Eddie Vedder has been a musical, spiritual, and social leader in his 20 years in the public spotlight. As the frontman for Pearl Jam, Vedder and his band mates helped carry the grunge/alternative rock banner forward into the new millennium. Vedder has done everything that anyone in a rock and roll band could possibly want; except do a solo tour with his microphone and a ukulele. Now the grunge rocker has got that chance.
We were lucky enough to break it out here at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to see the Ukulele Songs tour; headlined by ukulele master and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. Music has always been in Vedder’s bones having fronted Pearl Jam for the last 21 years. The singer has played guitar with his band for many years and is now ready to break out on his own for this summer set.
Eddie Vedder’s temperament towards performing has certainly evolved over the last several years. Many of Vedder’s one-off recordings or solo works for soundtracks and such have taken a much wider view of things. He’s older, a little more reflective, but no less passionate and energetic. This is where this Ukulele Songs tour fits in so well with the evolution of the performer. Much of the strum of the ukulele is passive and very tropical feeling; don’t be mistaken though, Vedder still tears that ukulele up during songs on this tour.
The playbill for the show revealed “Eddie’s Gear” consisting of 6 electric guitars, 8 acoustic guitars, 5 different ukuleles, a mandolin, and a banjo. I lost count but I’m pretty sure Vedder didn’t break out all 21 pieces of equipment. He did fall back on the mandolin, a couple ukuleles, an electric and acoustic guitar or two each. Also onstage with him was a suitcase, a large stuffed toy bat (the animal), two very old looking speakers, an organ and a reel to reel.
The evening began with a few ukulele songs which were not very well received. Much of the crowd was talking throughout and pleading with Vedder to play one song or another. The first song he played off the ukulele was the Neil Young collaboration “Long Road,” from Merkinball. That song wound up being a sing along.
“Long Road” actually wound up as a call and response which was pretty neat. Vedder also played “Sometimes,” (sing along), “Better Man” (sing along), “Rise” (mandolin-sing along), and a bunch of other songs; all of which were sometimes over powerfully sung along by the enthusiastic audience.
Just then it occurred to me that this was the first time I’d ever seen any of Pearl Jam play live. I’d seen their second drummer, Dave Abbruzzese play at a Modern Drummer event, but I’d never seen any live performances in the flesh before. And I’ve been a fan since the beginning. I used to think I was going to be the next Eddie Vedder. Luckily for us there is but one Eddie Vedder; even if many of his fans seem bored through his performance at times.
When he began telling the story of the first show he’d ever seen as a 16 year old in Chicago, dozens of audience members finished the story for him; relaying his Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band experience as though they had heard it before; because they had heard it before.
Eddie Vedder is playing tomorrow night in Manhattan at the Beacon Theatre and a few more places including Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Diego, before winding up in Seattle at the end of July. If he’s in your neck of the woods you should check him out.