Friday, March 18, 2011

Eddie Vedder: On stage. Alone. Amazing.

Eddie Vedder solo tour: Thursday March 10 2011, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane, Australia.

Before starting this review I need to declare a serious conflict of interest: I have been in love with Eddie Vedder since high school. I can’t help it. I’m not made of wood people. So that means the recount that follows is hardly going to be balanced and unbiased. But I digress…

Eddie Vedder kicked off his Australian solo tour in Brisbane on March 10, 2011 playing to a packed, but small crowd of 1600 at QPAC’s concert hall (yes, 1600. It was amazing not to be one of 30,000 people for once).

After being treated with the heavenly folk vocals of support act by Evil J & Saint Cecilia, (one is Jimmy Barnes’s daughter Eliza Jane Barnes) the man himself walked quietly on stage to raucous applause, took a seat and began to play. He later apologised for not saying hello to the crowd first, but I’m fairly sure no one cared.

Vedder kicked off with a couple of solo numbers, just him and his electric guitar. I think this was what the crowd expected and is one of the biggest draw cards for his solo shows – the promise of just Eddie and his guitars.

In the first track he actually made a mistake (although none of us could tell), stopped, cursed, laughed and then apologised. This actually happened a second time later as well. The normalcy of this was refreshing and I’m sure nobody in the concert hall actually cared. Just the mere fact that Eddie knew he had made a mistake, stopped and started again, showed he was just as normal as everyone else there; able to be nervous on the first night of a big tour, able to make mistakes. Really, that’s Eddie’s charm in nutshell I think. He is awesomely talented as a musician, but isn’t afraid to show the audience that he’s just a normal guy.

During the show the scenery, consisting of simple hand-painted backdrops, changed a few times. The first was an ally way with multi-story brown brick buildings and fire escapes. I’m guessing it could have been a typical back street in New York, Brooklyn or any American city. Another was tent-like, which gave the illusion of Eddie sitting inside a Bedouin tent, strumming away. To me, they were a perfect example of his understated approach to performance, and yet every small detail on the stage that night seemed well thought out.

I wasn’t sure if Eddie would play any Pearl Jam songs in his solo show. I would have been just as happy with a night his individual work, but in what I think was another show of his graciousness and lack of artistic ego, he did include them. I guess he realises his fans are first of all fans of Pearl Jam, and he delivered ‘The End’ and ‘Just Breathe’ from the band’s most recent album, Backspacer.

Refreshingly, there was no drawn-out encore business. Eddie had a short break a bit over half way through the show, and when he was back, stepped things up a notch with a reworked version of the classic ‘Better Man’ on his acoustic and a furious cameo appearance by his ukulele.

I have to say, at the risk of sounding like a loony music fan, I got a bit emotional a few times during some of the songs, especially during the Pearl Jam track ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’ and ‘Rise’ on the mandolin, from the sound track of the movie Into the Wild, which is a bit of a tearjerker itself.

And speaking of tearjerkers, Eddie made a solemn tribute to a friend of his, former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr who had passed away less than 48 hours before, after a long battle with addiction. Pearl Jam toured with Alice in Chains in the early years and Eddie performed a rendition of Neil Young’s ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ to absolute silence.

Eddie also made a brief but heartfelt mention of the recent devastating Queensland floods, ironic given the very building the concert was held in still had water damage in the underground car park. He was aware of this and said he thought Brisbane was doing ‘ok’ in the wake of all the destruction. In this, and the brief mentions of his children, it was clear Vedder’s ability to convey his compassion from the stage was as strong as ever.

The whole night’s playlist built to the rousing finale, ‘Hard Sun’, a cover reworked for the ‘Into the Wild’ soundtrack, with Evil J & Saint Cecelia returning to the stage. The concert hall lights were blazing bright white, allowing the audience to see each other clearly, and allowing Eddie to see everyone back. It was stark, real and touching, a perfect end to a show of the same nature.

Footnote: I have to apologise for the lack of pictures from the night. The venue and I suspect Eddie himself, were very adamant about no cameras or photos being taken to keep the atmosphere intimate and uninterrupted. I respected that, although I was dying to get just one photo!

Ever been moved at a gig? Or have you been to an Eddie Vedder/Pearl Jam show? Let us know below!