For his first-ever solo appearance in South Florida, the lead singer of a band that helped to bring grunge to the masses played a sophisticated hall—the world-class Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts—that hadn’t seen flannel on a performer since Tony Bennett requested an extra blanket for a pre-concert nap.
But as Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder demonstrated during a 30-song set that borrowed from the band’s catalog, his solo projects, and artists from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen to The Beatles, even venues built to keep the audience at arm’s length can turn intimate with the help of a few guitars and a ukulele.
By the final encore—which included a rousing, crowd-pleasing rendition of “Hard Sun” from Vedder’s “Into the Wild” soundtrack, performed with opening-act Glen Hansard and surprise guest Cat Power—security had given up on keeping the audience from rushing the stage.
Vedder once again had brought the audience to him, a quality that, along with era-defining music, has forever endeared Pearl Jam fans to the band. On this night, Vedder did so with a spartan set—a rotating mix of guitars, a University of Texas locker room stool, a reel-to-reel tape machine, a Corona drum box and a Persian run (courtesy of PJ mate Jeff Ament). Later in the show, he was joined by opening-act Hansard, the dynamic Irish singer who, as one half of The Swell Season (along with Markéta Irglová), won an Oscar in 2008 for the song “Falling Slowly” from the film “Once.” (Hansard also has long been part of the band, The Frames.) Vedder and Hansard's powerful performance of “Falling Slowly” was one of the evening’s many highlights.
Those who only knew Vedder from his Pearl Jam work were treated to 10 PJ songs on Friday, including a reconceived, at times unrecognizable, version of “Betterman,” the always-emotional “Long Road,” and a crushing acoustic take on “Porch” from the band’s star-making debut album, “Ten,” to close out the first set.
In addition to a handful of pieces off his latest solo work, “Ukulele Songs,” Vedder played several tracks from “In the Wild,” the album he wrote for the Sean Penn-directed movie of the same name, a few which he performed against a starlit stage backdrop—including “Guaranteed” and “Rise.”
After treating the crowd to post-encore offerings by The Beatles (“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”) and Springsteen (“Reason to Believe”), Vedder performed the touching “Good Woman” by one-time Miami-based artist Cat Power (her real name is Chan Marshall). He then surprised the audience by introducing Power, who accompanied Vedder on “Tonight You Belong To Me,” the number she duets with Vedder on “Ukulele Songs.” Vedder's unmistakeable baritone, pitch-perfect on this night, seemed even more nuanced and expressive in a solo setting.
Throughout the evening, Vedder engaged the audience—which, too often later in the show, ruined on-stage moments with drunken shouts (Eddie dropped an f-bomb on one of the offenders). At various points, he discussed everything from the immortality of jellyfish to what kind of gay man he would be (“I wish I had homosexual tendencies,” he said, “so I could come down to Florida and really piss some people off when I came out.”).
He recalled the first time Pearl Jam played South Florida, at the Cameo Theater in Miami back in April 1992, and how he fell asleep on the beach the afternoon of the show. Playing that night with a back sunburn so bad that his shirt “felt like fiberglass,” he nonetheless dove off the stage and crowd-surfed (as he was wont to do in those days)—while hundreds of fans clawed at his scorched skin.
When Vedder jokingly contemplated a similar stage dive Friday night, the already raucous crowd encouraged him with chants of “Eddie, Eddie.”
“Maybe tomorrow night,” Vedder quipped (he played Friday and Saturday shows).
Rest assured, had Vedder chosen to turn back the clock and jump, the crowd at Au-Rene was in position—and in the perfect mood—to play catch.
Set List (Night One)
Throw Your Arms Around Me, Sometimes, Long Road, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Can’t Keep, Sleeping By Myself, Without You, Light Today, I Am Mine, Betterman, Setting Forth, Far Behind, Guaranteed, Rise, Long Nights (with Glen Hansard), Immortality, Porch
Loud Uke, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Reason to Believe, Just Breathe, Good Woman, Tonight You Belong to Me (with Cat Power), Society (with Hansard), Sleepless Nights (with Hansard), Falling Slowly (with Hansard), Unthought Known, Rockin’ in the Free World
Hard Sun (with Hansard and Power), Tomorrow Night
Set List (Night Two)
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Girl From the North Country, Can't Keep, Sleeping by Myself, Without You, Blue Red and Grey, Wishlist, Thumbing My Way, Unthought Known, Speed of Sound, Far Behind, No Ceiling, Guaranteed, Long Nights, Dead Man, The Ship Song, Lukin, Porch
Just Breathe, Pump Organ, Parting Ways, The End, Good Woman (with Power), Tonight You Belong to Me (with Power), Society (with Hansard), Sleepless Nights (with Hansard), This Land is Your Land (with Hansard), Falling Slowly (with Hansard), Arc
Hard Sun (with Power and Hansard), Dream a Little Dream