Around 6 p.m. on Sunday, as on Saturday, the masses moved in a wave toward the mainstage to see Mudhoney and then Queens of the Stone Age kick up heavy rackets. The two bands felt like contemporaries and heirs, respectively, of Pearl Jam's early raging attack. The Strokes' tight hooks might seem to have less to do with Pearl Jam, but there's definitely a bond between the two bands. Vedder came out both nights to scream himself nearly hoarse on the Strokes' "Juiceboxxx." Casablancas, who seemed particularly listless and blasé on Sunday night, perked right up when Vedder arrived. "This is great," he said, "'cause he sings it so much better than I do." He wasn't lying.
At around 9:15 on Sunday night, Pearl Jam made their entrance for the second time. Immediately, it was clear that the band was firing on all cylinders. Vedder – easily one of rock's two or three most dynamic frontmen – was a ball of manic energy from the opening notes of "Wash" onward, swaying, writhing and jumping for pure joy as the crowd pumped their fists en masse. "We feel like we could play just about anything," he said a few songs in, "and you fuckers would know it." Fans cheered as they recognized the next unexpected selection, 1998's "Pilate."
But that comment turned out to be a fake-out of sorts. Midway through the set, right after a campfire-style singalong on 2002's "Love Boat Captain" and a raving version of 1996 B side "Habit" assisted by Liam Finn, Pearl Jam's set list suddenly transformed into a total hit parade. In short order, they tore through blazing versions of old favorites like 1991's "Even Flow" (featuring an awe-inspiring extended McCready solo, 1993's "Daughter" (with Ament on an upright bass) and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" (a request from guest Dhani Harrison). "It's like a fine wine," Vedder said after "Even Flow." "It gets better and stronger and purer and more powerful with age."
The singer later gave an impassioned speech about his years advocating for the wrongly imprisoned West Memphis Three, who were finally freed last month. "Thanks for trusting us," Vedder said. "And if you didn't trust us on that, fuck you. You should have known better." With that, he invited John Doe on stage for a rowdy cover of X's "The New World." Then it was back to the hits, with a soulful "Black" and an incandescent "Jeremy" closing out Sunday's main set – an incredible one-two punch.
"This doesn't make us feel older at all," Vedder said when he returned for the first encore. "It's given us some sense of rebirth. It feels like a new beginning." After he finished the aforementioned new song, the rest of the band joined him for heartfelt semi-acoustic versions of 2009's "Just Breathe" and 1994's "Nothingman." After a dark, harmonica-laced run through 1996's "Smile" featuring a ripping guest turn by Glen Hansard and a rowdy rendition of 1994's "Spin the Black Circle" during which McCready ran literal laps around his bandmates, it was time for the weekend's second Temple of the Dog reunion, featuring another massive "Hunger Strike" duet, a mostly acoustic "All Night Thing" and a heavy bayou-funk spin through "Reach Down." "Keeping a band together for 20 years," Cornell noted dryly over the crowd's wild cheers, "is not that easy to do."
Cornell departed, only to be replaced on stage by Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Steve Turner. "This is a song we used to play at the end of the night when the crowd numbered in the tens," said Vedder, introducing a raucous cover of Dead Boys' 1977 nugget "Sonic Reducer." The stage emptied afterward, but the night wasn't over just yet – not before Pearl Jam came back for a third and final encore. The crowd-thrilling set list: 1991's "Alive," Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," and the 1992 B-side "Yellow Ledbetter." It was well after midnight when they finished. It's hard to imagine that anyone left Alpine Valley feeling unsatisfied.
Additional reporting by Dan Hyman.
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