Pearl Jam destroy Milton Keynes Bowl
It's the perfect day for a gig at the Bowl, warm, slightly overcast and, most importantly, not raining. Just as the first band is due to hit the stage all the early birds who have staked a claim to their spot for the day recieve a surprise treat as Mr Vedder performs a solo, acoustic version of Porch to rapturous applause. This sets the over-riding tone for the day that, despite the size of the venue, the band manage to inject a wonderful feeling of intimacy into the proceedings.
Eddie calls up the first act of the afternoon, hardcore punk supergroup, Off! who rattle through a barrage of short, punchy numbers which easily get the crowd fired up for what is to come. Mike McCready then introduces Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to the stage, who present an impeccable, if slightly lacklustre performance. Don't get me wrong, they're a great band and the performance was flawless, I just felt that their level of audience interaction was a bit too low as a support act and that they started to drag a bit towards the end of their set.
Most of that feeling was probably down to the high level of anticipation ahead of Pearl Jam's eventual appearance. When they finally do arrive on stage, it's with the wonderfully melodic Pendulum which ease us gently into the set. This is followed up by the trio of Wash, Nothingman and Black which you would have to have a heart of stone not to well up by the end of. Once the crowd has been suitably emotionally satisfied the gig erupts with the explosive combination of Go, Brain of J, Comatose, Save you and Hail Hail. Eddie pauses briefly between a couple of these tunes to make sure everyone down in the pit is doing okay. The underlying reasons for which do not need re-stating here but it's clear that, as a band, they care deeply about their fan's welfare. It's during one of these moments that we get one of the funnier quips of the day as Eddie lays down the law that you should probably only be crowd surfing if you're small enough that you think he would kick your ass. His 'taking care of your neighbour' speech segues wonderfully into Mind Your Manners followed up with Do The Evolution, Got Some and Lightning Bolt. After another humorous interlude about beer carriers it's time then to take it down a notch with the beautiful Nothing As It Seems accompanied by Boom Gaspar on keys. A couple more of the bands more melodic anthems follow with Given To Fly and Sirens before everything kicks into high gear with the last few tracks of the first set: Corduroy, Even Flow, Let The Records Play, Spin The Black Circle and a phenomenal rendition of Rearviewmirror belt out across the venue leaving in their wake a lot of very happy fans.
The audience are given a brief respite as the stage is reset with chairs, the candle lamps are lowered and the universe lends its hand to the proceedings by providing a massive, glowing full moon which rises majestically over the back of the park. The band return to stage armed mostly with semi acoustics and, in the case of Jeff Ament, a particularly lovely acoustic upright bass and perform their offering of Yellow Moon back to the universe. Eddie then relates a story about music that inspired him as a youth before being joined on stage by Simon Townshend and performing a heartfelt rendition of Townshend's I'm The Answer. Next up is a rarity from the Pearl Jam vaults, Footsteps before tribute is paid to Andrew Woods with covers of Chloe Dancer and Crown of Thorns. A superbly elongated version of Better Man sets us up for the sprint to the finish line with Jeremy, Lukin and Porch, complete with a patented Vedder crowd walk in which he became so absorbed that he barely made it back to the stage just in time for the big finish.
The second encore kicks off with a cover of The Beatles' Rain and the band are accompanied for this number by George Harrison's son, Dhani. Tonight's rendition of Daughter morphs into something very different as Eddie fumes at the hypocrisy and cruelty of unjustified conflicts and killings taking place around the world. His eyes blaze as vents his frustration and the song segues into a cover of Edwin Starr's War and the audience eagerly respond in kind. We're definitely approaching the end of the evening as the big guns of Blood and the endlessly anthemic Alive whip the audience into a fury before capping off the evening with a blistering rendition of Rockin' In The Free World accompanied by the whole of Off! providing tambourine support. The relentless applause at the end of the set co-erces the whole band to the front of the stage to take a bow before heading off for either a massive party, or a well deserved end of tour rest. Playing for over three hours, Pearl Jam prove once again beyond a shadow of a doubt that their longevity and success are both hard earned and well deserved. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and one in which it felt very much like one of the biggest bands in the world just invited you into its front room for a bit of a sing, a glass of wine and a nice chat.