Pearl Jam Curates Festival of Friends
It seems the faster rumors spread, the less likely they are to be true. Rumors flew this weekend during PJ20, Pearl Jam’s two-day festival marking twenty years since the release of their debut album, Ten. While the festival was a model of non-stop entertainment and convenience (once you arrived in the beautiful, yet remote, setting of Alpine Valley in East Troy, WI), fans couldn’t help from wondering what surprises the band had in store. Some rumors were plausible: a Temple of the Dog reunion, which seemed likely given an auspicious tweet by Temple lead singer Chris Cornell announcing his arrival in nearby Chicago the day before the festival. Others were exciting, if unlikely: guest appearances by Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen. A few rumors just seemed silly–do we really want to hear Bono sing “Even Flow”?
Were there to be no surprises at all, however, the assembled lineup for the event would have been more than enough to satisfy. Day acts filled alternating small stages, each with a direct link to a particular member of Pearl Jam. Both Glen Hansard and Liam Finn, for example, have previously performed as opening acts on Eddie Vedder’s solo tours. The lineup was the same each day, allowing acts to double their short 30-40 minute set times, and providing audiences multiple chances to catch a performance.
Stand-outs were, perhaps not coincidentally, those artists who were also joined onstage by members of Pearl Jam. Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs–prize pick by Pearl Jam guitarist/guest Mike McCready–wowed audiences early in the afternoon with a country-blues sound and a powerful new voice. David Garza mixed influences as far and wide as funk, reggae, rockabilly and rap for a dance-ready set to bring sunshine on a rain-soaked day. Thenewno2 got weird with a prog-rock set just before Joseph Arthur (later backed by three-fifths of Pearl Jam–Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Matt Cameron) managed to sing, play guitar, recite poetry and paint a canvas within his 40 minutes.
The best back-to-back pairing, however, was Liam Finn followed by Glen Hansard (of the Frames and the Oscar winning The Swell Season). Finn grabbed the audience’s attention early by opening his set with a familiar Pearl Jam riff (“Habit”), only to record and loop it, and then accompany himself on drums. On the second day, he made the song “more authentic” by bringing Eddie Vedder out to alternately sing, play guitar, and drum on the same song. The two made a comical go of it, with the young Finn seeming to boss Vedder about in playing his own song. The audience, needless to say, loved it. Finn, backed by a three-piece ensemble including his brother Elroy as primary drummer, continued to entertain with wild-man antics and high-energy songs.
Following Finn would seem no easy task, but Glen Hansard was more than up to it, despite having only his guitar and voice to rely on. Hansard’s passionate acoustic attack commanded attention handily, yet he instead began a dialogue with the audience, encouraging sing-a-longs, telling stories and otherwise keeping the mood light no matter how serious or dramatic the songs he performed. He too was joined by Vedder on The Swell Season’s ballad “Falling Slowly” on the second afternoon, which Hansard performed with a lucky (and capable) audience member the first time around. The warmth between Vedder and Hansard was apparent, and was representative of the overall closeness of all performers and the audience.
The main stage evening acts offered both brighter marquee names, as well as varying significance to Pearl Jam’s history. Openers Mudhoney had the longest working history with Pearl Jam as both bands were born of an earlier incarnation, Green River. Their sound is much closer to the original punk influences of the band, though their sets generally tended toward their most accessible material.
Queens of the Stone Age then followed, picking up the hard rock sound and running with it to danceable stomp, fuzzed guitar wail, and plenty of attitude. Frontman Josh Homme paid special honor to Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, who released their self-titled debut album on his Loosegroove Records label in 1998. Homme dedicated that album’s “Mexicola” to Gossard, joking it was the one song Gossard hated. An overall crowd favorite, some wondered why QOTSA didn’t get secondary billing to Pearl Jam.
That coveted spot went to The Strokes. Julian Casablancas & Co. echoed Pearl Jam’s garage rock influences, immediately conjuring images of another New York garage band who wore tight black jeans, black leather jackets, and dark sunglasses (wish you were here, Ramones!). The band kept the audience on their feet with hits like “Last Night” and “Is This It?” and brought out special guests on night two–Josh Homme on “New York City Cops” and Eddie Vedder on “Juicebox.” Lead singer Julian Casablancas also spent some time reaffirming his passion for Pearl Jam, particularly gushing over Eddie Vedder’s many good points and finally declaring, “He’s so damn good, I love him!” As Casablancas revealed himself to be a Pearl Jam fan, you could hear the audience embracing him all the more.
