After Pearl Jam opened its first St. Louis show since 2004 with the moody No Code album cut "Sometimes," vocalist Eddie Vedder bellowed, "In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye - let's get it on!" Cue "Corduroy," just one of many snarled rockers the quintet unleashed during a two-hour-plus set.
Generally, Pearl Jam keeps fans guessing as to what exactly it's going to play on a given night. That held true at the Scottrade Center: The band played just four songs from last year's Backspacer, and dusted off a few mega-rarities. The thrashing "All Night," from the Lost Dogs odds 'n sods collection, was played for the thirteenth time ever, while the Jeff Ament-penned "Pilate" made its seventeenth appearance. Such fluid song selection makes for a looser concert experience for sure - and no doubt keeps the members of Pearl Jam on their toes.
But twenty-some years into its career, the members of Pearl Jam have well-defined roles. Guitarist Stone Gossard, with chin-length hair obscuring his face, played the role of meticulous mad scientist at stage left; he seemed lost in his own little world as he concentrated on his parts. Chiseled guitarist Mike McCready and square-jawed bassist Ament buzzed back and forth around each other at stage right - the former a flashy soloist, the latter a muscular sparkplug constantly in motion.
Matt Cameron, who also drums for Soundgarden, is Pearl Jam's ace in the hole, though. He's zen-like behind the kit, and barely looks like he's breaking a sweat, but he's an anchor: Older songs such as "Why Go" and "Even Flow" sounded crisp, their lumbering rock-funk edges honed razor-sharp, and he ensured that the band stayed on tempo during a few sloppier moments.
He also handled the band's stylistic shifts with ease. "Do the Evolution" - a feral, raw rocker with stinging riffs, sinewy grooves and demonic facial expressions from Vedder - was an early crowd favorite. The ruminative "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" followed a few songs later; Gossard playing the part of troubadour on an acoustic, while the audience wailed the song's "Helloooo!" parts louder than the band did. Other styles touched upon included '80s college-rock (the R.E.M.-ish "In Hiding" and "Unthought Known"), white-hot garage-punk ("Save You," "The Fixer"), psychedelic-infused fuzzrock ("1/2 Full," "Glorified G"), measured melancholy (the Britrock brood "Inside Job," "Garden") and campfire sing-alongs ("Daughter," new song "Just Breathe").
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