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Concert Reviews:
Pearl Jam makes triumphant return to Detroit Rock City

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2014

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DETROIT -- Pearl Jam last played metro Detroit eight years ago at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and it hadn't played inside the Detroit city limits since March of 1994.

But the Seattle rock troupe certainly made up for lost time on Thursday night, Oct. 15, at Joe Louis Arena.

Delivering a characteristically vibrant, vital and epic show, weighing in at 32 songs over two hours and 50 minutes, the quintet won the night not only with its performance and wide-ranging choice of material but also by letting the Joe Louis crowd -- a rare 360-degree sell-out -- know that the band knew exactly where it was. Frontman Eddie Vedder even noted that Pearl Jam had played the area exactly 11 times before, but never at the home of the Detroit Red Wings, which he clearly considered hallowed ground.

"Here's to being at the Joe," he declared, toasting the audience with his ever-present bottle of red wine -- provided, according to Vedder, by good pal and former Red Wing Chris Chelios. He noted the arena was "one of the best-sounding rooms we've played in a long time," crediting that "to all the (championship banners you've got hanging there. That's why all the venues in Seattle sound like s***!"

Vedder peppered the night with other references to the city, remembering a pair of shows (with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins) during 1991 at the State Theatre (now the Fillmore Detroit) and walking the streets around Masonic Temple before the 1994 show there. He marveled at the "intense" Red Wings atmosphere backstage and wondered if one urinal that was considerably lower than the others was for the goaltenders. (Guitarist Stone Gossard had another theory that's best not expressed in polite company.) Vedder also verified Chelios' toughness to one skeptical fan, shouted out to Dennis Rodman before dedicating "Black, Red, Yellow" to the former Pistons star and, on a more sober note, expressed condolences to Detroit native Jack White, "a friend of the whole group," over the sudden death of his keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens earlier this week.

Pearl Jam paid some musical tribute to Detroit as well, preceding "Corduroy" with a bit of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," lacing some of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" into "Black, Red, Yellow," introducing "Spin the Black Circle" with Kiss' "Detroit Rock City" and roaring through the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams.

All of that only underscored how in the moment Pearl Jam was on Thursday, swooping from gentle, vibey opening of "Release," "Oceans" and "Nothingman" into the ferocious attack of "Go" and "Mind Your Manners" with a tight, instinctual acumen the group demonstrated throughout the night. But there was also an air of anything-can-happen daring as Vedder ventured deep into the side grandstand during "Last Kiss" and then slipped and fell while batting one of the hanging light globes with his guitar during "Rearview Mirror."

That guitar -- a white Gibson SG -- wound up meeting its own demise when Vedder smashed it at the end of "Betterman."

There were myriad musical highlights, including lusty, extended renditions of "Evenflow," "Rearview Mirror" and "Betterman," a majestic performance "Black" and Vedder's solo acoustic take of John Lennon's "Imagine;" noting Lennon's birthday last week, Vedder said that, "He's the one who left us the presents." A cover of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" was a decided roof-raiser -- with Vedder tossing several tambourines to specific fans -- as were well-established anthems such as "State of Love and Trust," "Dissident," "Not For You" and "Alive."

The jazzy "Indifference" closed the night, but not before Vedder expressed "a desire to get invited back here in three years, before they tear this place down." As far as those at Thursday's show were concerned, the invitation was heartily extended -- especially if it means getting Pearl Jam back in less than another eight years.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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