Pearl Jam kicked off it’s 2016 North American Tour last night at the BB&T Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The last time Pearl Jam played south Florida was 2008, so it’s no wonder excited fans bought out the venue in a rumored-15 minutes. Because there was no opening act, the house filled slowly, so rather than make fans miss out on the event of the year, Pearl Jam chose to wait until most of the attendees were in place before taking stage. It’s not a concession as much as an agreement, unspoken but understood; Pearl Jam is it’s fans, and it’s fans are Pearl Jam. The relationship between them goes beyond loyalty; it’s a mutually beneficial, symbiotic entity, a perfect world between artist and music-lover.
The clock struck 8:40 pm and R.E.M.’s “It Happened Today” rang out through the speakers. Eddie Vedder and crew arrived to a euphony of appreciation. With the house lights on, Pearl Jam picked up their instruments and started riffing like the opening of their 1993 release Vs. before the house lights dropped and PJ launched into “Go.” Eddie Vedder’s voice, unchanged in 25 years, was strong and clear. His stage presence bled of humility; he is unaffected by the crowd, undeterred from his delivery. He is, quite simply, having fun. From the audience, cheers and screams turned to unified lyrical recitation as fans sang along word for word. Eddie Vedder looked to his “fan-mily” and exclaimed through a crooked smile, “That’s pretty good!” The crowd dissolved into cheers again, then back to singing. This would be the pattern throughout the three-hour, 32-song show. Pearl Jam gives, the crowd gives back, and the circle is never broken.
Eddie Vedder shares throughout the set. He brought a bottle of wine, but states had he known so many people were going to be there, he would have brought enough for everyone. He tells an amusing story about the tiles in his bathroom “judging” him. He wonders if his toothpaste crystals are drugged. Before launching into “Severed Hand,” Vedder cautions everyone to watch their drinks. The audience shares with Pearl Jam in return. A woman moved to tears during “Last Kiss” is seen on the large screen. The audience sings “Happy Birthday” for Mike McCready’s 50th celebration. Vedder even briefly entered the political discourse by dancing around the stage in a Donald Trump mask during “Do The Evolution.” Two vulnerable moments stand out: “Light Years” is performed in memory of Skully Quinlan, a crew member and guitar tech who passed the day of this opening show, and a moved Vedder performs an acoustic version of “I Am A Patriot,” the fulfillment of a promise to the father of a soldier named Ty.
Three hours, two encores, and a 32-song set of hits, fan favorites, and deep cuts … this is the bar Pearl Jam set last night to an audience ranging from infants to seniors. The longevity of Pearl Jam cannot be explained simply by citing their musicianship, their lyrical genius, or the loyalty of their fans. There is magic in every moment, undefinable and unexplainable, but oh so sublime, and oh so right. Pearl Jam is playing Miami tonight, then headed up north to continue the tour through August 22, 2016. For info on dates and cities, click here, and if you find a single seat available, take my advice and buy it. There are legendary events that you can miss in your lifetime, but this isn’t one of them.