Pearl Jam review – a sensitive, subversive new vision for classic rock

BST Hyde Park, London
A band who were once criticised for their earnestness find their true home in vast massed gatherings like these, uniting the crowd with thrilling humanist anthems

“I feel like Adele,” grins Eddie Vedder, giddily drinking in the vast crowd before him. He might often have worn his stardom with unease, but the Pearl Jam frontman clearly loves his people, and can make even a large-scale an event as this feel somehow intimate.

Tonight’s slate of underground rock luminaries all prove adept at translating their once-cultish sounds to the wide open spaces. With little between-song banter, Pixies are taut like the Ramones, a twisted pop juggernaut of swooning surf ballads, abrasive punk, simmering perversion and tunes about incest. Once a martyr to debilitating stage fright, Cat Power’s Chan Marshall is magnificent this evening. Her band chugging suavely, like the Velvets if they’d been raised in Memphis, the hypnotic likes of Cross Bones Style are elemental and soulful.

But the grand-scale environs truly seem like home to Pearl Jam. Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – fellow alt-rock figureheads who’ve similarly ascended to big-ticket heritage act status – have also headlined big-production open-air shows in London this summer, but grunge’s Last Men Standing eschew the fireworks and the flash, relying instead upon substance: enduring anthems, stirring rockouts, and the everyman warmth of Vedder.

Electrifying riffs … Jeff Ament and Eddie Vedder.
Electrifying riffs … Jeff Ament and Eddie Vedder. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Vedder’s lyrics truly alchemise Pearl Jam’s fusion of classic rock heroics and punk dynamics. Their earnestness was used as a stick to beat the band with early on, but tonight they make resonant poetry of a child’s struggle with learning difficulties with a soaring Daughter, rewrite prescient anti-white supremacy screed WMA as a pro-choice anthem, and close out the apocalyptic visions of Close Escape with some Johnny Rotten-worthy howls of “No future for you”.

Vedder means it, man, but it’s how he means it that matters – dedicated to a British fan who died in the weeks before the show, Light Years is but one peak, its slow-burning meditation on grief built for stadiums. Borne aloft by sagacious, electrifying riffs and Mike McCready’s seemingly inexhaustible stash of fiery solos, Pearl Jam’s transition from insurgents to institution hasn’t come at the cost of their subversiveness, or their ability to conjure new thrills from classic rock’s carcass. Long may they run.


Stevie Chick

The GuardianTramp

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