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Review: Pearl Jam at American Airlines Center

Posted 10:34am on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013

Friday night felt like coming home.

Like long-lost relatives, Pearl Jam, playing its first Dallas show in a decade, piled into a sold-out American Airlines Center for a three-hour blow-out, and demonstrated why it stands alone among American rock bands.

Led by Eddie Vedder, who, on the cusp of 50, isn’t one to shy away from swinging from the light fixtures or wading into the pit, Pearl Jam plowed through the past and the present with equal fervor.

Touring behind its latest LP, Lightning Bolt, the Seattle-based rockers delivered a finely modulated performance, unafraid to blend the political, the personal and the power chord.

“Nice to see you — it’s been awhile,” Vedder offered, early on. “From up here, it doesn’t look like you’ve aged a day.”

The peaks began early, with the set list swerving between new (opener Pendulum; the searing Mind Your Manners) and classic ( Nothingman; Corduroy), as Vedder, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard and touring organist Boom Gaspar settled in for their first gig after a two-week break.

Pearl Jam’s been at this for nearly 25 years, and the proof is in how effortless the entire night felt.

Three hours passed in what seemed like 20 minutes.

Vedder can seamlessly move from performing pointed tracks like Brain of J. and Glorified G, while alluding to the assassination of John F. Kennedy (“A week from today is the 50th anniversary of a crazy tragedy, and not the last one we’ve had”) to performing a tender, heartfelt ballad, Future Days, dedicated to his nephew, who was seated just off stage.

There was a twinge of regret watching Pearl Jam roar through its catalog, as though the extinction of a species was playing out before us.

Arena shows are, circa 2013, all about who can mount the most expensive, flashy evening, and not necessarily about the songs being performed. What’s more, pop and hip-hop shows tend to draw the most attention, as rock goes through one of its dormant cycles.

Pearl Jam isn’t going without a fight, however. The band’s stage set-up bordered on spartan, and put the focus squarely on the music, mixing the favorites in with the new material to make the night feel cohesive, rather than crassly aimed at reminding everyone about the latest release.

Vedder, his charisma (like his powerhouse voice) undimmed by the passage of time, took slugs from a series of wine bottles (near the end of the first encore, he stepped down to the foot of the stage to share the dregs of a bottle with fans on the front row), and generally acted the role of generous host.

He reminsced about playing Trees in the early ‘90s (“I remember it was small”), and for the second encore, Pearl Jam blew the roof off the place by bringing out Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark (better known as St. Vincent) to help out on Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.

By that point, the night had reached something approaching delirium — Pearl Jam could have played until four in the morning, and like the best family reunions, no one would have gone home.

The party would just go on, and on, forever.

Even in the afterglow, it does not feel like an overstatement to call Pearl Jam America’s finest and most vital rock band, any more than it does to say this concert was one of the best North Texas has seen in 2013.

Long may they reign.

Openers Midlake acquitted themselves well in a 45-minute set, pulling heavily from the just-released Antiphon, which sounds even more majestic filling a space like the American Airlines Center. Clearly excited at the opportunity, the Denton-based rock band made the most of its moment in the spotlight, drawing enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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