruciating level to those in the better seats, but more importantly, they turned up the intensity of their performance. The audience just had to pay attention. The band demanded it.

Singer Eddie Vedder danced and twitched, twirling his microphone and its stand. He climbed on and jumped off the band's amplifiers, and threw his guitar to punctuate the ending of The Who's Baba O'Riley. Guitarist Mike McCready ran laps around the entire perimeter of the stage, occasionally taking a break to gaze at the ceiling while performing a searing guitar solo.  But the intensity came from far more than these wild antics. If anything, the band's playfulness added a light-hearted feeling of amusement to break up the awe-inspiring, and at times overwhelming, power behind their performance.

As the drums from Jack Irons' () played through the PA system, the audience was brought to attention. The lights went out, and the band took the stage — not with a rousing rocker, but with the beautiful ebb and flow of Long Road. Former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, filling in for Irons, did an amazing job all evening. Over the course of the last two albums, Irons gave many of the band's songs a tribal feel, and Cameron picked up right where Irons left off. He guided the rolling current of Long Road, building the song to a massive wave of sound before the tune crashed in on itself, dragging Vedder's slurred, emotional vocals back out to sea.

Do the Evolution and Brain of J were sonic attacks of extreme fury and rage as the band channeled their frustration with society into a massive ball of molten indignation. On the former, McCready and Stone Gossard blazed guitar chords as Vedder passionately sang, "I'm at peace. I'm the man buying stocks on the day of the crash. I'm a beast. I'm a truck. All the rolling hills I'll flatten ‘em out. Yeah, it's herd behavior. It's evolution, baby!"

Given to Fly temporarily returned the band to a mellower groove, riding the crest of a Led Zeppelin riff through a tale of escape and transformation. Corduroy soared to a ferocious climax before easing into a melodic jam. Vedder strummed his guitar with a windmill-style reminiscent of Pete Townsend and nearly steered the jam into The Who's Sparks.

Many of Pearl Jam's songs hinge on the lyrics of Vedder. Each of these paints a portrait, capturing a snapshot of life. The rest of the band bathes the words with music that frames them with the emotions of the situation. Some of these songs have become huge hits for the group and as such have lost some of their punch through endlessly repetitious radio playings. As the band launched into a number of their most popular songs, the audience often chose to sing along. But Pearl Jam refused to allow their music to become relegated to the squalid indifference of a radio single. Instead, they used this opportunity to put the weight back into many of these songs via a forceful delivery as they unleashed a raging whirlwind of fervent compassion — first through the eyes of Jeremy and continuing through Daughter, Nothingman, and Better Man.

There were seven songs scattered over the course of two encores, and Better Man was the best of the bunch. The band created a swirling cacophony of yearning mood music as Vedder veered off into a portion of the English Beat's Save It for Later. The band also tore through Black, concluding with a lengthy guitar solo from McCready that borrowed a page from the book of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.

Indeed, Pearl Jam has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of its battle with TicketMaster. Yet their fury rages onward, and they seem to have become stronger. On No Way, a song from Yield that unfortunately wasn't performed this evening, Vedder coyly sings, "I'm not trying to make a difference."

Yield is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 1998 The Music Box