After seeing The Verve in concert a few months ago, I blogged: "the mark of a truly accomplished band is one whose shows are varied and unpredictable; you don’t know what they're going to play when or how, or even if you’re going to be able to hear all of your favorite songs."
When I wrote this, I was thinking of one band in particular.
As a a longstanding favorite of mine, Pearl Jam is one of the few bands where you never know what you're gonna get in concert—deep album cuts, cult B-sides, hit singles, and rare covers. For the past 18 years, they've been one of the more memorable touring bands. So I've found it funny in recent years to hear people say "Pearl Jam? They're still around?"
Somewhere after the band's heyday in the first half of the 90s, the general populace seemed to forget about the group as they rebelled against their own success and the trappings of stardom (look no further than the title of their second album, Vs.).
Around this time there seemed to be a series of watershed moments that made it easy for the casual fan to lose interest in the Seattle quintet: swearing off the making of more music videos, experimenting with different sounds, battling the Ticketmaster monster, or just taking themselves too seriously. For any of these reasons, the masses wrote off Pearl Jam and moved on.
Even the media still refers to Pearl Jam as a grunge band, disregarding the fact that they *were* grunge for exactly one album (their landmark debut Ten). But anyone who's followed the band over the course of their eight studio albums knows that Pearl Jam plays in the spirit of classic rock. They always have.
I say all this because at a sold-out Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, it was clear that Pearl Jam is still a force. It didn't take much to feel the vibrations from the legions of fans shaking MSG's concrete floors, or simply looking at the 20,000 faithful belting out the lyrics to "Alive" and "Elderly Woman", arms raised in the letter V.
With an eclectic set list that consisted of 30 songs and three rounds of encores, Pearl Jam's road-warrior work ethic was impressive, especially in their middle age. The level of energy they exhibited was not only remarkable, but contagious. So much so that without a venue curfew of 11:30, I got the feeling that they'd keep playing until 2 in the morning, with nary a person heading for the exit.
Are they still around? The truth is, they never left.