Eddie Vedder @ Comerica Theatre
Eddie Vedder lists his tools.
In the booklet handed out to concertgoers at last night's packed performance, the Pearl Jam frontman laid out a detailed list of gear he'd be using during the evening: guitars, ukuleles, amplifiers, a modified kick drum made from a Corona box, a vintage reel-to-reel tape machine.
Onstage, Vedder listed his musical tools, too, covering Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young (and briefly, he sang in the style of Willie Nelson, covering a Pearl Jam song). Without the rage and power of Pearl Jam behind him, Vedder positioned himself as an interpreter of classics, and a storyteller in his own right as he shared stories from Into the Wild and Ukulele Songs, his love letter to the tiny Hawaiian instrument he says helped save him from his lowest moments.
"When I first picked it up, it made such a happy little sound," Vedder said of the ukulele. "I just wanted to smash the fucking thing to pieces."
Of course, he didn't. 2011's Ukulele Songs held down a good chunk of the setlist last night, as Vedder sang songs from the record like "Sleeping by Myself" and "You're True." A meditative, pastoral record, the small instrument plays off Vedder's baritone in a special way; there's no "twee" sensibility to the charming combination of Vedder's raw voice and the delicate melodies.
Vedder wasn't shy about incorporating Pearl Jam material, much to the audience's approval. Vedder opened with "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," perhaps the band's most folky cut from 1993's Vs. He dug into the catalog some more with "Can't Keep" and "Wishlist," trading off acoustic and electric guitars, a 6-string mandolin, and his ukulele.
The solo format afforded Vedder a chance to tell his Arizona stories, and he had plenty of them. He met a jazz-playing friend of his father's in Mesa, endured a 2 ½-week stay in Gila Bend when he was 17 (car troubles, of course), and spent time scouting locations with Sean Penn in the Grand Canyon for Into the Wild. The pair's river guide, Brian H. Dierker, was in attendance at the show, and Vedder invited him onstage to sit and warm his hands by a prop campfire set up as the back drop shifted to a tapestry of shimmering stars.
Dierker wasn't Vedder's only guest on stage. He invited opener Glen Hansard (whose opening set, at 7:30 sharp, was fantastic) onstage for a couple of numbers. "Sleepless Nights," from Ukulele Songs sounded great, but it was the theme from Hansard's film, Once, "Falling Slowly" that got the crowd roaring.
Unlike most folks I know, I thought the film was slow-paced and saccharine, but the combination of Vedder and Hansard's voice was remarkable, adding toughness to the song's wounded refrain. Hansard hugged Vedder as he made his way off stage, and Vedder rebounded with a howling take on Bruce Springsteen's road anthem, "Open All Night."
Vedder closed out with "Arc," recording loops of his own voice, creating a wordless song centered around intense harmonies. As the curtain came down, it felt like the show was at an end, but Vedder returned for a plugged-in take on Neil Young's classic "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World," and his own "Hard Sun." As a faithful guitar tech (dressed in a white doctor's coat) strummed an acoustic, Vedder prowled the stage with a white Stratocaster, delivering the song's earnest, anthemic message. He ended the night promising that he'd be back, saying "Good luck this week, and the next four years. Do the right thing, you know what to do."
Last Night: Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard at Comerica Theatre The Crowd: Honestly, I didn't spot any flannel, though the crowd members generally looked like they probably had a few checkered shirts in the back of the closet. Crowd Requests: Ignored. When Eddie Vedder Talks About Sean Penn: He just calls him "Sean," like we all know him personally, too. Random Notebook Dump: "Guess a PJ quote will really get this crowd on your side," in reference to Hansard's brief take on "Smile."
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" "Brain Damage" (Pink Floyd) "Can't Keep" "Sleeping By Myself" "Without You" "You're True" "Light Today" "Millworker" (James Taylor) "Just Breathe" "Far Behind" (with Glen Hansard) "Guaranteed" "Long Nights" "Rise" "Better Man" "Masters of War" (Bob Dylan) "Unthought Known" "Porch"
"Wishlist" "Society" (with Glen Hansard) "Sleepless Nights" (with Glen Hansard) "Falling Slowly" (with Glen Hansard) "Open All Night" (Bruce Springsteen) "Arc"
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"Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" (Neil Young) "Hard Sun"