Concert Reviews

Pearl Jam Celebrated its 24th Birthday With a Rousing Denver Show and All the Wine

Pearl Jam's 24th anniversary - which the band celebrated last night with a raucous, rarity-filled, tour-ending barnburner of a concert at the Pepsi Center - closed with lead guitarist Mike McCready playing "the Star Spangled Banner" Hendrix-style while the rest of the Seattle quartet sprayed champagne on the Denver crowd.

It began with Justin Morneau (your 2014 National League batting champ) finding his seat as frontman Eddie Vedder said "Welcome to the last night of our tour" as Pearl Jam settled into the euphorically mellow "Release," which is where the group's 10-million-selling 1991 debut Ten concluded.

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A gigantic bird made of scrap metal and/or, as one nearby fan guessed, driftwood, hung above Pearl Jam. It even started flapping its "wings" slowly during "Given to Fly," coincidentally also the point when the crowd started not just singing along to every song but enthusiastically moving as well. The amazing "garbage bird," as my show-mate called it, juxtaposed Vedder's windmill guitar playing to give nods to Pink Floyd and the Who, two bands whose songs Pearl Jam covered last night.

Vedder (who truly gets a workout jumping around during Pearl Jam shows) did a great job celebrating Pearl Jam's 24th birthday by celebrating devoted fans ("Thanks for being the wave; we rode the wave"), the rock icons he loved growing up (Tom Petty, Ian Mackaye, etc.) and his band mates.

Basically, it was a love-fest set to music that's no longer stylistically fresh. But, as the sublime crests of charging rockers like "Porch" and "State of Love and Trust" prove, it remarkably maintains an energy that's not only vital but uplifting and authentic.

"We didn't realize until a few days ago," the outgoing Vedder told the arena audience at one point, "but our first show was 24 years ago today. October 22 [1990] we played our first show; October 23, we went into the studio and recorded eight songs; October 24, I went back to work in the gas station in San Diego; and October 25 I put in my 30-day notice. Sometimes there's no better feeling than saying you're never going back again."

With that, Pearl Jam launched into "Life Wasted" (with its "I'm never going back again" chorus) from its eponymous 2006 album. "Life Wasted" was part of a nine-song second encore that found Vedder, passing the microphone around along with a bottle of wine, deep in the crowd during the Who's "Baba O'Riley."

Speaking of wine, Vedder drank at least two bottles of it onstage last night, at least once falling drunkenly mid-song. He giddily popped the aforementioned champagne well before the show's true closer, the "Little Wing"-esque Pearl Jam classic "Yellow Ledbetter" had ended. His fixation with wine did produce a few highlights at the Pepsi Center, including the soon-to-be-50-year-old singer's vow to send a bottle up to "that guy in the white t-shirt, in the very last row." Vedder asked the far-away man to pour wine all over his shirt so we'd all know the bottle made its way to him; apparently it did not.