Just one song into Eddie Vedder’s Earthling tour launch at New York’s Beacon Theatre on Thursday night, he paused the festivities to look out at the capacity crowd and soak in the fact that he was finally back on the road after two endless years of waiting. “It’s great to be playing a show, but especially great to be playing show in a theater and especially a show at this particular cathedral so aptly named,” he said. “It feels like a sanctuary tonight, and it does feel like a beacon.”
It also felt like a sort of glorious Nineties alt-rock fever dream since he opened with a cover of R.E.M.’s 1992 classic “Drive” and his backing band contained Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, and former Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. Topping it all off, they were playing in front of two mannequins decked out like women in the Dude’s dream sequence from The Big Lebowski, a movie from the late Nineties about the early Nineties featuring yet another member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea, in a supporting role.
But they weren’t there to hawk Clinton-era memories as if this was Eddie Vedder and His All Starr Band. The longtime friends came together last year to record Vedder’s excellent new solo LP Earthling, and this was their chance to unveil the songs to the public a little over a week before the record arrives. It meant hitting fans with a lot of new material, but the Pearl Jam faithful are adventurous and they seemed to relish the experience just as much as Vedder himself.
Before they delved into Earthling, Vedder and his band (which also featured singer-guitarist Glen Hansard and guitarist Andrew Watt, who produced Earthling) played a moving rendition of the mournful Tom Petty tune “Room at the Top” followed by the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” This was the final singalong moment before eight consecutive tunes from either Earthling or the recent Flag Day soundtrack. The energy in the house may have sagged a bit during some of the slower numbers, but anthemic tunes like “Long Way” and “Invincible” had fans singing along by their second choruses. And every song was a chance for Klinghoffer to show off his incredible chops, proving why Pearl Jam scooped him up shortly after the Chili Peppers pushed him out to make way for the return of John Frusciante.
If the band felt a little loose at times, even re-starting one of the songs after a shambolic first attempt, it’s because of madness of life during Omicron nearly derailed this entire tour. “I’ve gotta tell you, these past few weeks have been some of the most chaotic that I’ve ever experienced in all my years,” Vedder said midway through the show. “I don’t want to get into it, but people close to me got Covid. And then we had 12 practices scheduled, but only had three of them. Then the day we’re supposed to fly here, there’s a bomb cyclone. The lesson has been, through adversity we have come out the other side actually stronger.”
The familiar opening notes of Pearl Jam’s “Wishlist” were greeted by screams of ecstasy, and the band kept that energy going through the new songs “Brother the Cloud,” “Mrs. Mills,” and “Try,” which featured photographer Danny Clinch on harmonica. The main set ended with a transcendent, jammed-out take on Pearl Jam’s “Porch” that kept the crowd roaring until the band came back for encores.
They started with “Precious” by the Pretenders to add some “female energy” in the mix, and then went back to the Pearl Jam catalog for a tender “Better Man.” It led directly into a snippet of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” The clock was ticking toward the Beacon’s curfew of 11 p.m. by this point, so they raced through George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” to avoid overtime charges.
The tour wraps up Feb. 22 after hitting just five more cities. That’s very quick for a rock tour, but it will soon be time for Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jane’s Addiction to get back to work headlining festivals and packing football stadiums. It simply wasn’t practical for this mashed-up band to last longer than a few weeks. But let’s hope the end of the tour won’t mark the end of Eddie Vedder and the Earthlings as a live experience. They managed to create something very fresh and exciting with this show, and they should see where they can take it in the future.
Eddie Vedder Set List, Feb. 3, 2022
- Drive (R.E.M. cover)
- Room at the Top (Tom Petty cover)
- Here Comes the Sun (Beatles cover)
- The Haves
- I’ll Be Waiting
- The Dark
- Power of Right
- Fallout Today
- Long Way
- Tender Mercies
- Wishlist (Pearl Jam)
- Brother the Cloud
- Mrs. Mills
- Rose of Jericho
- Porch (Pearl Jam)
- Precious (Pretenders cover)
- Better Man (Pearl Jam)
- People Have the Power (Patti Smith cover)
- Isn’t It a Pity (George Harrison cover)
- All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)