With that, it was time for Pearl Jam to take the stage. Known for their long, diverse sets, they would have to really dig deep to offer something extra for the occasion. They ably met the challenge the first night by avoiding nearly all of their hits (“Betterman” the lone exception) and performing rare-to-never played songs, such as the spoken-word piece “Push Me Pull Me.” Various other festival performers frequently came onstage to lend their voice on a number of songs, including Josh Homme on “In the Moonlight,” Liam Finn on “Education,” Dhani Harrison on “State of Love and Trust” and Julian Casablancas on “Not for You,” during which he scatted, “Pearl Jam is my favorite band!”
However, the biggest part of the night–and the only rumor to be found true–belonged to special guest Chris Cornell, whose presence officially reunited Temple of the Dog, a one-album band formed by members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in the early ’90s to honor their lost friend and bandmate, Andy Wood. With Cornell’s introduction, the audience went into rapture, and Eddie Vedder graciously turned over the mic joining Glen Hansard and Liam Finn as backup singers. Temple performed four songs, including the hit single “Hunger Strike” with Vedder and Cornell sharing lead vocals with the audience. The first night ended with guests Mark Arm and Steve Turner joining in on an exuberant cover of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.”
For the second night, Pearl Jam allowed more hits into the setlist, including early gems like “Even Flow.” Cornell once again joined in for a mini-set of Temple songs and more special guests wandered on and off the stage for a revolving door of both new and familiar takes on Pearl Jam songs. Vedder took pains to ensure the gratitude the band felt toward their supporters–from fans, family, crew, and even their record label–culminating in a heartfelt speech and the performance of a new song written that day, including the lyric, “I’m so glad we made it / till when it all got good.”
In thanks, Pearl Jam offered fans an extended set, performing for an incredible three-and-a-half hours. Though Neil Young was not present, Vedder welcomed all of the festival’s performers onstage for a rousing cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Instruments and microphones were liberally passed around so all had a chance to make some noise, and a 30-person dance-party broke out onstage, while a 30,000-person one took over in the crowd.
The stage then cleared, and Pearl Jam ended their set with the frequent closer, and thus bittersweet, “Yellow Ledbetter.”
Though all but one of the rumors running rampant around Alpine Valley this Labor Day weekend turned out to be false, Pearl Jam gave fans exactly what they needed: two days of terrific music and incredible performances by artists near and dear to their hearts as well as the familial camaraderie that comes from being surrounded by tens of thousands of people who share your passion for one great band.
SEPTEMBER 03, 2011
02. Arms Aloft
03. Do The Evolution
04. Got Some
05. In My Tree
07. Who You Are w/ Joseph Arthur, Liam Finn, Glen Hansard (bg vocs). Glen Peterson (percussion)
08. Push Me, Pull Me
09. Setting Forth
10. Not For You w/ Julian Casablancas
11. In The Moonlight w/ Josh Homme
13. Help Help
15. Education w/ Liam Finn
17. State Of Love And Trust w/ Dhani Harrison
18. Betterman/Save It For Later
19. Wasted Reprise
20. Life Wasted
ENCORE BREAK 1
(For Mother Love Bone & Temple Of The Dog songs Chris Cornell sings lead. Eddie Vedder & Glen Hansard sing background vocals. Liam Finn joins Ed & Glen on “Reach Down”)
22. Stardog Champion
23. Say Hello 2 Heaven
24. Reach Down
25. Hunger Strike w/ Eddie Vedder
26. Love, Reign O’er Me
ENCORE BREAK 2
28. Kick Out The Jams w/Mudhoney
SEPTEMBER 04, 2011
02. The Fixer
03. Severed Hand
04. All Night w/guests singing bg voices
05. Given To Fly
07. Love Boat Captain
08. Habit w/ Liam Finn
10. Daughter/It’s OK
12. Red Mosquito w/ Julian Casablancas
13. Satan’s Bed
14. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter A Small Town w/ Dhani Harrison
15. Unthought Known (before playing the song Ed thanks Brendan O’Brien the “seventh member” of the band for all his help)
16. New World w/John Doe
ENCORE BREAK 1
19. Eddie improv/new song (performed solo by Ed on acoustic guitar)
20. Just Breathe
22. No Way
23. Public Image
24. Smile w/ Glen Hansard
25. Spin The Black Circle (dedicated to independent record store owners and customers)
ENCORE BREAK 2
26. Hunger Strike w/ Eddie Vedder
27. Call Me A Dog
28. All Night Thing
29. Reach Down w/ guests singing bg vocs
30. Sonic Reducer w/ Mudhoney
ENCORE BREAK 3
32. Rockin’ In The Free World w/ lots of guests, friends and family
33. Yellow Ledbetter/Star Spangled Banner
All photos by Alyssa Fried