Dallas Eddie Vedder couldn't quite put his finger on it.
He paused, early in his expansive, two-hour-plus set at the Music Hall at Fair Park Thursday night, and struggled to recall why it had been so very long since he, and Pearl Jam, had last appeared in Dallas.
"We -- I -- haven't played here in 10 years or so," he mused, "[and] I don't know why. Blame management, I guess -- they get 10 percent of the blame. Might as well: they get 10 percent of everything else."
Although Vedder fondly reminisced about Trees ("Have they cut that Tree down?") and the Bronco Bowl, noting that, in Pearl Jam's early days, the band was a fixture at Dallas clubs, it had actually been not quite 10 years since a member of Pearl Jam performed in Dallas (June 9, 2003, at the then-Smirnoff Music Centre, to be exact). Nevertheless, from the moment he stepped on stage to a standing ovation, the gregarious singer-songwriter acted as though no time had passed.
Despite persistently vocal members of the audience (Vedder, to his credit, deftly handled the loud fans; at one point, he asked an unseen female fan to tone it down for fear of "being murdered"), the 47-year-old singer-songwriter was in fine spirits and glad to be back in North Texas, serving up a pleasing mix of cover tunes and recasting Pearl Jam staples in intriguing fashion.
Moving from acoustic and electric guitar to ukelele and mandolin and back again, Vedder dabbled in psych-rock to start the evening (with covers of Daniel Johnston's Walking the Cow and Pink Floyd's Brain Damage) and wasn't precious with the Pearl Jam songs. Late in the main set, he turned Better Man on its head, and followed that reinvention with another, spinning Vitalogy's Immortality into a magnetic, foreboding dirge. His willingness to twist and re-shape very familiar material into something new only underscored why Pearl Jam has endured as one of America's pre-eminent rock bands: call it evolution with honor.
Vedder made sure to punctuate the heavier moments with levity -- many of his most amusing asides are, sadly, unprintable -- but seemed in a reflective mood all evening, speaking about the late Andrew Wood (of Mother Love Bone fame) and Johnny Ramone, name-checking the great Dallas Cowboys of yore and noting the age of the Music Hall.
Indeed, the free-associative rambles befit some of the most indelible moments -- Vedder brought Courtney Ateyeh, a murky relation to his friend, Chicago Cubs announcer Keith Moreland, on stage for a delightful reading of Tonight, You Belong to Me; Vedder and opener Glen Hansard stepped to the foot of the stage, and without any amplification, performed the Everly Brothers' Sleepless Nights -- which seemed born of pure spontaneity, injecting a welcome feeling of unpredictability into the show.
Yet, on balance, the night had a somber, even melancholy undertow. The singer-songwriter has always been a model of self-seriousness, even from Pearl Jam's earliest days, but as he approaches 50, he wears the wisdom well. That he was so lost in his own thoughts was fitting for a show already haunted by the passage of years. Yesterday and the immediate present collided again and again Thursday, often making the performance feel classic even as it was unfolding in front of the audience.
Here's hoping Dallas audiences don't have to wait another 10 years for a visit with Vedder.
Opener Glen Hansard, whom Vedder brought back out at several points during his headlining set, delivered a ferocious, fantastic 40-minute performance that earned him a roaring standing ovation. Hansard, an intensely physical player whose songs frequently culminate in strumming so violent you fear for his cuticles, doled out selections from his bleakly beautiful solo debut, Rhythm & Repose, but closed with Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, a joyous burst of song that filled the cavernous room to overflowing with good cheer.
1. Walking The Cow
2. Brain Damage
4. Cant Keep
5. Sleeping By Myself
6. Without You
7. The Needle & The Damage Done
8. Dont Be Shy
9. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
10. Far Behind
11. No Ceiling
12. Setting Forth
15. Long Nights (with Glen Hansard)
17. Better Man
21. I Believe In Miracles
22. I Am A Patriot
23. Just Breathe
24. Unthought Known
25. Tonight, You Belong To Me (with Courtney Ateyeh)
26. Society (with Glen Hansard)
27. Sleepless Nights (with Glen Hansard)
28. Falling Slowly (with Glen Hansard)
29. Crazy Mary
30. The End
31. Rockin In The Free World
32. Hard Sun (with Glen Hansard & Courtney Ateyeh)