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The Boy Is Back In Town

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 25, 2008 7:10PM

2008_08_eddie_vedder.jpgEvanston's Eddie Vedder -- a hometown boy who has since made good in a little band named Pearl Jam -- performed the first of two sold-out solo shows at The Auditorium Theatre last Thursday. We admit we went into the show with low expectations since we honestly do enjoy Vedder but were less than impressed with his first solo outing, the Into The Wild soundtrack. We figured selections from that album would feature prominently and we weren't too excited about that prospect.

Man do we love it when we're wrong.

Vedder opened with Daniel Johnston's "Walking The Cow" and it set the mood for an evening that would dip into various covers, a few solo composition, some drastic reworkings of classic Pearl Jam songs, and at least one genuinely emotional moment as the crowd gave a standing ovation to Vedder friend and documentary subject Tomas Young. His between song banter included hometown pleasers like, "You all are much better drinkers than those rookies [in Milwaukee]," in reference to some unruly audience members attending his previous stop. But he wasn't afraid to get serious, as he did in the introduction to his own spin on Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," a rendition that was close to spiritual.

In fact it was that feeling of something larger happening that carried on throughout the evening, even when Vedder turned overtly political on a cover of Phil Ochs’ “Here’s to the State of Mississippi" that made no disguise of his disdain for the current U.S. administration. A moment like that could have been perceived as clumsy, but we viewed it more in the old school folk tradition of protest songs that twist the source material to comment upon current times. In order to do that, the presenter has to be gifted with an enormous charisma to pull it off, and it's safe to say that despite the size of the room, the audience felt the man on stage was focusing in on each and every person.

Vedder closed the show's first encore with a variation of the "Arc" songs that traditionally close out Pearl Jam shows. During these exercises Vedder vocalizes and creates live loops of the results, singing over a choir of Eddie Vedders created in the moment. The end effect is deeply touching and is a perfect way to end the show, with a host of human voices ethereally combining and reaching for the heavens.

It would have been the perfect way to end the show, and once it became apparent that there would be be a second encore we worried that the perfect vibe Vedder ended on would be sullied. hen the curtain pulled back to reveal opener Liam Finn and his musical partner Eliza Jane on drums and percussion accompanying Vedder on a rousing version of Into The Wild's "Hard Sun" the contrast between its giddy rock and the calm of "Arc" helped display the two extremes that make Eddie Vedder so engaging to so many in the first place. He's a man constantly looking for salvation, and the only source he's found so far that consistently delivers the object of his quest is his all pervading love of creating and presenting music.

Photo of Eddie Vedder in NYC by Mick Arieta