Concert Review

Pearl Jam Made Us Forget We're All Middle-Aged Now at Their Epic Glendale Show

A couple of years ago, a readership survey showed that the largest age group of Phoenix New Times readers are 35- to 55-year-olds. Which means that there were probably a lot of you at Pearl Jam's May 9 show at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

But if we're all way older and a little more tired than we were the first time we heard Ten, it didn't seem to matter once Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band took the stage for the epic show that had been postponed since its originally scheduled April 2020 date.

For the members of the Arizona Pearl Jam Fans group, the evening began early with a preshow get-together at McFadden's, the Irish pub located next door to the arena. Attendees donated Pearl Jam-related items that were sold at the event; proceeds benefitted The Joy Bus Diner, a nonprofit restaurant that provides meals to cancer patients.

click to enlarge Members of the Arizona Pearl Jam Fans group showed up early to mingle at McFadden's. - JENNIFER GOLDBERG
Members of the Arizona Pearl Jam Fans group showed up early to mingle at McFadden's.
Jennifer Goldberg

Marc Atonna, who runs the Arizona Pearl Jam Fans Facebook page, calls the band's catalog "the soundtrack of my adulthood" and talked about the camaraderie of the Pearl Jam's fanbase.

"Most of my close friends I met through this group," he said.

Debbie Trevino agreed. She came in from California for the show — her 130th time seeing the band in concert.

"I have friends all over the world" from being a Pearl Jam fan, she said. "We are family. We are Jamily."

Lori Jernberg recently moved to California from Arizona, but returned for the show — her 21st, she estimated, but as she said, Pearl Jam concerts "are a different experience every night."

The Arizona Pearl Jam Fans mingled for several hours before filing into Gila River Arena, where the night was kicked off by Josh Klinghoffer, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who's both playing with Pearl Jam on this tour as opening for them as Pluralone.

Vedder came out, as is his tradition, to do a song during the opening act; this time, it was his solo tune "Far Behind."

It's got to be hard to be the only thing standing between thousands of fans and the first Pearl Jam concert in Arizona since 2013. Pluralone did okay — a cover of Meat Puppets' "Backwater" was a nice local touch — but even some talk about Ukraine and a "Give Peace a Chance" singalong didn't do much to rouse the crowd.

But then, it was time for Pearl Jam.

The band's casual amble to the stage stood in sharp contrast to the cheers of the crowd, then quickly broke into "Wash" off of Lost Dogs.

Thirty years after Ten, weathered by decades of singing and cigarettes, Vedder's voice is deeper than it was back in the '90s, but his ferocity hasn't diminished.

Before drawing cheers for a rendition of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," Vedder smiled and told the crowd, "I don't know how it feels out there, but you're making it feel pretty good up here," and recounted the story of the time, decades ago, when his car broke down in Gila Bend.

It wasn't the only connection he made to Arizona during the set; throughout the evening, he mentioned that Senator Mark Kelly's brother, Scott, was in attendance, as were Arizona Coyotes players Christian Fischer and Clayton Keller. He praised our Musical Instrument Museum, and threw a spotlight on his niece, who just graduated from Arizona State University.

If the shouts of excitement weren't quite as loud for tracks off of recent albums like Gigaton ("Dance of the Clairvoyants," "Superblood Wolfmoon") and Lightning Bolt ("Sleeping by Myself") as they were for classic songs like "Even Flow" and "Black," both of which featured searing guitar work by Mike McCready, you can't blame the crowd.

click to enlarge Mike McCready shreds during Pearl Jam's May 9, 2022, show at Gila River Arena in Glendale. - JIM LOUVAU
Mike McCready shreds during Pearl Jam's May 9, 2022, show at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Jim Louvau

Though of course there were people of all ages at the show, the majority of the attendees were teens or young adults when Pearl Jam came on the scene. "Alive" (one of the standout moments of the evening, by the way) was the soundtrack of awkward middle-school dances, of hazy nights in dorm rooms or nights packed in cars with friends. You could close your eyes in Gila River Arena and remember what it was like to be young, listening to Vs. on cassette and feeling like Pearl Jam understood your adolescent angst.

We all grew up with Vedder, and when he told us mid-show, "You have the freedom to fuck up, and you have the freedom to own it and grow with it. In order to do something extraordinary, you have to make a few mistakes" we believed him like you would a trusted older brother.

One of the fans at the McFadden's preshow told me she loved Pearl Jam because "they're a force for good," and true to form, Vedder took a moment before "Daughter" to advocate for reproductive rights: "In America, we believe in freedom, liberty, and privacy. And people should have the freedom to choose."

The house lights went up near the end of the electrifying rendition of "Alive," but although fans began heading for the exits, Pearl Jam had one more song up their collective sleeve: "Yellow Ledbetter" closed the show, ending an evening that filled everyone with a sense of nostalgia and an appreciation for the power of music.

I texted a friend on the way home. He was at the show — number 103 for him — after seeing Pearl Jam twice the previous weekend. I asked him how the Glendale concert compared to others he'd seen all over the world.

"It's gonna go down as legendary. I promise," he texted back. "Top 3 for me. Arguably number 1."

I got home, and exiting the car after a long ride home and four hours of standing, I groaned as my back twinged. So much for forever young.


"Far Behind"

Main Set:
"Given to Fly"
"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town"
"Quick Escape"
"Why Go"
"Superblood Wolfmoon"
"Even Flow"
"Dance of the Clairvoyants"
"I Got Id"
"Red Mosquito"
"Sleeping by Myself"

"Eruption" (Van Halen cover)
"Do the Evolution"
"Better Man"
"Leaving Here" (Eddie Holland cover)
"Yellow Ledbetter"

Critic’s Notebook

The Crowd: Heavily male, heavily Gen X, with a smattering of their kids and wives/girlfriends

Overheard: In the drink line, two friends talking. "My mom took me to my first Pearl Jam show when I was 8. And I said, 'What's that?' And she said, 'That's the smell of marijuana, son.'"

Random Notebook Dump: When I was a kid, I wished I could go see a Pearl Jam concert. And I did. I just had to wait 30 years to do it.

Editor's note: This article originally listed the song "Wash" as being off the Ten album. New Times regrets the error.