Pearl Jam, Stockholm, 28 June 2014
Pearl Jam swung back in to Europe this summer for the latest leg of their Lightning Bolt tour, so with their arrival came the chance for Becky and I repeat our Prague trip of 2012 by selecting a glamorous European city to visit for a few days whilst also enjoying a PJ gig.
It was a tough choice this year, Leeds and Milton Keynes narrowly missing out to eventual winner Stockholm.* The gig was at the Friends Arena, the Swedish national football stadium which opened in 2012 and whose first match saw Zlatan Ibrahimović beat obliging guests England 4-2.** The naming rights for the venue were donated by Swedbank to Friends, a non-profit organisation against school bullying – something to which Vedder referred approvingly shortly before the band played ‘Jeremy’.
The evening before the gig, we were walking through Södermalm when we saw a poster advertising the gig attached to a telephone exchange cabinet (or something similar). We noticed it was affixed with masking tape, and so would be likely to come off easily. However, it was near a busy pub, so we chickened out. Then during dinner we changed our minds, and returned to the street where the poster had been stuck up. With careful sleight of hand, we unpeeled it from the cabinet in the blink of an eye and scarpered. No sign of Stockholm’s finest. The masking tape later came off the poster fairly easily, with one slight rip only.
Apologies to Pearl Jam for any putative tiny dent to their last-minute ticket sales! Now framed, it’s made a good addition to one of our living room walls.
Becky had hoped the band would open with ‘Release’, and her wish was fulfilled as the first of a group of four slower songs to ease everyone into the evening. As with many of the other gigs on this tour, the band had no support act – a shame, but a reflection of their wish to play a lengthy set, one that ended up totalling 34 songs over more than two-and-a-half hours.
One of the many joys of seeing Pearl Jam live lies in the unpredictability of the setlist. With ten studio albums, stacks of B sides and rarities, and numerous regular covers, the band have a wide range of songs to choose from on any given evening. On the first eight nights of this summer’s European tour alone, the band played a staggering 111 different songs.*** So you never quite know what you’re going to get, but the chances are high that you’ll hear some songs you’ve never heard live before, alongside some old familiar friends. Some long-established bands fall back on a smaller number of well-known songs, but PJ take the Grateful Dead route by mixing it up and including some quite recherché numbers to keep the hardcore fans happy. The Stockholm gig included ‘You’, a Yield outtake that appeared on Lost Dogs.
And here’s their lovely cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’.
One of the other joys comes with watching the songs from the most recent album being released into the wild and seeing which ones evolve into live faithfulls. (‘Unthought Known’ has become my favourite song from 2009’s Backspacer in part because it’s become a live staple.) All the tracks from Lightning Bolt , bar ‘Future Days’, have made their European debuts this summer (having already been aired in the US and Australasia), and we were treated to the urgent, punky ‘Mind Your Manners’, an anthemic ‘Lightning Bolt’, the acidic and awkward ‘My Father’s Son’, and the uxorious ‘Sirens’. The mournful ‘Pendulum’ has also been used as a set opener on other nights.
Apart from the new ones, the set focused quite heavily on the band’s earlier material. Nine of the 11 songs on, err, Ten got an airing, alongside seven from Vs, whilst the band played nothing from either Binaural or Pearl Jam and only one song from Riot Act. This seemed to be simply how the set shook out, rather than a conscious decision.
Eddie Vedder these days is very comfortable with being the band’s frontman, and he allows more of his playful sense of humour to show than he did in times past (this is even more true at his solo gigs). At one point he spotted a sign asking the band to sign a fan’s shoes. He got the fan to throw her trainer up, chucked it away, and repeated the trick with her second shoe, telling her off for trusting him. (He alluded jokingly to an incident many moons ago when the band got pelted with shoes and he – not unsurprisingly – lost his rag and said that he and Jeff would wait at the exit for anyone who left the gig shoeless in order to beat them up.) After teasing the fan over a couple of songs, she got her trainers back, signed (I think); he even poured wine into one of the shoes and drank out of it, trusting either the fan’s hygiene or the pristine condition of the shoe.
Vedder had the crowd, especially those in the pit, eating out of his hands, taking someone’s camera during ‘Given to Fly’ to film the crowd and the band.
He even got away, when extolling Stockholm’s virtues, with mentioning a mermaid (referring possibly to Copenhagen’s renowned tourist attraction), but the wine had been flowing freely by that point and the odd slip of the tongue is well-nigh inevitable (as with Oliver Wilde in Prague).
The set included some oversized lightbulbs hanging over the front of the stage that came down for ‘Porch’ and which the band swung to and fro out over the crowd. (The lights looked to be in some sort of thick plastic casing – I’m assuming there was no danger of them smashing!) One of the lightbulbs also had a step above it, along with a rope to grab hold of, enabling Vedder to swing out over the front of the crowd. The stage crew may have designed this toy for him to dissuade him from climbing the rig. I tried to take a photo, but my photos were an even bigger disaster than the ones in Prague. Here’s a (professional) photo from last autumn’s tour to show what I’m blithering on about.Embed from Getty Images
We had seats for the gig; because the floor of the venue was the width of the football pitch, we were a little wider looking at the stage than the equivalent seats had been in Prague. (I’m blaming this slight extra distance for my photographic debacle. Definitely not my limited photography skills.) It may have been only where we were sitting, but Stone Gossard sounded low and muddy in the mix, especially compared to Mike McCready – who was on typically blistering form, playing the solo to ‘Even Flow’ behind his neck and digging out a slide for the solo melodies on ‘Red Mosquito’. Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament were as tightly locked together a rhythm section as always.
The set closed with the joyous, tambourine-bashing singalong of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and the quietly defiant ‘Indifference’, which the band have been using recently as a set closer in place of ‘Yellow Ledbetter’. Then out into the night air after another excellent gig from a band that never fails to deliver; not as outstanding as the Prague gig two summers ago, which possessed a near-tangible vibe from note one, but that was an exceptional gig, and we were fortunate to be there for that one. Already looking forward to my next PJ gig, whenever and wherever that may be!
Setlist: Release, Sometimes, Small Town, Black, Go, Animal, Mind Your Manners, Why Go?, Corduroy, Lightning Bolt, Red Mosquito, My Father’s Son, Given to Fly, Daughter, W.M.A., You, Sirens, Even Flow, Green Disease, Jeremy, Spin the Black Circle, Rearviewmirror
Encore 1: Just Breathe, Oceans, Mother, Once, Supersonic, Sonic Reducer, Porch
Encore 2: Do the Evolution, Better Man, Alive, Baba O’Riley, Indifference
* We also stayed in Copenhagen for a few days before travelling by train over the Øresund Bridge and on to Stockholm. Sadly, and slightly inexplicably, we bumped into neither Sarah Lund nor Birgitte Nyborg (ok, it is explicable – they’re both fictional), nor any of the multitude of (busy) Danish actors who have appeared in some combination of Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge. Presumably some further noir-ish murders or political intrigue kept them occupied that week.
** Hodgson’s team – a byword in international football for resilience, skill and tactical nous – was particularly considerate that day in not wishing to spoil Swedish football’s big party. Not content with kindly allowing Ibrahimović a hat trick, they gifted the next king of Sweden**** this extraordinary fourth goal.
*** Yes, I have counted them. I’ll post the full list when the tour is complete. And yes, I should get out more.
**** Possibly in his own head only, though he does appear on Swedish stamps.*****
***** If not on the pitch at the 2014 World Cup.