A respectful silence settled over the crowd at Microsoft's Washington campus as Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder swapped out a beat-up Fender Stratocaster for a Martin acoustic guitar and steadied himself for the next song. Suddenly, a woman yelled, "I love you!" and a number of other voices echoed the sentiment. "Normally I can ignore that kind of shit," the singer deadpanned into the microphone. "It's harder to do in a room with only 90 people."
In his years playing arenas and festivals, Vedder has earned a reputation for making even the biggest stages seem small. But on Thursday night, when he arrived in a Bellevue to raise funds awareness for the EB Research Partnership, the order completely flipped.
Seating himself before the small crowd, Vedder broke the initial burst of applause with the opening chords of the 1970 Cat Stevens track "Trouble." Pearl Jam deep-cut "Dead Man" came next; a rousing cover of "Girl From the North Country" followed; and as the songs poured out the novelty of the situation slowly dissipated. Vedder, meanwhile, loosened up: When he swapped acoustic guitar for ukulele, someone called out a request for the Binaural track "Soon Forget." He happily obliged but added the cautionary disclaimer, "If I fuck up, it's your fault."
A few songs later, after finishing Into the Wild title track "Guaranteed," the singer shot to the side of the stage and took a big swig from a red solo cup, lamenting the Gatorade within – a "1990 electrolyte," as he described it. Almost immediately, stagehands wearing lab coats appeared with uncorked wine bottles and began pouring generously into every cup thrust in front of them. This loosened Vedder – and the crowd – even more, and after a few more jokes, the former did an admirable impression of Willie Nelson's take of his song "Just Breathe."
By the end of the nearly two-hour set, Vedder had reached his stadium-rocking best, slamming into his electric guitar and doing stage jumps over solo cut "Hard Sun." After the main portion of the show concluded, Vedder took his acoustic guitar for an encore rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" and an exhilarating "Rockin' in the Free World."
If those assembled were surprised by the energy of this performance, they weren't alone: "Whenever you get into high donor events you think it's going to be a shit crowd," Vedder admitted late into the evening. "I'm glad you came, Seattle. For a 90-person crowd, you couldn't be better."
"Trouble" (Cat Stevens)
"Dead Man" (Pearl Jam)
"Girl From the North Country" (Bob Dylan)
"Soon Forget" (Pearl Jam)
"Sleeping by Myself"
"Needle and the Damage Done" (Neil Young)
"Take it with Me" (Tom Waits)
"Better Man" (Pearl Jam)
"Immortality" (Pearl Jam)
"Ukulele Anthem" (Amanda Palmer)
"Porch" (Pearl Jam)
"Imagine" (John Lennon)
"Rockin' in the Free World" (Neil Young)