Almost 30 years later, Eddie Vedder still remembers the man who stopped him in his tracks one day on a Seattle street.
“He just looked interesting,” Vedder told the crowd packed into Seattle’s Safeco Field Wednesday night for the first of the band’s two Home Shows, the tentpole events in a citywide effort to combat homelessness that has so far raised $11.5 million. “His name was Eddie, and he was a large African-American man. A Vietnam vet,” Vedder continued. “We spent some time talking and we had some good moments. Other days, he wasn’t there, and I could see him fighting.”
When the band returned from a European tour in support of its debut album, Ten, Vedder searched for and finally found the man under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “And that’s when I really lost him,” Vedder said. “And he never got to hear this song or know he was a part of it. The important thing to do is elevate the understanding and empathy toward our homelessness.”
With that, Pearl Jam tore into “Even Flow,” a familiar song that felt like a fresh wound with Vedder’s story attached, even more so when he followed with a couple of bars of the Beatles’ “Help!” (“Help me if you can / I’m feeling down …”).
A sense of community ran through not just the concert — the first Pearl Jam has played in Seattle in five years — but through the fans’ experiences leading up to the shows. For those who flew in from around the country, and the world, the Home Shows seemed like a pilgrimage to the place where their musical hearts were won. Their first stop was the Pearl Jam merch booth set up next to Safeco Field, where all week fans have stood in the hours-long line straight from the airport, their roller suitcases beside them. Others ventured into the city, searching for the mojo that inspired Pearl Jam’s sound and lyrics. Seattle Center. Magnuson Park.
But in this place filled with tech money and construction cranes, that old magic is becoming increasingly hard to find. The Black Dog Forge — Vedder’s own first stop in town in 1990, when Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament invited him to meet and rehearse — was forced to move south of downtown last year after developers bought the building. And on the very day of the first Home Show, a crowd filled Seattle City Hall, fighting to save the Showbox Market — a historic venue where Pearl Jam has played and where Mike McCready holds his annual Flight to Mars fundraiser for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
Even Vedder — who grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and San Diego before moving to Seattle — seemed to want to dig his flag a little deeper into this place. After the band had opened with “Long Road,” and then powered through four more songs, Vedder greeted the crowd: “We are Pearl Jam. We are from Seattle, Washington. I guess that must mean that we’re home.”
Home remained the theme of the night, not only in the band’s mission to end homelessness, but in the way Vedder spoke about the band members’ 10 children, their eight dogs — and their teachers. He asked the crowd to raise a hand “if you had one teacher who changed your life” and then began a cover of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends.” A few moments in, his two daughters emerged from sidestage with two women — their teachers, wearing Mariners jerseys with “VEDDER” on the back — and did a little dance.
Two songs later, Vedder was joined by Seattle singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile for an upbeat cover of her song “Again Today,” a track Pearl Jam performed for Carlile’s 2017 Cover Stories album.
Other moments of the show were simply soothing, as when the band performed the Christmas single “Let Me Sleep (It’s Christmastime)”; and when the crowd turned itself into a blanket of tiny lights for “Black.”
It was night of solid, beloved Pearl Jam songs — from “Corduroy” and “Release” to “Alive” and “Yellow Ledbetter” — delivered with the intent of ending homelessness in a city that has been flooded with both prosperity and pain. “It took a bit of focused effort, and so much was done in a very short time,” Vedder said. “We can solve this issue together. This city can prove to the rest of the nation that if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
Pearl Jam Set List
“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”
“Do the Evolution”
“Throw Your Hatred Down” [Neil Young]
“Mind Your Manners”
“Given to Fly”
“All Those Yesterdays”
“Help!” [The Beatles]
“I Am a Patriot” [Little Steven]
“We’re Going to Be Friends” [White Stripes]
“Nothing as It Seems”
“Let Me Sleep”
“Again Today” [Brandi Carlile]
“State of Love and Trust”
“Comfortably Numb” [Pink Floyd]
“I’ve Got a Feeling” [The Beatles]
“Rockin’ in the Free World” [Neil Young]
“Yellow Ledbetter”/”Little Wing” [Jimi Hendrix]